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Pope Francis in the fight for women's rights

  • 04 May 2015

Pope Francis continues to stir the pot on issues facing the church and wider society. His strategies for influencing the discussion of the environment at the September Climate Summit and the discussion of the family at the October Synod have been evident in recent weeks.

In recent weeks, Ban Ki-moon, the Secretary General of the United Nations pleaded with him in Rome to to support action to address climate change, and the Vatican hosted a seminar on climate change and development.

Before the UN-led Climate Summit, at which it is hoped binding targets will be set, Pope Francis will issue an Encyclical Letter on the Environment and address the United Nations. Opponents of action on climate change have also been mobilising to neutralise any effect the Pope's interventions might have.

Francis' recent comments on marriage and women's rights can be read in the light of the October Synod on the family. His most interesting and trenchant remarks were on women's rights.

He strongly urged Christians to endorse the struggle for equality between men and women. Of equal pay for similar work he said, 'Why is it expected that women must earn less than men? ... They have the same rights. The disparity is a pure scandal.'

He went on to reflect on the decline in the number of marriages in many parts of the world, remarking that 'many consider that the change occurring in these last decades may have been set in motion by women's emancipation'. He considered that view an insult, and untrue, declaring that the attempt to lay the blame for fewer marriages on the struggle for women's rights 'is a form of chauvinism that always wants to control the woman'.

The place of women in society and the struggle for women's rights are important background issues in the Synod. To insist that women and men should receive the same remuneration for similar work is not radical. But the assumption that women will normally work is not universally shared among Catholics, including delegates to the Synod. Some believe that ideally women would be able and want to work at home and care for their families.

The Pope is realistic in assuming that many women will need and want to work. He hopes that the Synod similarly will address the realities of family life, and offer encouragement and compassion to people in their struggles.

In insisting that the diminishing number