"It is important to recognize – and articulate – that being genuinely pro-woman is consistent with being pro-life. In our public conversation and policy we should remember that women’s diverse needs, goals, and talents are not limited to matters of sexuality and fertility."
Promoting the Dignity of Women at Home and Abroad
by Grace S. Melton
Last month was Women’s History Month, and the majority of the headlines about its observance were dominated by the feminist-led protest event "A Day Without a Woman," replete with tired slogans about women’s rights and angry statements by American liberals. These feminists too often tell us that "women’s rights" boil down to sexual autonomy, access to abortion, and being treated the same as men in all aspects of our lives. Their message fails to appreciate the inherent dignity that each of us – men, women, and children – possess as a result of our humanity, a gift from God.
In stark contrast to the protest marches, I was privileged to participate in two events last month that the U.S. State Department used to highlight the achievements, challenges, and real needs of women around the world in a more serious and constructive way.
First, Ambassador Nikki Haley led the U.S. delegation to the annual meeting of the Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations, on which I served as a public delegate. The meeting focused on the priority theme of women’s economic empowerment in the changing world of work. Much of the meeting discussed issues of tangible importance to women and girls across the world in achieving greater economic empowerment, such as education; access to resources and investments; juggling family and childcare needs; recognizing unpaid care and domestic work; and ending discrimination, harassment, and violence against women and girls.
While abortion advocates and their feminist allies sought to use this forum to assert that abortion rights are an important component of women’s empowerment, the U.S. pushed back and insisted that there is not an international "right" to abortion, nor does the U.S. "recognize abortion as a method of family planning" or "support abortion in our reproductive health assistance." As Americans, we can be proud that the U.S. is the largest donor of bilateral assistance for maternal and child health in the world, and under President Trump’s reinstatement of the Mexico City Policy, U.S. tax dollars will no longer go to any group that promotes or performs abortion overseas.
It is important to recognize – and articulate – that being genuinely pro-woman is consistent with being pro-life. In our public conversation and policy we should remember that women’s diverse needs, goals, and talents are not limited to matters of sexuality and fertility.
To that end, the State Department recently showcased 13 exceptional women from around the world at the Secretary of State’s International Women of Courage Awards. These women of diverse race, religion, and nationality, each exemplified courage, bravery, perseverance, and personal sacrifice in enduring and overcoming the many challenges they faced.
For example, Sister Carolin Tahhan Fachakh, a Syrian Catholic religious sister, risks her life daily to run a nursery school in war-torn Damascus for Muslim and Christian children, as well as a tailoring workshop for displaced women of both faiths. She lends concrete assistance to the women she serves in providing them with things they really need: learning a skill, the opportunity to earn an income, and a safe place for their children to learn.
Ms. Natalia Ponce de Leon survived an acid attack a few years ago, and has since worked to promote legal and medical reforms in Colombia to benefit other victims. In her comments at the award ceremony she spoke about the importance of forgiveness and gave a powerful testimony to the personal growth that she has experienced as a result of overcoming her tragedy with the goal of helping others. This is what women – especially the women we admire – do. Women love and nurture their families. They help their neighbors and serve their communities. They sacrifice, forgive, and seek peace.
As the International Women of Courage awardees’ inspiring stories of pursuing justice, peace, equality, and accountability illustrate well, women’s concerns cannot be reduced to sexual and reproductive rights. Furthermore, women cannot achieve empowerment or truly exercise their God-given rights at the expense of anyone else, especially their unborn children. This is something that Pope St. John John Paul II discussed in Mulieris Dignitatem, his apostolic letter on the dignity and vocation of women, which speaks of motherhood and virginity as dual dimensions of women’s vocations.
As women, striving to be women of courage in our own communities, we should urge our elected leaders and policymakers to advance women’s empowerment at home and abroad by championing freedom, equality under the law, and respect for human rights through the pursuit of policies that are pro-life, pro-family, and ultimately pro-woman.
Grace Melton writes and researches for a public policy think tank in Washington, DC. She is a parishioner of the Basilica of St. John the Evangelist and lives in Stamford with her husband and five children.