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Holy See's Address to U.N. on Status of Women

"Journey Still Has Far to Go"

NEW YORK, MARCH 9, 2005 (Zenit) - Here is the text of an address delivered Monday by Mary Ann Glendon, president of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, at the United Nations.

Glendon addressed the Economic and Social Council Commission on the Status of Women in the follow-up to the 1995 World Conference on Women, held in Beijing. She was the head of the Holy See delegation to that 1995 conference.

* * *

Madam Chair,

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 60 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. Charter, farsighted 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 social contexts.

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 dignity.

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 birthrates, rising costs of health care, and shortage of caretakers 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 particular risk.

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 firsthand 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 ...

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