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Culture, Development and Feminine Liberation

Interview With Professor Anna Bono

ROME, MARCH 10, 2006 (Zenit) - Has women's liberation advanced in the world, especially in poor and developing countries?

On the occasion of International Women's Day, observed today, we broached this question with Anna Bono, a professor of history and institutions of Africa at the University of Turin, and director of the Department of Development of the European Center of Studies on Population, Environment and Development.

Q: For many years, the struggle for feminine emancipation interested the developed world above all, while the feminine condition in underdeveloped countries is still dire, with obvious phenomena of sexual discrimination in the areas of education, law and access to work. In what way can economic and cultural development help to overcome such discrimination?

Bono: History suggests that it was Christian Western civilization that set conditions to overcome discrimination of all kinds, including sexual.

It did so by elaborating the concept of "human person," gifted with natural rights, namely, rights inherent to the human condition and therefore universal and inalienable. And by carrying out three revolutions -- scientific, technological and industrial -- that have enabled humanity to abandon archaic subsistence economies to which, on the social and political plane, always corresponded to patriarchal systems that entrust to male heads of families the control of the productive and reproductive resources of a community and therefore the fate of women and young men.

The different traditional social institutions of subsistence economies have as their object to make this control total.

Economic development and the anthropological revolution, which affirm the value of the person in history, make these institutions superfluous and the discrimination they produce counterproductive.

In this way, gradually, the condition of women and, let's not forget, of children, improves in the interest of the individual and of the collectivity.

Q: Is economic and social development sufficient to allow women of developing countries to attain real emancipation and respect for their dignity?

Bono: Obviously, economic growth in itself is not sufficient to eliminate discrimination against women or discriminatory institutions -- from forced marriages to genital mutilations, including domestic segregation, bride-price and the dowry -- which limit her freedom and violate fundamental rights.

It is also obvious that the discrimination and violations of the person suffered by women constitute an obstacle to the development of a country's economic potentials. Because of this, there must be action on both fronts to achieve lasting and consistent results.

However, in many social contexts, it is also a priority to intensify initiatives geared to the flowering of respect for the dignity of the human person, and awareness of the value of every person -- regardless of his or her sexual identity -- and, therefore, of the universality of the human condition.

Only in this way is it possible to guarantee the girls of today equal and full opportunity of access to education and health care, necessary conditions for them to eventually be independent, aware of their rights and capable of exercising them. In this way, they will be able to contribute to social and economic progress and enjoy its fruits.

Q: What are the positive aspects of Christian and Western culture which have favored feminine emancipation?

Bono: The answer has already been given in part in the preceding considerations. I limit myself therefore to emphasize the fundamental role carried out by the Christian religion in the realization of cultural and economic changes which have made feminine emancipation possible.

Monsignor Luigi Giussani, founder of Communion and Liberation, said that the most revolutionary phrase of the history of culture is that of St. Paul: "Every creature is a good."

Wherever these words do not resonate, the birth of a girl continues to be an event that is so unwanted that it leads to the worst of discriminations, that is, selective abortion and infanticide. In India alone, for example, in the last 20 years, 10 million girls have not seen the light for this reason.

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