Archbishop Bernardito Auza
Apostolic Nuncio, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the
Opening Remarks at the Side Event entitled
“Affirming the Human Dignity of Rural Women
and Girls through Healthcare and Education”
During the Sixty-second Session of the Commission on the Status of Women
United Nations, New York, 22 March 2018
Delegates to the Commission on the Status of Women,
Dear Ladies and Gentlemen,
I would like to welcome you to this afternoon’s event on the theme of “Affirming the Human Dignity of Rural Women and Girls through Healthcare and Education,” which the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See is co-sponsoring together with the World Youth Alliance and with the Fertility Education and Medical Management Foundation, normally referred to by its acronym FEMM.
Respecting the dignity of woman means accepting and valuing her at the level of her full humanity, including the maternal meaning of her femininity and the innate patterns of her fertility cycle. Such rhythms — and the maternal ends to which they’re directed — are not problems to be solved, maladies to be remedied, or, worse, evils to be rejected, but rather aspects of the woman that ought to be embraced as part of the reverence owed to woman in accordance with her dignity.
Various contemporary approaches to what is referred to as “sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights” do not respect this full dignity of the woman, thereby failing to reverence the motherly aspects of a woman’s body and personality and undermining her holistic development.
There’s another way. A way in line with her dignity. A way that treats femininity in all its aspects as a gift rather than an imperfection, a disease or a curse. A way that embraces woman’s health within the entirety of her personality, mind and body, and that fosters her growth in personal acceptance, maturity and self-giving love. And once woman is embraced in this way, her feminine genius, her special powers for caring for others and serving the good of others, is unleashed at work, in home and in her life as a whole. Not only does she benefit, but everyone benefits.
The international community committed itself, in Target 3.7 of the Sustainable Development Agenda, to seek to ensure by 2030 “universal access to sexual and reproductive health-care services, including for family planning, information and education, and the integration of reproductive health into national strategies and programs.”
Promoting sexual and reproductive health care, information and education, and making sure reproductive health is integrated into national health strategies, are all key priorities in any plan to try to help people, especially women and girls, stay as healthy as possible throughout their life span. These goals should not be controversial. They become so, only when there is an attempt to use them to push a narrow agenda that conceptually treats the normal, healthy functioning of a woman’s body and the motherhood that naturally is associated with sexual activity as ailments to be cured or as something to be suppressed.
That’s what happens when phrases like “reproductive health,” “sexual and reproductive health care services” and “sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights” are used to push for the practices of abortion and all forms of contraception, either as an exercise of “rights” or as means to population control or both. The very terms “reproductive” and “reproduction” themselves obscure the transcendent dimension of human “procreation,” a term that reflects the wonder of the participation of man and woman in the continued work of creation, and the reality that the full dignity of men and women is expressed when they relate to each other with mutual respect and commitment in all aspects of life, including procreation. Moreover, such reductive terms similarly betray a narrow and materialistic concept of health, one that in focusing on specific bodily systems fails to embrace the woman or the man in the entirety of who she or he is.
Pope Francis wrote about a much more adequate way of meeting not only Target 3.7, but the holistic health and sexual education needs of women and girls in his 2016 exhortation The Joy of Love. He wrote about how important it is to promote “the use of methods based on the laws of nature and the incidence of fertility,” because, he said, “these methods respect the bodies of the spouses, encourage tenderness between them and favor the education of an authentic freedom” (AL 222). He also encouraged education in these methods, because they communicate “sensitivity to different expressions of love, mutual concern and care, loving respect and deeply meaningful communication” and prepare people for “an integral and generous gift of self that will be expressed, following a public commitment, in the gift of their bodies” (AL 283).
FEMM is a method that does just that. It is a comprehensive women’s health program that, based on the cutting edge of medical research into female reproductive science, trains women and girls to understand their bodies, to recognize hormonal and other vital signs of health, to identify when they are fertile, and to grasp in a comprehensive way the question of family planning methods, including those with undesirable side effects. It recognizes that the health of a woman’s monthly cycle is a cornerstone of her overall health, empowering women to monitor their reproductive and sexual health and, if they choose, either avoid conception or help them conceive. It allows medical personnel to diagnose appropriately and address the root causes of sexual and reproductive health difficulties, rather than just trying chemically to manage or suppress the symptoms. The scientific breakthroughs that provide the medical foundation for FEMM allow doctors to remedy many of the underlying issues involved in infertility, menopause, thyroid dysfunction, migraines, depression, weight gain, fatigue, pain, PMS, polycystic ovary syndrome, endometriosis and even acne.
I thank you all for your interest in this important topic and service. I also thank in advance our Speakers for not only coming to share their expertise and experience with us, but also for their hard work on the ground, helping women and girls in a way that fully aligns with woman’s dignity and greatness. I am confident that you will find the next hour time well spent. Thank you!