Holy See calls attention to plight of rural women

General Assembly Hall at the opening of the 56th session of the Commission on the Status of Women Feb 27 Credit UN Photo Paulo Filgueiras CNA500X315 US Catholic News 3 6 12 The General Assembly Hall at the opening of the 56th session of the Commission on the Status of Women, Feb. 27, 2012. | U.N. Photo-Paulo Filgueiras.

In a March 6 address, the Vatican’s delegation to the United Nations highlighted the important role of women in society and advocated for the rights of suffering rural women around the world.

“Full respect must be accorded to the dignity of women, which is grounded in the very nature of being human and from which flow both rights and responsibilities,” said Dianne Willman, attaché at the Holy See Mission, in an address to the fifty-sixth session of the U.N.’s  Commission on the Status of Women.

Willman delivered the March 6 statement on behalf of Archbishop Francis Chullikatt, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations.

She acknowledged that rural women account for a significant portion of the world’s population and that the obstacles confronting these women are often great.

In addition to facing challenges such as hunger and poverty, rural women often suffer from limited healthcare access, poor nutrition, lack of water, discrimination and exposure to violence, she said.

Rural women are frequently subjected to “deplorable” working situations, including long hours of work without pay and unhygienic conditions.

Willman also underscored how they are sometimes forced to migrate to urban settings or other countries in order to survive, she said. While this move may mark a “real opportunity” for some women, it can also lead to exploitation and abuse for those who are most vulnerable. 

These challenges can impede their ability to care for themselves and their families, and can have far-reaching negative consequences, since rural women often serve as “caregivers in the family and the broader community,” she told the committee.

Helping rural women, Willman said, will therefore play an important role in solving some of the “most serious global challenges” by easing problems of child neglect and strengthening the family, which is the most fundamental unit of society.

The Holy See attaché called for “ongoing reflection on the essential role of women in society,” adding that women “should be given the recognition that is due to them” and should be able “to make an impact on the world around them.”

She observed that poverty and hunger are often largely brought about by “unfair social and political systems” that deny women the opportunity to have “a voice in decisions that affect them.”

She also highlighted the need for men to cooperate in implementing “an authentic human-centered approach” to overcoming prejudice and reducing suffering among rural women.

Willman urged the current session of the Commission on the Status of Women to be used as an opportunity to share experiences and develop practices that will aid women. Both national and international stakeholders should work towards policies that free suffering women from “oppressive circumstances,” she added.

Emphasizing the importance of human dignity, Willman reiterated the Vatican’s commitment to protecting the most poor and vulnerable members of society and to “contributing to the common good of all.”

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