The Holy See
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Friday, 20 April 2007


Mr President,

The project for midterm strategy 34 C/4 that UNESCO intends to pursue during the period 2008-13 deserves applause. Indeed, it stresses two priorities which should contribute to human development in contemporary societies.

I wish to emphasize in particular the attention paid to Africa, a poor and often forgotten Continent, as well as the attention paid to the situation of a great number of women throughout the world whose intrinsic dignity is frequently disrespected.

Every person who cares about the philosophy of human rights should recognize the inalienable and intrinsic dignity of every human being, regardless of his or her sex, origins, belief or possessions.

I would like today to insist on one point: the importance of the real promotion of women's dignity and their responsible participation at all levels of social life. In fact, this priority that UNESCO wishes to establish matches the authentic concern of the Catholic Church.

At the beginning of his Apostolic Letter Mulieris Dignitatem of 15 August 1988, Pope John Paul II recognized that the dignity and the vocation of women had in recent years gained exceptional prominence (cf. n. 1), and that a deeper anthropological study of the human being was essential in order to understand and defend the dignity of women based on every human person's equality and with respect for their differences, especially those between the sexes.

It should be noted that the strategic policy relies legitimately on the principle of non-discrimination, which is a feature of the social order within societies and is linked to inalienable respect for human rights. One cannot fail to applaud UNESCO's desire to recall that the same rights exist for men and for women.

In the area of Western culture, a large number of philosophers have striven to show the importance for social life of a correct understanding of the equality of the sexes despite their differences. This cannot be understood as a pure and simple form of egalitarianism. The biblical message, as Pope John Paul II noted, contains "the fundamental anthropological truths" (Mulieris Dignitatem, n. 6).

In particular, in the Book of Genesis one reads: "God created man (the human being) in his own image... male and female he created them" (1: 27). And it must be stressed on the one hand that the Creator created the difference between the sexes and on the other, that the human being does not truly acquire the name of man or woman until the moment when the fundamental difference between man and woman is recognized.

Becoming aware of the other who is radically different is accompanied by a sense of wonder at what the other is, with his or her uniqueness and originality: "She is bone of my bones".

The Christian faith thus nourishes the conviction that no one can ever deny a human being, man or woman, the intrinsic value that God has bestowed upon each one and that can never be alienated. Likewise, this original dignity calls for every human being to be treated as a person and not an object.

Each individual is responsible for taking care of his brothers and sisters in humanity. Political and social, national and international institutions are also duty bound to ensure that this dignity is respected in all circumstances, at all stages of a person's life.

In this perspective, one cannot fail to hope that ever greater attention will be paid to respecting women and young girls, and especially to their physical integrity, their freedom to choose their own husband and their need for access to education and social life.

In his Message for the World Day of Peace 2007, Benedict XVI has described the importance assumed by the issue of the inequalities of men and women in difficulty and social conflicts throughout the world:

"At the origin of many tensions that threaten peace are surely the many unjust inequalities still tragically present in our world. Particularly insidious among these are, on the one hand, inequality in access to essential goods like food, water, shelter, health; on the other hand, there are persistent inequalities between men and women in the exercise of basic human rights....

"Similarly, inadequate consideration for the condition of women helps to create instability in the fabric of society....

"There can be no illusion of a secure peace until these forms of discrimination are also overcome, since they injure the personal dignity impressed by the Creator upon every human being" (Message, World Day of Peace, nn. 6-7, 1 January 2007; L'Osservatore Romano English edition, 20 December 2006, p. 6).

We are aware in the various nations of the active role women play in social development. The Holy See acknowledges their incomparable role in the human formation of youth and in the micro-economic system, their attachment to the human and moral values which they take pains to pass on to the new generations, their protection of life, their attention to peace and fraternal solidarity, their care of elderly and sick persons, their care of their families and children, their sense of interiority.

These are some elements, among others, which illustrate their profound qualities, their tireless devotion and the constant concern they have to giving the best of themselves, thereby also expressing the firm hope that dwells within them.

For this reason, women have many things to teach us. It is thus important that their genius be taken into account by international organizations as well as by the leaders of civil society in the different countries of the globe.

It is thanks to women - whose work, often humble and hidden, requires support - that the family as the basic cell of society will be better promoted, that young people will learn how to fit better into social networks, that peace will be sought more intensely and that dialogue and human relations will be factors of brotherhood and solidarity at the local level.

Thus, society as a whole will ultimately benefit from the vocation, action and genius of women.

For this reason, in the perspective mentioned above, the Holy See gladly seconds UNESCO's efforts on behalf of the dignity of young girls and women, who are present in the transversal action of 34 C/4. Thank you, Mr President, for your kind attention.