Greetings from the Vincentian Family Team at United Nations Headquarters in New York! We’re looking forward to the 61st Commission on the Status of Women, which runs here from March 13-24.
COMMISSION’S THREE THEMES
This Commission is considered by many as one of the most well attended events on the UN Calendar. Commission meetings and side events will focus on three themes:
- PRIORITY THEME: Women’s Economic Empowerment in the Changing World of Work.
- REVIEW THEME: Challenging our Achievements in the Implementation of the Millennium Development Goals for Women and
- EMERGING ISSUES/FOCUS AREA: The Empowerment of Indigenous
The Vincentian Family Team at the U.N. is part of the Sustainable Development Committee which contributes to the planning of the Commission. The Committee considers the Commission to be an important platform to advocate for the equality of women, especially indigenous women who might not otherwise have a proper voice in civil society.
COLLABORATION BETWEEN MEN AND WOMEN KEY IN VINCENTIAN FAMILY
In keeping with the priority theme about women in an evolving work world, we can take example from our Vincentian Family History, which points to the importance of collaboration between men and women in addressing the needs of those marginalized. 400 years ago, Saint Vincent de Paul organized a group of women who would care for persons living in poverty and their families. They were originally known as the Confraternity of Charity. We know them now as the AIC. The Congregation of the Mission, which Saint Vincent formed in 1625, is dedicated to serving persons living in poverty and one of its major concentrations is focused on educating people as a means of improving their lives. Education obviously contributes to work success.
(Sr. Betty Ann McNeil in “The Role of Women and the Vincentian Culturescape;” The Vincentian Heritage Journal 26, #1 (2005), 143-177).
Saints Vincent and Louise De Marillac adapted to changing times by ensuring that the Daughters of Charity could go out on the streets to meet the needs of persons living in poverty, rather than being contained behind walls of a cloister, as was the norm of that era. “Vincent respected and worked well with women,” says Betty Ann McNeil, DC, in her article, “The Role of Women and the Vincentian Culturescape.” (1) “They became instruments of God for him. Vincent valued their human dignity and contributions to society.” She also points out that Saint Vincent “promoted them in pastoral roles for all forms of human service.” According to Sister McNeil, “Vincent worked with Louise De Marillac as a peer” and states that “their influence was mutual, one on the other.”
In April 1833, a 20-year-old student named Frederic Ozanam, along with five other young students and a 40-year-old adult, formed the first conference of what is now called the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul. In the beginning, Frederic was mentored by Sister Rosalie Rendu, a Daughter of Charity who at the time was well known throughout Paris for her charitable works. Sister Rosalie instructed Frederic and the others about how to make home visits and care for people in need. As part of her mentoring, she told the young members that the most important thing they could bring to people was their Love. This message continues to be taught to members of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul in our present day.
Blessed Frederic believed that both advocacy and direct assistance are equally important and should be utilized when serving people in need. All of the various Vincentian Family groups encourage people to be engaged in their own promotion, as the preferred method to break the cycle of poverty.
The Vincentian Family promotes systemic change and encourages education and the learning of new skills, especially among women, as the most effective method to break the cycle of poverty. This helps them help themselves and also helps stabilize the entire family structure.
Today there are approximately 210 different groups that trace their origin to the Charism of Saint Vincent de Paul that are considered part of the Vincentian Family. Saint Vincent de Paul from the very beginning not only respected, but collaborated and partnered with women, and this relationship continues to the present day.
Our team at the U.N. also collaborates with other NGO’s to promote the principles of Systemic Change, and works to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals which hopefully will help break the cycle of poverty. We are encouraged by the interest and importance shown, as well as the large attendance at the Commission on the Statue of Women. As part of our Christian heritage and teaching we believe that all humans, both male and female are created in the Image and Likeness of God, and both are equal and complimentary to each other. So it’s encouraging to see that the member states at the UN recognize this and are trying to work toward fair and just treatment of women around the world.
CHANGING WORLD OF WORK
The world of work has transformed significantly since the times of Vincent De Paul, Louise de Marillac, Frederic Ozanam, and Rosalie Rendu. We know from our own experience that work environments are not those of our fathers and mothers. Manufacturing jobs are becoming more robotic. Jobs are less likely to be life-long careers. The inventions of computers, mobile phones, and other technologies make work more efficient, mobile, and complex. Many are engaged in creating their own start-up companies. But gender gaps remain.
STATISTICS REFLECTING GENDER GAPS IN THE WORK WORLD
UN Women. On their web site, provide insight into some of the ways women are left behind in the work world. Following are statistics from that site which reflect this reality:
Of the working age population in the work force, 76.1 percent are men, and 49.6 percent are women. 61.5 percent of women are engaged in services and 25 percent in agriculture, while just 13.5 percent work in industry. Globally, women make 77 cents for every dollar earned by men for work of equal value. Only 63 countries comply with the International Labor Organization’s minimum maternity leave standards which reflect that mothers should be granted at least 14 weeks of paid maternity leave. Only 67 countries have laws against gender discrimination in hiring practices. In 18 countries, husbands can prevent their wives from working.
The informal work sector includes those who work in jobs such as street vendors, subsistence farmers, seasonal, and domestic workers. In South Asia, 95 percent of the informal work sector is women. In Sub Saharan Africa, 89 percent are women. And in Latin America and the Caribbean, 59 percent are women. These sectors often fall outside of labor laws and can result in low wages and unsafe working conditions and those without benefits.
Women constitute 65 percent of the persons above retirement age without any regular pension. This means that 200 million women in old age live without any regular income from social protection, compared to 115 million men. Women also carry out two and half times more unpaid household and care work than men.
“BIG CHANGES” NEEDED
According to Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women, “big changes” are needed if we are to realize the benefits for all that would flow from an equal world contemplated by the UN’s 2030 Agenda, commonly known as the Sustainable Development Goals. She recently issued a message which coincides with the International Women’s Day, March 8.
“Women face discrimination on multiple fronts,” she says, whether due to disability, gender, older age, or race. The average gender wage gap is 23 percent but, rises to 40 percent for African American women in the United States, she points out. “In the European Union, elderly women are 37 percent more likely to live in poverty than elderly men. “
Women and girls typically more than double the time spent by men and boys on household responsibilities, she says, looking after siblings, older family members, caring for the sick, and managing the household.
“This is the unchanging world of unrewarded work, a globally familiar scene of withered futures, where girls and their mothers sustain the family with free labour, with lives whose trajectories are very different from the men of the household.”
“In many cases this unequal division of labour is at the expense of women’s and girls’ learning, of paid work, sports, or engagement in civic or community leadership,” said Ms. Mlambo-Ngcuka. “This shapes the norms of relative disadvantage and advantage, of where women and men are positioned in the economy, of what they are skilled to do and where they will work.”
Report of the UN Secretary-General on the CSW61 priority theme
On December 30, 2016, the UN Secretary General issued a report on the 61st Commission’s theme. The report reviews women’s economic empowerment in a changing work world and dovetails with the UN’s commitment to gender equality and women’s empowerment as expressed in the Sustainable Development Goals. It links women’s economic empowerment with their right to decent work and full and productive employment. It focuses on obstacles women face in exercising their rights to and at work and what might be done to address them. And, it speaks of policies and actions to address gender gaps in the world of work.
The Secretary General’s report can be found by clicking here.
(1) “The Role of Women and the Vincentian Culturescape;” Sister Betty Ann McNeil; The Vincentian Heritage Journal 26, #1 (2005), 143-177.
Ed Keane is the UN NGO Representative for the International Society of St. Vincent de Paul