For the role of women

Pope’s prayer intention for April

Apr 04, 2024

Prayer Prism - Fr Fabian Dicom

“I like to think that if women could enjoy full equality of opportunity, they could contribute substantially to the necessary change towards a world of peace, inclusion, solidarity and integral sustainability,” said Pope Francis in the preface of a book entitled More Women’s Leadership for a Better World: Caring as the Engine for Our Common Home. He said that women need to get equal remuneration with men for equal roles and described ongoing pay gaps as “a serious injustice”. He condemned the “plague” of violence against women, recalling a speech he delivered in 2021 when he called it “an open wound resulting from a patriarchal and macho culture of oppression”.

Amidst the backdrop of pervasive discrimination and marginalisation faced by women worldwide, Pope Francis’s prayer intention: FOR THE ROLE OF WOMEN

We pray that the dignity and immense value of women be recognised in every culture, and for the end of discrimination that they experience in different parts of the world, takes on a heart-rending significance.

Discrimination against women has been a persistent issue since the dawn of civilisation, manifesting in various forms across all corners of the globe. For example, in the US, women earn 82 cents for every dollar men earn, while India ranks 140th out of 156 countries in gender equality. In Japan, women earn 73 per cent of men’s wages and hold only 10 per cent of managerial positions. South Africa faces gender-based violence and economic disparities, with one in five women experiencing physical violence and lower rates of employment and earnings compared to men. Saudi Arabia’s legal system perpetuates gender inequality through discriminatory laws, including unequal treatment in marriage, divorce, and legal proceedings. These examples emphasise the urgent need for global action to promote gender equality.

In Malaysia, the plight of refugee women, plantation workers and migrant domestic workers, underlines the urgent need to address systemic inequalities. These women endure exploitation, abuse, and marginalisation, highlighting the stark reality of gender-based discrimination in Malaysian society.

Glorene Das, Executive Director of Tenaganita, a Malaysian human rights organisation, in her statement Recognising Shared Struggles of Refugee and Plantation Women in Malaysia for Women’s Day 2024, sheds light on the experiences of women in Malaysia, particularly those from refugee and plantation communities.

According to Glorene, refugee women in Malaysia face significant challenges due to displacement from their homelands. They often encounter barriers to education, healthcare, and employment opportunities, exacerbated by Malaysia’s non-signatory status to the 1951UN Refugee Convention. Discrimination and marginalisation further compound their struggles, making it imperative for their dignity and value to be recognised and respected.

Similarly, plantation women in Malaysia work tirelessly in challenging conditions, contributing significantly to the nation’s economy. However, their contributions often go unnoticed, and they face issues such as long hours and minimal job security. Despite their vital role in sustaining the plantation industry, they experience discrimination and lack of acknowledgment for their efforts.

According to an article titled Migrant Domestic Workers in Malaysia, Malaysia hosts an estimated 300,000 to 400,000 individuals, as reported by the International Labour Organisation (ILO). These migrant workers fulfil an essential role in sustaining families' livelihoods and contributing significantly to the economy. Despite their significant contributions, they face extensive exploitation, abuse, and violence, with many cases going unreported due to their marginalised status. These workers are excluded from key labour protections, rendering them vulnerable to various forms of mistreatment.

Despite occasional attempts to address these issues, such as proposals to improve working conditions and legal recognition, enforcement remains inadequate. The prevailing impunity enjoyed by abusive employers perpetuates a cycle of exploitation and reinforces the perception of domestic workers as disposable commodities rather than valued members of society.

In the context of Catholic Social Teaching, the dignity of women refers to the recognition and affirmation of the inherent worth, equality, and God-given rights of women as individuals and as members of society. This concept is grounded in the belief that women, like all human beings, are created in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:27) and are therefore endowed with intrinsic dignity that must be respected and upheld.

The Catholic Social Teaching emphasises the equal dignity of men and women (CCC 2334) and rejects any form of discrimination, oppression, or violence based on gender. It recognises the unique contributions and gifts that women bring to families, communities, and society as a whole, and emphasises the importance of ensuring that women have the opportunity to participate fully and equally in all aspects of social, political, economic, and religious life. (The Joy of the Gospel 103-104, 212, 214; see also Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, Apostolic Letter on the Dignity and Vocation of Women)

Despite the persistent challenges and injustices faced by women, there is a growing sense of hope and progress towards recognising and upholding their rights. This hope is evidenced by the increasing awareness and advocacy for women’s dignity and welfare, both domestically and on the international stage. In Malaysia alone, nearly 50 women NGOs are actively working to support and empower women, reflecting a collective commitment to equality and justice. As more voices join in solidarity and action, the momentum for positive change continues to build, offering a beacon of hope for a future where women's rights are fully respected and upheld.

Anna Amandus, a dedicated pastoral minister and fervent advocate for Mother Earth, shared encouraging insights gleaned from her diverse experiences in pastoral ministry across various facets of Church life in Sabah. She observes with admiration how women exhibit incredible resilience and strength, effortlessly assuming leadership roles in various spheres despite societal limitations. Initiatives like Puncak Kepimpinan Wanita advocate for greater female representation, amplifying women's voices in decision-making processes. Their impactful efforts, from championing rights to environmental conservation, highlight the life-changing power of empowered women. Despite ongoing discrimination, the vision of women complementing men in creating a harmonious world endures, fuelled by their unwavering determination and passion for meaningful action.

In conclusion, the call to prayer serves as a catalyst for meaningful action. The Catholic Church must lead by example, advocating for women’s rights and actively partnering with others to effect positive change. This can only begin to happen by shifting our paradigm to view marginalised individuals as equals, recognising the dignity and immense value of women in every culture, and working together to create a world where all are treated with the respect and dignity which is inherently theirs. 

(Fr Fabian Dicom is the National Office Director for Caritas Malaysia.)

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