March 18, 2016
Women’s Empowerment and the Link to Sustainable Development
Delivered in New York on March 18, 2016

Statement of H.E. Archbishop Bernardito Auza
Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations

60th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women
“Women’s Empowerment and the Link to Sustainable Development”

New York, 18 March 2016

Mr. Chair,

In adopting the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the International Community committed itself to transform our world in such a way that “no one will be left behind.”

As this Commission examines the subject of Women’s empowerment and the link to sustainable development, it’s important to keep the focus on those women who are most prone to be left behind, those whose potential is often the least appreciated and realized. These women should not only be beneficiaries, but above all, they must be empowered to become dignified agents of their own development and important drivers of sustainable development.

Mr. Chair,

The world today continues to be confronted with various old and new forms of violence directed against women and girls, in particular the use of rape as a weapon of war during conflicts, the trafficking of women and girls for sexual exploitation, forced abortion, forced conversion and forced marriage. Instead of being eradicated, some of these acts of violence have re-emerged in even more cruel forms, causing death or serious and long-lasting physical, psychological and social effects, other than being some of the most horrendous violations of human rights.

The recognition of the vital role of women in preventive diplomacy, mediation, peacekeeping missions and peace-building processes, as well as their growing presence in policy-making bodies and advocacy groups, must be translated into action to unleash skills and capacities that allow women bring order out of chaos, community out of division, and peace out of conflict. 

My delegation wishes to underline some challenges facing elderly women, mothers and girls.

An exaggerated focus on economic productivity and the decline of family values are leaving elderly women even farther behind. More often than not, their needs are overlooked or not considered as policy priorities, leading them to feel unwanted and, in some cases, leaving them vulnerable to the pressures in favor of assisted suicide. They should, rather, feel welcome and productive in their own way by making the wisdom they have gained from their life experience useful for the whole of the society.

A common form of discrimination against women today regards motherhood. In many places, women’s essential contribution to the development of society through motherhood is not adequately acknowledged, appreciated, advanced and defended, often forcing women culturally and legally to choose between profession  and motherhood. Their often heroic act of raising and educating future generations is sometimes seen as economically disadvantageous and antiquated. My delegation wishes to avail itself of this occasion to express grateful appreciation for all the women who have raised generations of responsible daughters and sons.

In some parts of the world, the practices of abortion and in-vitro fertilization with pre-implantation genetic diagnosis are being used to selectively eliminate girls, leading to unnatural sex-ratio-at-birth disparities. Studies show a worldwide deficit of more than 160 million girls compared to boys. Simply because they are girls they have been left behind; indeed, they were not given the chance to see the light of day.

Mr. Chair,

Two areas in which the international community must ensure that no woman or girl is left behind is access to education and to adequate health care.

Education is essential to unlocking human potential. If women are to become prime drivers of sustainable development, ensuring that all girls and women have access to education is indispensable. The better the education they receive, the greater the opportunities open to them. Many mothers in situations of distress are unable to send their children to school, thus entangling them in the vicious circle of poverty and exclusion. Hence improving access to education for women will not only redound to a fuller realization of their potentials and greater professional opportunities, but is also a key to better educated future generations.

In many areas of the world, women’s health has been neglected with serious consequences for the well-being of children, families and societies. Authentic health care for women and girls, however, must be in accord with their feminine humanity and dignity. It would be contradictory to seek to empower women while suppressing their natural potentialities.

The Catholic Church, through its vast network of 250,000 schools, 23,500 clinics and hospitals, 16,000 homes for the elderly and those with special needs, with 65 percent of them located in developing countries, making the Catholic Church the largest education and health provider in the world, is committed to promoting quality education and health care for women and girls, especially in developing countries and in areas of conflict.

Mr. Chair,

Empowering women means creating the conditions necessary for them to flourish, in full acceptance of and in accordance with their natural genius as women, and in harmonious complementarity with the gifts of men. Empowering women and girls will greatly help the world community not to leave anyone behind, and their empowerment will empower us all.  

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Mara Hvistendahl, Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys Over Girls, and the Consequences of a World Full of Men, 2011.