INTERVENTION BY THE HOLY SEE
AT THE 60th SESSION OF THE COMMISSION ON THE STATUS OF WOMEN:
EMPOWERMENT AND THE LINK TO SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT"
H.E. ARCHBISHOP BERNARDITO AUZA
OBSERVER OF THE HOLY SEE TO THE UNITED NATIONS
New York, 18 March 2016
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.
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
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 to 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
favour 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
(Mara Hvistendahl, Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys Over Girls, and the
Consequences of a World Full of Men, 2011). Simply because they are girls
they have been left behind; indeed, they were not given the chance to see the
light of day.
Two areas in which the international community must ensure that no woman or
girl is left behind are access to education and access 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
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
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.