Pope John Paul II wrote an eye-opening Letter to Women on the eve of the UN’s 4th World Conference on Women held in 1995 in Beijing. This letter should be read by every female on the planet. He apologized on behalf of the Church for all of the discrimination we have faced. He waxed poetic about how freaking awesome we are. He demonstrated without a doubt how well he really understood us.
Image from the USCCB. This is only one kind of woman that he thanks in this letter.
Why do I mention this? Because his was far from the only voice heard at the conference. Hillary Clinton, at the time the First Lady of the United States, spoke in a plenary session and surprisingly both contradicted and unintentionally echoed some of John Paul II’s words. Reading her speech, it was a challenge to me to not read abortion rights into every sentence. As a pro-life activist reading a pro-choice activist’s words, I’m naturally on the defense. But she said a few good things I’d like to share with you:
What we are learning around the world is that if women are healthy and educated, their families will flourish. If women are free from violence, their families will flourish. If women have a chance to work and earn as full and equal partners in society, their families will flourish. And when families flourish, communities and nations do as well. That is why every woman, every man, every child, every family, and every nation on this planet does have a stake in the discussion that takes place here.
Many of us has heard:
In John Paul II’s Letter to Women, he does stretch this to include women, that women are an essential part of the family.
Clinton also said:
We [women] are the primary caretakers for most of the world’s children and elderly. Yet much of the work we do is not valued–not by economists, not by historians, not by popular culture, not by government leaders.
I did read a very good book once that made the argument that while workplaces are sexist, often they are even more anti-caregiver regardless of gender. Perhaps, in many cases even worse for the male caregiver than the female. Someone taking time off to care for others is looked down upon. If you quit for your family, you often publicly make up some other excuse.
As John Paul II says in his letter:
And what shall we say of the obstacles which in so many parts of the world still keep women from being fully integrated into social, political and economic life? We need only think of how the gift of motherhood is often penalized rather than rewarded, even though humanity owes its very survival to this gift. Certainly, much remains to be done to prevent discrimination against those who have chosen to be wives and mothers. As far as personal rights are concerned, there is an urgent need to achieve real equality in every area: equal pay for equal work, protection for working mothers, fairness in career advancements, equality of spouses with regard to family rights and the recognition of everything that is part of the rights and duties of citizens in a democratic State.
Our society depends on caregivers for our very survival, but all caregivers have to fight for respect.
Clinton concludes her speech:
The time is now. We must move beyond rhetoric. We must move beyond recognition of problems to working together, to have the common efforts to build that common ground we hope to see.
Sadly, instead of coming together looking for common ground, our politics are becoming more and more polarized. You can just see that today in the varied responses to the death of Justice Scalia. I don’t trust Clinton to seek such common ground, but it’s a nice sentiment I wish all politicians would strive for. It is a goal that needs to be reached particularly when it comes to women’s rights.
Don’t mistake this for any kind of endorsement. She did mention abortion and birth control several times in her speech under the euphemism “family planning.” Her views on abortion are clear. Her speech, however, is very good and offers plenty to ponder.