Yesterday marked the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, which has been observed since 1981. The specific date was chosen to honor three sisters — wives and mothers — from Dominican Republic who were brutally murdered in 1960 by order of the country’s ruler, Rafael Trujillo.
To mark the day, Pope Francis reminded us that our level of humanity is measured by how we treat women. The statistics on the treatment of women around the world remain startling. According to Vatican News, data from the UN shows that on average, a woman or girl is killed by someone in her own family every 11 minutes.
Since the outbreak of COVID-19, emerging data and reports from those on the front lines have shown that all types of violence against women and girls, particularly domestic violence, have intensified.
From the beginning of his pontificate, Pope Francis has stressed the importance of respecting women and has called the mistreatment of women “blasphemy to God.”
“We can understand our degree of humanity by how we treat a woman’s body,” the pope said back in January 2020 in a homily.
What the Church has to say
The Church’s views on women are often a point of confusion for many. John Paul II spoke a lot about the dignity and vocation of women, and even wrote a heartfelt letter to women in 1995. Pope Benedict also praised the dignity of women, and acclaimed their role in Church history.
Two recent statements made by representatives of the Holy See shed further light on the Church’s views on women, and the call for both women and men to take action.
A statement by Archbishop Gabriele Caccia, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the UN, to the Third Committee of the General Assembly, pointed out that many women around the world “are prevented from developing their gifts and participating on an equal footing in society, sometimes due to harmful attitudes but also due to violence, poverty, and discrimination. To address this requires a recommitment by society as a whole to affirm the equal dignity of women and men.”
The statement — delivered in person by Monsignor Robert Murphy, Deputy Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the UN — stressed the need to address the worldwide problem of human trafficking and to acknowledge the importance of women in peace building. It also pointed out the integral role men have in establishing true equality and justice for women:
“Men, too, are required to … say no to every form of violence, including that against women and girls. In this regard, healthy family formation is key, as women and men model respect, support, and cooperation for their sons and daughters.”
The archbishop said women’s unique capacity for motherhood should be treasured, but too many experience financial and health risks during pregnancy and he urged a renewed focus on interventions that prevent maternal deaths, an issue that is a problem in the US today.
Another recent statement, reported in Vatican News, came from Monsignor Janusz S.Urbańczyk, the Permanent Representative of the Holy See to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.
In his statement to the 5th Plenary Session of the Warsaw Human Dimension Conference taking place in Poland, Msgr Urbańczyk stressed that the equality of men and women together is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.
Pointing out the issues women and girls face in war-torn Ukraine and other places, Msgr Urbańczyk said that, “Every single person and the whole of society is harmed when the inherent dignity of a woman or a girl is not respected or protected.” He called for all necessary measures to address violence against women and girls.
Msgr Urbańczyk also said that in many circumstances this problem:
“… has its roots in the mostly unexpressed, regrettable and mistaken idea that women are inferior to men and that, therefore, it is normal for man to subject woman to his own will or to have her serve his pleasure.”
The prelate said there was no hope of reversing this trend “if the common and equal dignity of male and female is not acknowledged, affirmed and rightly explained and taught to future generations.”
The future of our society and the way it treats women — as well as views on marriage and family life — begins with what we teach our children. We can begin this task by making sure that we model these truths about the dignity of all women and men and how together they fulfill God’s mission of love to the world.