By Inés San Martín
ROME (Crux) — “The subordination of women to men is the fruit of sin,” a leading Vatican Cardinal said on Tuesday.
“How much damage we have done, as men, by endorsing a status of superiority,” said Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet, who heads the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops and the Pontifical Commission for Latin America. “There is no complete image of what is human when only the masculine is considered predominant and the only thing relevant. For centuries, we have suffocated the feminine peculiarity.”
The prelate was addressing the World Observatory for Women, promoted by the World Union of Catholic Women’s Organizations (UMOFC).
The results of the Observatory’s first report looking into women in Latin America and the Caribbean, and how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected them, were presented at the gathering.
Cardinal Ouellet said he hopes that the Observatory will introduce “in its observing the light of faith. Faith is a method of knowledge that helps perceive the ultimate meeting of reality through the diversity of information. Faith does not substitute nor violate reason, but expands its horizon, making it more sapiential, cordial, and deep down, more empathic.”
The goal of the first survey by the Observatory was “to give visibility to women who seem invisible,” UMOFC President Maria Lia Zervino explained. The report is the product of a qualitative work in three parts, with data, expert commentary, and surveys conducted in 23 countries.
The survey, which was also presented last Saturday to Pope Francis in a private audience, confirmed that the pandemic has worsened the condition of women in terms of gender-based violence, trafficking and forced migration, poverty, access to health, and education, exacerbating the already existing gaps and injustices.
Despite these inequalities, said Monica Santamarina De Robles, treasurer of UMOFC, “women have shown great strength and resilience and have reinvented ways to sustain themselves.”
The proposals for improving women’s lives include: The creation of spaces for accompaniment and help among women, the formation of women’s leadership (including in the pastoral field), a broadening of the representation of women in public spaces, humanizing relationships through intergenerational circles of conversation, and continuing to investigate structural and symbolic violence against women and broadcast the findings.
Sister Alessandra Smerilli, secretary of the Dicastery for the Service of Integral Human Development and head of the Vatican Commission on COVID-19, stressed the importance of the Observatory: “If we cannot observe and measure, we cannot improve reality.”
“If the economy were a woman,” she said, “it would really care about the common good and the care of the human being. The pandemic has put a spotlight on the situation of women with respect to access to food, land, technology, education, agriculture, health. We need to promote training, new laws and new spaces for women’s participation, in a collaboration between church, governments, social movements and NGOs.”
During the first quarter of 2022, the group began work in Africa with training in Nairobi, Kenya, for women to become social correspondents, capable of listening and sensitizing other women in their own communities.
“The feminine is the key to reading the present and the future of our society. The new feminine protagonist must be built and men are called to be an adequate help for the realization of women,” said Cardinal Ouellet during his introductory remarks.
Quoting Pope Francis, he said that women are the “protagonists of the epochal change” the world is facing. “The word protagonist could not be better chosen. The woman has always been a protagonist in history, however, it has often been made invisible. Many have a mentality installed in their conscience that does not allow them to recognize the dignity of every woman, and instead objectify and exploit them.”
Peruvian Archbishop Miguel Cabrejos, president of the Conference of Latin American Bishops (CELAM) – the sponsor of the study – said that “we feel pain and shame for the situation of women that emerges from the survey.”
“Many women in Latin America are victims of gender-based violence, which along with injustice and inequality has been exacerbated during the pandemic. The damage to physical and mental health has been countless: Xenophobia and racism are on the rise, and the phenomenon of trafficking run by criminal organizations has grown,” the archbishop said.
In contrast, he said, in the ecclesial world in Latin America, many women have assumed important positions in the pastoral management of parishes and also within CELAM.