Archbishop Bernardito Auza, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations, on October 6, 2017, emphasized the importance of education for women and girls, highlighting the specific challenges of girls in poverty and remote rural areas who may be excluded from the education necessary for full participation in society. His comments came during the debate of Third Committee of the Seventy-Second Session of the UN General Assembly on Agenda Item 28, dedicated to the Advancement of Women.
He stressed that education is essential in enabling women to become dignified agents of their own development. He also expressed concern for the millions of women and girls who are migrants, fleeing their home due to violence or extreme poverty, and vulnerable to exploitation at the hands of traffickers. Echoing the words of Pope Francis, he summoned the international community “to welcome, to protect, to promote and to integrate” migrants and refugees, and give special attention to more vulnerable women and children.
His statement follows.
Statement by H.E. Archbishop Bernardito Auza
Apostolic Nuncio and Permanent Observer of the Holy See
Seventy-second Session of the United Nations General Assembly, Third Committee
Agenda Item 28: Advancement of women
New York, 6 October 2017
My Delegation thanks the Secretary-General for drawing our attention to the situation of women and girls in rural areas, to the scourge of violence against migrant women, and to our collective efforts for the advancement of women.
Poverty and location, as the Secretary-General’s report notes, remain the greatest threats to the inclusion of girls in education, thus impeding their full participation in the social and economic life of the community. In his Encyclical Letter Laudato Si’, Pope Francis draws attention to “the abandonment and neglect […] experienced by some rural populations which lack access to essential services and where some workers are reduced to conditions of servitude, without rights or even the hope of a more dignified life.” Women and girls often bear the heaviest burden from these deprivations.
In the area of education, significant progress has been made toward parity between boys and girls from families of relative wealth or decent economic standing. However, as the Secretary-General notes, rural women and girls living in poverty are at “the greatest disadvantage in terms of schooling, literacy, and adult education.” My Delegation would like to draw particular attention to the situation of adolescent girls, who are at the greatest risk of exclusion from education due to social and economic hardships. Whenever young women and girls do not have access to education, they are hindered from becoming dignified agents of their own development.
In seeking to “eliminate the structural causes of poverty and to promote the integral development of the poor,”  the basic material needs of every school-age girl living in rural areas must be addressed. In this regard, initiatives, such as providing school meals to reduce girls’ absenteeism, have proven efficient and should encourage to spread similar efforts to guarantee access to education to each and every girl. The highlighted partnership between the World Food Program and local farmers, including women, to provide “home-grown school meals” in 37 countries is also a hopeful example of integral development: it attends to the needs of girls and boys, fosters education and increases market access for women, all at the same time.
Young women in rural areas are disproportionately involved in unpaid domestic work and especially bear the greatest burden when access to clean water and sanitation is not readily available. They are forced to spend considerable time and effort collecting water for the community, and in doing so, their access to basic education is often thwarted, not to mention that, in many isolated places, they are also exposed to risks of violence. This reflects, in part, how failing to achieve that basic human right, which requires universal access to safe drinkable water,  can undermine other human rights, as it is a prerequisite for their realization.
Such conditions often generate inequality, exclusion and even violence, as Pope Francis reminds us: “until exclusion and inequality in society and between peoples are reversed, it will be impossible to eliminate violence.” Through poverty and exclusion, adolescent girls, especially those in rural areas, also experience heightened vulnerability to sexual exploitation, child marriage, and other unacceptable forms of violence. The horrifying prevalence of violence against women, thus, remains a salient and sad example of the deep connection between economic exclusion and violence.
The global migration crisis and the particular vulnerability of migrant women and girls are major concerns. The global community has a responsibility “to welcome, to protect, to promote and to integrate” migrants and refugees. Yet, millions of women and girls are fleeing violent conflicts or extreme poverty only to find themselves exploited by traffickers and manipulators along perilous routes and even in host communities. My Delegation therefore strongly supports the international community in its efforts to raise awareness and take concrete steps to prevent the abhorrent phenomenon of violence perpetrated against migrant women and girls.
Women often heroically defend and protect their families, sacrificing much to achieve a better life for themselves and their children. They deserve to be assisted and supported in order to realize their legitimate aspirations to a better life for themselves and for their loved ones. My Delegation commends all endeavors aimed at truly protecting women’s dignity, while promoting their integral development and advancement within the family and society, and remains strongly committed to this noble cause.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
1. Pope Francis, Encyclical Letter, Laudato Si’, 154.
2. A/72/207, 14.
3. Pope Francis, Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, 188.
4. A/72/207, 19.
5. Pope Francis, Encyclical Letter Laudato Si’, 30; see also Art. 24.2.c of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and A/RES/64/292.
6. Pope Francis, Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, 59.
7. Pope Francis, Message for the World Day of Migrants 2017.
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