Statement of the Holy See
on the Priority Theme of the Sixty-Sixth Session
of the Commission on the Status of Women
“Achieving Gender Equality and the Empowerment
of all Women and Girls in the Context
of Climate Change, Environmental and Disaster
Risk Reduction Policies and Programmes”
United Nations Headquarters 14 – 25 March 2022
H.E. Archbishop Gabriele Caccia
Permanent Observer of the Holy See
The Holy See is pleased to participate in this Sixty-Sixth Session of the Commission on the Status of Women and welcomes the priority theme, which reflects the links between poverty eradication, social inclusion, and ecological responsibility. As Pope Francis has noted, we “are faced not with two separate crises, one environmental and the other social, but rather one complex crisis that is both social and environmental.” In each of these areas, women have distinct needs and gifts.
Although great strides have been made, poverty and hunger remain two of the greatest challenges in the world today. Poor women and girls can experience disproportionate precarity when they are not valued equally with men and boys, receiving fewer opportunities and resources, including, in some cases, less food. In poor families, women and girls may spend hours retrieving water for daily life and may suffer negative health effects from the indoor pollution caused by solid fuels in cooking. Solving these problems requires both confronting harmful actions and attitudes and eradicating the poverty and scarcity which leave too many families without enough to meet the needs of all their members.
Many women, particularly in rural areas and developing countries, rely on natural resources for their livelihoods and to support their families. Women are present at every level of the agricultural sector, contributing to the wellbeing of their families and communities through food production and good stewardship of natural resources. Yet many encounter barriers that men do not, such as lack of land rights and access to financial resources. Ensuring equality in both law and practice is necessary for a just society in which women can thrive.
The Holy See remains concerned that population issues are tied to ecological harms without any evidence. The burden for addressing environmental harms, which owe much to unsustainable production and consumption patterns, especially in developed countries, is too often placed onto poor women and women in developing countries. This has underpinned population programs which have harmed women and devalued their unique capacities. Some so-called development programmes have also involved coercion, such as forced sterilization, often targeting indigenous women in particular. The promotion of contraception and abortion likewise serves neither women nor the protection of the environment, but instead contributes to the very throwaway culture we must overcome to achieve integral development.
Ensuring that all girls and women have access to education is indispensable to their integral development and poverty eradication more broadly. Educated mothers are better able to send their own children to school, breaking the cycle of poverty and exclusion. For children experiencing food insecurity, school feeding programmes provide reliable access to nourishment. Education can also foster justice, such as when it teaches children about their fundamental dignity and equality, and ecological stewardship, as when children learn how their actions can harm or heal the earth.
Women must be recognized as dignified protagonists of integral development and care for people and planet, which requires their full cultural, social and political participation. “In all expressions in the life of society, the presence of women must also be guaranteed,” especially “where important decisions are made.” When women are seen as essential contributors in society, everyone benefits from their perspectives, talents, and efforts. The Holy See notes in a special way the experience, knowledge, and contributions of indigenous women. They should not be pressured or forced to leave their lands to make room for “projects which are undertaken without regard for the degradation of nature and culture.”
Each year approximately twenty million people are internally displaced due to disasters and the effects of climate change. Women and girls are at greater risk of displacement and during displacement, including in ways distinct from men and boys. In low-income countries, the women who make up nearly half the agricultural workforce share the precarity caused by natural disasters such as droughts or flooding. Yet poor women often lack the ability to move to areas less likely to be impacted by disasters due to both financial and social reasons. Developed and developing countries must work together to prevent and address the impacts of climate change and natural disasters and ensure that women and girls in vulnerable situation are supported.
Moreover, during displacement women may struggle to provide for themselves and their families due to loss of livelihoods. Girls’ schooling can be disrupted, due both to displacement and impoverishment; this not only can inhibit their education, which is key to escaping poverty, but is also linked to harmful practices, including child, early and forced marriage. Women and girls may lack access to water, sanitation and hygiene. This can impact their health, require hours daily to acquire water, and put women and girls at risk of violence and abuse during such trips. They are also more vulnerable to human trafficking. It is essential to ensure safe and adequate housing, social protection, safety and other means of support to protect women and girls from these risks when displaced.
The Holy See and the many institutions of the Catholic Church will continue to contribute to the efforts aimed at dealing with these challenges and build on the laudable progress already made.
Thank you for your kind attention.
 Pope Francis, Laudato Si’ no. 139 (2015).
 Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium n. 103 (2013).
 Pope Francis, Laudato Si’ no. 142 (2015).