Poverty, violence hinder progress for many women, girls, says nuncio


in many parts of the world force women and girls to bear the burden of carrying
out everyday chores for their families and communities, keeping many of them
from getting even a basic education, the Vatican’s U.N. nuncio said Oct. 6.

Females are often the victims of
sexual and other violence, which prevents them from improving life for
themselves and their families, said Archbishop Bernardito Auza, the Vatican’s
permanent observer to the United Nations. Migrant women and girls are
particularly vulnerable to these situations, he added.

He addressed the issue of women’s
advancement during a session at the United Nations of the Third
Committee, which focuses on social, humanitarian and cultural issues.

“Young women in rural areas are
disproportionately involved in unpaid domestic work and especially bear the
greatest burden when access to clean water and sanitation is not readily
available,” Archbishop Auza said. “They are forced to spend considerable time
and effort collecting water for the community, and in doing so, their access to
basic education is often thwarted, not to mention that, in many isolated
places, they are also exposed to risks of violence.”

Failure to achieve “that basic
human right” of universal access to safe drinkable water “can undermine other
human rights, as it is a prerequisite for their realization,” he said.

Pope Francis in his encyclical “Laudato
Si'” points to “the abandonment and neglect ‘ experienced by some rural
populations which lack access to essential services,” Archbishop Auza said,
quoting the document. In many areas, the pope noted, “some workers are reduced
to conditions of servitude, without rights or even the hope of a more dignified

Women and girls often bear “the
heaviest burden from these deprivations,” the archbishop said.

Regarding education, “significant
progress has been made toward parity between boys and girls from families of
relative wealth or decent economic standing,” the archbishop said, but women
and girls who live in poverty lack schooling, literacy skills and opportunities
for adult education.

Adolescent girls “are at the
greatest risk of exclusion from education due to social and economic hardships,”
Archbishop Auza said. “Whenever young women and girls do not have access to
education, they are hindered from becoming dignified agents of their own

To change this reality, the “basic
material needs of every school-age girl living in rural areas must be
addressed,” Archbishop Auza said. One initiative that has “proven efficient,” he
said, is providing school meals to reduce girls’ absenteeism. Such efforts should
be encouraged “to guarantee access to education to each and every girl,” he

A current partnership between
local farmers, including women, and the World Food Program of the United
Nations to provide “homegrown school meals” in 37 countries is “a hopeful
example,” Archbishop Auza said. The effort “attends to the needs of girls and
boys, fosters education and increases market access for women, all at the same
time,” he said.

Based in Rome, the World Food Program
is the world’s largest humanitarian organization addressing hunger and
promoting food security. It provides food aid to an average of 80 million
people in 76 countries each year.

Addressing the violence women
and girls face, Archbishop Auza again quoted Pope Francis in saying that
eliminating violence is impossible “until exclusion and inequality in society
and between peoples are reversed.”

“Through poverty and exclusion,
adolescent girls, especially those in rural areas, also experience heightened
vulnerability to sexual exploitation, child marriage and other unacceptable
forms of violence,” the archbishop said. “The horrifying prevalence of violence
against women, thus, remains a salient and sad example of the deep connection
between economic exclusion and violence.”

Archbishop Auza also discussed
the current global migration crisis and its effect on migrant women and girls
in particular, reminding the global community it has a responsibility “to
welcome, to protect, to promote and to integrate” migrants and refugees.

“Millions of women and girls are
fleeing violent conflicts or extreme poverty only to find themselves exploited
by traffickers and manipulators along perilous routes and even in host
communities,” the archbishop said.

The Vatican’s U.N. delegation,
he said, “strongly supports the international community in its efforts to raise
awareness and take concrete steps to prevent the abhorrent phenomenon of
violence perpetrated against migrant women and girls.”

“Women often heroically defend
and protect their families, sacrificing much to achieve a better life for
themselves and their children,” Archbishop Auza said. “They deserve to be
assisted and supported in order to realize their legitimate aspirations to a
better life for themselves and for their loved ones.”

He said the Vatican “remains
strongly committed” to endeavors aimed “at truly protecting women’s dignity,
while promoting their integral development and advancement within the family
and society.”

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