Statement by H.E.
Professor Mary Ann Glendon
President of the
Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences
Economic and Social
Council Commission on the Status of Women:
Follow-up to the
Fourth World Conference on Women
and to the
twenty-third special session of the General Assembly
New York, 7 March
1. In 2005, the United
Nations will mark the anniversaries of five historic moments when
the family of nations gave encouragement and impetus to women on
their quest for recognition of their equal rights and dignity.
The first and most consequential of these moments occurred exactly
sixty years ago. It was in the spring of 1945 when the founders of
the U.N. astonished many by proclaiming their "faith…in the dignity
and worth of the human person" and "in the equal rights of men and
women." At the time, there was not a single country in the world
where women enjoyed full social and legal equality. By lifting up a
different vision in the U.N.
far-sighted men and women accelerated a process that would soon
yield unprecedented opportunities for the world's women. As that
process gathered momentum, the four U.N. women's conferences --in
Mexico City, Copenhagen, Nairobi and Beijing--provided occasions at
key stages to assess progress and chart new directions. Today, the
equality principle is officially accepted nearly everywhere in the
world, and has increasingly been brought to life in a variety of
Yet even as we
celebrate those great gains, women are facing new challenges. For
the same years that saw great advances for many women, brought new
forms of poverty to many others, and new threats to human life and
2. A stark reminder
that women's journey still has far to go is the fact that
three-quarters of the world's poverty population today is composed
of women and children. In the developing world, hundreds of
millions of women and children lack adequate nutrition, sanitation,
and basic health care. And even in affluent societies, the faces of
the poor are predominantly those of women and children, for, as
noted in the Beijing Platform, there is a strong correlation between
family breakdown and the feminization of poverty. The costs of rapid
increases in divorce and single-parenthood have fallen heavily on
women, and most heavily of all on those women who have made personal
sacrifices to care for children and other family members.
3. Ten years ago,
the Beijing Platform proclaimed that, "The key to moving women and
their families out of poverty is education." The Holy See, with
its longstanding dedication to educating women and girls, notes with
concern, therefore, that improvements on this front have been slow,
with girls still forming the majority of more than 100 million
children of primary school age who are not enrolled in school.1
Until conditions are established for every girl to develop her full
human potential, not only will women's progress be impeded, but
humanity will be deprived of one of its greatest untapped resources
of intelligence and creativity.
4. As we look ahead,
moreover, a new shadow has fallen over women's path, due to the
changing age structure of the world's populations. The
combination of greater longevity, falling birth-rates, rising costs
of health care, and shortage of care-takers is already giving rise
to tensions between younger and older generations. That shift in
dependency ratios is raising serious questions about the future
well-being of the frail elderly, and especially of women who, with
their greater longevity, are disproportionately represented among
the dependent elderly and more likely to be in poverty. In a world
that has become dangerously careless about protecting human life at
its frail beginnings and endings, older women are likely to be at
5. In its Final
Statement at the Beijing Conference, the Holy See expressed the fear
that the sections of the Beijing documents dealing with women in
poverty would remain empty promises unless backed up by
well-thought-out programs and financial commitments. Today, with
growing disparities of wealth and opportunity, we are obliged to
raise that concern again. The recent findings of the U.N. Millennium
Project, as well as first-hand observations from over 300,000
Catholic education, health service and relief agencies, serving
mainly the most marginalized people, confirm that the fears we
expressed in 1995 continue to be well founded.
6. What makes the
plight of the world's most disadvantaged women a scandal as well as
a tragedy, Madam Chair, is the fact that, for the first time in
history, humanity finally has the means to defeat hunger and
poverty. Feasible action programs, such as those set forth in
the Millennium Development
outlined steps that, if taken, could lift more than 500 million
people out of extreme poverty by the year 2015. But movement toward
that goal has already fallen behind established targets. Clearly,
goals and action plans are not enough. What is needed, as Pope John
Paul II recently pointed out, is "a vast moral mobilization of
public opinion….especially in those countries enjoying a sufficient
or even prosperous standard of living."2
In that connection,
Madam Chair, the Holy See wishes to take this occasion to reaffirm
its own longstanding commitments to the education and health of
women and girls, and to pledge its redoubled efforts to awaken the
consciences of the privileged.
7. Finally, Madam
Chair, as women's journey moves forward, we wish to note another
problem to which no society has yet found a satisfactory solution.
The application of the equality principle to the actual life
circumstances of the majority of women--mothers and others who give
priority to care-giving roles--continues to pose a challenge.
The problem of harmonizing women's aspirations for fuller
participation in social and economic life with their roles in family
life is one that women themselves are fully capable of resolving.
But the problem will not be resolved without certain major, one may
even say radical, changes in society. In the first place, policy
makers must attend more closely to women's own accounts of what is
important to them, rather than to special interest groups that
purport to speak for women but often do not have women's interests
at heart. Secondly, care-giving, paid or unpaid, must receive the
respect it deserves as one of the most important forms of human
work. And thirdly, paid labor must be structured in such a way that
women do not have to pay for their security and advancement at the
expense of the roles in which many millions of them find their
In sum, the problem will not be solved until human values take
precedence over economic values.
No one can deny, Madam
Chair, that those steps would require profound changes in attitudes
But it was nothing less than a profound cultural transformation that
the founders of the U.N. envisioned sixty years ago when they boldly
proclaimed women's equality and insisted with equal vigor on
protection for the family, motherhood and childhood.5
It was nothing less than a profound cultural transformation that
they envisioned when they committed themselves to advancing "better
standards of life in larger freedom" for all women and men.6
Now that we have traveled so far toward making that vision a
reality, should we not have the courage to carry on to the end?
Thank you, Madam Chair.
World Fit for Children," Report of Second World Summit for Children,
par. 38 (2002).
Address to the Diplomatic Corps, January 2005, No. 6.
Exercens, No. 19.
Paul II, Message to Gertrude Mongella, 5.
Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, Arts. 1, 2, 16, and 25.
Declaration of Human Rights, Preamble.