In a month when we celebrate Mary, the Mother of God, and our own earthly mothers, it is fitting that the monthly universal prayer intention entrusted to the worldwide Apostleship of Prayer should be directed at the situation of women around the globe. Pope Francis encourages us to pray for,"Respect for Women: That in every country of the world, women may be honoured and respected and that their essential contributions to society may be highly esteemed."
Unfortunately, we are all too aware of the painful situation of many women throughout the world: slavery, pornography, prostitution, mutilation of the female body, the cultural practice of aborting the fetus when the parents know that the mother is carrying a girl, and the inequality of access to education. Many poor women are forced to live in dangerous conditions and are exploited and relegated to the margins of society. Pope Francis has several times spoken of women who are rendered victims of a throwaway culture.
Canadians often make the mistake of assuming that we are so progressive in terms of gender parity. We are ahead of most of the world in many areas. However, when we scratch the surface, we can name our own numerous sins and faults. Think about the situation of missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls. It is well documented that women are the majority of victims of human trafficking. In a less violent way, but a clear example of injustice, think about the wage disparity between women and men. Think about the exclusion of women from so many boardrooms and executive suites. Think about the daily experiences of exclusion and sexism encountered by women. These sins are deeply rooted in our culture.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had a wonderful retort when he was asked why he decided to name women to half the positions in his first cabinet: "Because it's 2015!" Recent popes have boosted the feminine influence in the structures of the Church. Many voices in the Church would suggest that we have a long way to go toward a just situation. Is it possible for the Church to be able to say that a new relationship with women in the Church is justified “because it is 2016?”
Speaking to the Pontifical Council for Culture, Francis said: "I encourage the contribution of so many women who work within the family, in the areas of teaching the faith, pastoral work, schooling, but also in social, cultural and economic structures. You women know how to embody the tender face of God, his mercy, which is translated into a willingness to give time rather than to occupy space, to welcome rather than to exclude." The Gospels show us a few things about the mature ways in which Jesus treated women. How would he challenge the Church and the world in 2016?
Let me leave the final word to Malala Yousafzai, the 17-year old who in 2014 was the youngest ever recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.
She has been advocating for Pakistani women and children since the age of 11. A Taliban gunman shot Malala in the face in October 2012 for her views on female education. She narrowly survived the ordeal and received intensive care in England. Her book, I am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban, has increased our awareness of the need to boost our commitment to international education for women and children. In a speech to the UN Youth Assembly she said, “One child, one teacher, one book, and one pen can change the world.”
As we pray for respect for women this month, let’s pray that Malala’s words and actions may make a difference in our country and throughout the world, that each of us may become that one child.
About The Author
Philip Shano, SJ. teaches at Regis College, oversees their spiritual direction training, serves as the Provincial's Assistant for the Native Apostolate, and is involved in our social apostolate in the Toronto area