Pope and Hope?April 16, 2008
Washington, D.C., and the nation’s media outlets are awash in news of the first papal visit to the nation’s capital since 1979. Rather than telling us in detail about the new “popemobile” and the secret security, it would be nice to actually know what this visit means for our most pressing challenges of the day. What are church leaders doing for women’s rights?
I was truly inspired to see women’s rights, faith leaders, and development practitioners come together this past weekend at the Washington National Cathedral to launch the Women, Faith, and Development Alliance. This campaign to eradicate global poverty, address gender inequality, and invest in women and girls has catalyzed more than $1 billion in commitments from nearly 80 organizations. The faith community has not previously engaged at this level with the women’s and development communities to highlight women’s empowerment.
The work of the Alliance is desperately needed. As the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women, the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights, and the U.N. Millennium Development Goals recently noted, women
- constitute 70 percent of the world’s poor but own just 1% of titled land,
- make up two-thirds of the world’s illiterate people, and
- die at a rate of 500,000 each year from preventable complications of pregnancy.
The Reverend Desmond Tutu delivered a powerful statement to the Alliance, urging the faith community to join together to focus on women’s rights as human rights: “Despite its global leadership on human rights and humanitarian aid, the faith community has failed to champion gender justice and the cause of women and girls. Religion has too often been used as a tool to oppress women, and we must bear responsibility for contributing to the unjust burden borne by women. Too often we have not named, and condemned roundly, culturally and traditionally rooted discriminatory practices like child marriages, genital mutilation, and violence against women and children.”
According to a Washington Post article, Pope Benedict XVI’s visit apparently developed from a plan to address the United Nations around the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. The prediction is that his address Friday to the United Nations will discuss the link between freedom and religion. Here’s hoping he’ll take the opportunity to identify women’s rights as human rights and to focus on the need to empower women and girls in our global society.