Holy See at UN on Promoting Equality, Including Social Equity, Gender Equality, and Women's Empowerment

«The approach to women in the Sustainable Development Goals must acknowledge and enable women to overcome barriers to equality without forcing them to abandon what is essential to them»

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Here is the Feb. 6 intervention of ArchbishopFrancis A. Chullikatt, Apostolic Nuncio and Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations, at the UN’s Eighth Session of the Open Working Group on the Sustainable Development Goals on “Promoting Equality, including Social Equity, Gender Equality, and Women’s Empowerment.”

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Mr. Co-Chair,             

Sustainable development – based always on its three essential pillars – cannot be divorced from the need to ensure that development benefits are enjoyed equally by all members of the human family.  A priority of the first order, accordingly, should be that no human being should be left behind by the global development process. 

At this juncture in human history, statistics reveal inequalities between and among peoples to be higher than ever. Figures on economic inequalities emerging from the 2014 World Economic Forum highlight the realities of poverty, deprivation, marginalization, and suffering to constitute a great scandal. Inattention to inequalities, even within the Millennium Development Goals, has entrenched disadvantage and constitutes a call to rectify this formulation of the post-2015 development framework.

In such a vicious cycle, inequalities manifest both as causes and effects of the fractionalization of societies. As the Global Thematic Consultation on the Post-2015 Development Agenda Synthesis Report notes, while structural factors generating inequalities are wide-ranging – including elements economic, social, political, cultural, and environmentally based,[1] their impact is universal. Inequalities exclude human beings from full participation in the life of their community, denying them the full enjoyment of their human rights as well as the basic economic opportunities which their inherent human dignity demands.

Global inequality is no mere sterile economic or juridical concern but is a fully human crisis threatening society’s common good as a whole. Pope Francis has identified inequality as the root of social ills, one which provides a fertile ground for violence, crime, and conflict.[2]  The ultimate product of inequality is not merely poverty and unemployment, crime, social disorder, and despair, but a progressive destruction of the very fabric of society itself, threatening wellbeing of all.

Mr. Co-Chair,

In order to be truly inclusive and equitable, the Post-2015 development framework does well to avoid a siloed approach when addressing the root causes of inequality, poverty and exclusion. A universal approach omits no one, and a development agenda based firmly on the three SDG pillars, should embrace its core purposes: achieving development for the good of all people, both between and within nations, embodying the promise that all are entitled without distinction to partake in development’s fruits. Partnerships must be forged between local and regional governments and civil society, including religious organizations, to reach those at the utmost fringes of society.

 Mr. Co-Chair,

Women and girls stand prominently among those whose human dignity has been affronted. This is especially apparent at times when they are most vulnerable: when they are targeted for sex-selective abortion; or subject to infanticide and abandonment, unschooled, subjected to female genital mutilation, forced marriage, and trafficking. The horror of domestic violence, rape, forced sterilization and abortions threatens women’s health and lives. Old age finds them alone and poor, without social or economic security. These wide-spanning issues of inequality require an approach which incorporates and safeguards women’s equality across the development framework.

Yet it would be naïve to conflate equality with sameness.  The approach to women in the Sustainable Development Goals must acknowledge and enable women to overcome barriers to equality without forcing them to abandon what is essential to them. Women worldwide do not live in isolation, but exist within the context of relationships which provide meaning, richness, identity, and human love. Their relationships, especially their role within the family – as mothers, wives, caregivers – have profound effects on the choices women make and their own prioritization of the rights which they exercise across their lifespans. 

In formulating the Sustainable Development Goals, the global community must sidestep a simplistic assertion that shortfalls in women’s economic and public achievements can be remedied only by the negation of their procreative capacities. A truly rights-based approach to women’s equality demands that societies and their institutions remove unjust social and economic barriers that interject a false dichotomy between the relationships that enhance their lives and their participation and gains across other human rights.  Development for women will be truly sustainable only when it respects and enables women to choose and prioritize their actions according to equal opportunities within the context of real family relationships that frame their lives, not in spite of them. 

Sustainable Development Goals should provide the opportunity to confront inequality through the promotion of women’s engagement on an equal basis in society without disregarding entirely the family relationships in which women exist. Labor policies should go beyond facilitating equal job access and ensure reconciliation of paid work with family responsibilities: through family and maternity policies, and ensuring that equal salaries, unemployment benefits, and pensions are sufficient for a sustainable family life. Access to equal education and vocational training must accompany measures to accommodate family work and care needs. Serious efforts are needed to support women in their family choices. Civic participation should be designed to accommodate the participation of all women, including those with family responsibilities.

Mr. Co-Chair,

Measures to eliminate inequalities within the Sustainable Development framework must ensure that every member of the human family partakes in the benefits of international development. Through a truly inclusive development agenda that places the last among us first, the community of nations can ensure that a person’s status at birth (indeed, before birth) shall no longer be permitted to determine the extent to which they can realize the equal and inalienable rights which derive from their inherent human dignity.

Thank you, Mr. Co-Chair.

[1] UNICEF and UN Women, 2013. Addressing Inequalities: Synthesis Report of Global Public Consultation

[2] Apostolic Exhortation of Pope Francis, Evangelii gaudium, n. 202.

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