Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of May 22, 2000
In defence of the World March
Support for grassroots campaign does not imply support for abortion
By BISHOP FRED HENRY
World March for Women-2000 is an historic world wide grassroots campaign calling the world's attention to women's poverty, violence against women and the structures that keep them poor, excluded and violated. Women from 153 countries, organized in 4,190 groups, have joined the call for change.
Some of the specific demands: Cancel all Third World debt; end loan conditions that force countries to cut education, health and social services; end sweatshop working conditions in free trade zones; impose a tax of one half of one per cent on all speculative transactions in order to create a fund for social development; that countries adopt legal frameworks to ensure food security, safe water, education and health care for the world's peoples; that the world's rich countries invest seven-tenths of one per cent of their gross national product in aid for developing countries.
There are also specific demands for eradicating violence against women. Some of these demands are: End trafficking in women and girls; end violence against women domestics; recognize that rape is being used as a weapon of war and prosecute this through the International Criminal Court; end the use of land mines anywhere; end forced sterilization, forced marriage, forced abortion and genital mutilation.
The march is endorsed by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, Development and Peace, the Canadian Religious Conference, the Catholic Women's League of Canada, Catholic Relief Services in the United States, the World Union of Catholic Women's Organizations, and other Catholic groups and religious communities around the world.
Third World women are usually excluded from international actions because of their poverty and therefore lack the solidarity needed to effect positive change. Our funds have helped bring Third World women from the Philippines, from several countries of Africa and from Mexico into the shaping of demands and activities. We helped pay for the international work including travel, translations, long-distance communication, printing, research and analysis, and meeting costs.
Development and Peace funding has not been used for organizing the Canadian march. No contribution was made to national or regional organizations in Canada that seem to have been co-opted by pro-abortionists.
Support for the world march has been called support for abortion. Is this true?
No, it is not true. There is no world demand for abortion. The only official world statement on the march does refer to women's right to control "her body and reproductive function."
This is a loaded term. We all know it also encompasses a broad set of concerns of women in the South for an end to forced sterilizations, genital mutilation and forced marriage. (The text reflects wording supported by the Holy See in Beijing in 1995, with the caveat that it did not assume "reproductive health"to include abortion.)
In clarifying support for the march, Bishop Gerald Wiesner, president of the CCCB, noted these reservations: "That it does not interpret the terms 'reproductive health,' 'sexual health' and 'reproductive rights' as including abortion or access to abortion."
Are the world march organizers clear that Catholic groups do not support abortion?
Yes they are. The World March Coordinating Committee has confirmed in writing: "We understand clearly that groups such as Development and Peace, in supporting the march, have disagreements with regard to freedom of choice. They participate because they have many other reasons to march. And we respect their beliefs."
What about the demand concerning lesbians and gays?
There is a section on the rights of lesbians and gays. This section is special in that only those countries and groups that sign it are assumed to support it. Development and Peace did not endorse this.
The demands in this section do not call for approval of lesbian or gay sexual activities. They are demands that people never be stoned, jailed, refused housing, work or asylum if they are refugees, or denied any other human right because of their sexual orientation. This is consistent with Catholic social teaching.
In a 1986 letter to Catholic bishops, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith had this to say: "One must strongly deplore that homosexual persons have been and are still the object of malicious and violent actions. These kinds of actions, wherever they appear, deserve the condemnation of pastors of the Church. . . . The dignity of every person must always be respected in words, actions and laws."
Is the march being controlled by "radical feminists?"
This is name-calling and labelling. Feminism is fundamentally about equality between men and women. Radical means "going to the root of the problem" to make profound change. The root problem is that the majority of the poor, the majority of the refugees and the majority of victims from civil and domestic violence are women and children. Unfortunately, the words "radical feminists" are sometimes used in a dismissive way in order to silence people.
Pope John Paul, in speaking about the Great Jubilee theme - Jesus Christ, the one Saviour of the world, yesterday, today and forever - reminded us that: "Taking its inspiration from the pedagogy of the Incarnation , the Christian community is called to walk with Christ beside men and women of today, supporting them in the difficult search for the Truth and making them in some way feel the presence of the Redeemer in everyday life, which is marked by uncertainty about the future, by injustice, by confusion and at times by despair."
The pope has emphasized the need for Christians to make themselves the travelling companions of their contemporaries by witnessing to them the Good News, by appreciating their culture and by dialoguing with them - starting with what is positive about them.
Catholics may well disagree with some of the demands of women from some countries, including our own, and with some of the groups marching beside us. We are clear in what we stand for. We do not have to fear or shield ourselves against others who have different beliefs.
As we walk, we have the opportunity to tell who we are, what we believe in and what we oppose. In short, given all the nuances mentioned above, I think that it is better to be there than not to be there.
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