Catholic Women Speak welcomes the Executive Summary: “Women in the COVID-19 Crisis: Disproportionately Affected and Protagonists of Regeneration”, published by the Vatican COVID-19 Commission to mark International Women’s Day 2021. We are encouraged by the commitment to engage with women’s experiences and struggles, by the recognition of the suffering and challenges faced by women during the pandemic, and by the positive evaluation of women’s leadership and engagement as agents of change in health care, economics and politics.

Following the principle of “See, Judge, Act”, the report SEES the following in relation to the impact of Covid-19 on the lives of women and girls:

  • The increased burden of domestic responsibilities owing to school closures, unpaid care and domestic work.

  • The economic impact, particularly for those working in the informal economy and the service sector where women predominate.

  • The increased hardship inflicted upon the poorest, including refugees and forcibly displaced women and girls.

  • The increase in gender-based violence, including domestic and sexual abuse, trafficking and child marriage, as a result of social confinement and isolation.

  • The magnified impact of environmental degradation and climate change.

The report acknowledges that, even though women bear the brunt of the pandemic, they have been excluded from decision-making processes related to the Covid-19 pandemic in many countries, while countries with women leaders have generally fared best in dealing with the pandemic. This representation of women not just as victims but as leaders, innovators and scholars is encouraging, and we hope it sets a new trend in the formulation of church teachings and policies.

The document JUDGES the extent to which women’s intrinsic dignity and equality has been upheld in Catholic social teaching but also violated in the Church by “historical male authoritarianism, domination and sexist violence” (p. 2), as well as in society and economics. The significant contributions of women to the development of new values and policies in economics, peacebuilding and the importance of care in the public as well as the private sphere are acknowledged, and women economists are named as particularly influential in the transformation of economic models orientated towards justice and ecological and social sustainability.

We welcome the call for the Church and governments to ACT to tackle gender inequalities in all sectors of society, to support vulnerable women, to remove barriers to women’s inclusion in leadership and decision-making roles, and to forge new social and economic models which “shift the focus from profits and economic growth to social equity, human wellbeing and care for creation” (p. 3).

We are moved and inspired by the voices of women themselves in the last section of the report. These stories bear witness to the many ways in which women around the world have risen to the challenges of the pandemic and have been empowered to act to address the spiralling social, domestic, medical and economic hardships which Covid-19 has inflicted on their communities. We would add that women have also maintained practices of liturgy, prayer and reflection in their homes, personal lives and communities when churches have been closed. For many women, this has inspired new visions of creativity and participation around liturgical forms and practices, and we hope that these will be welcomed and embraced as part of the continuously evolving life of the Church when parishes are able to function again in ways that will undoubtedly be changed by this year of crisis. This would be one way of realizing the Report’s call for the Church to “Value and actively support the action of women of faith. Church peacebuilding efforts, should model best practices by including more women and supporting their capacity for compromise and reconciliation.” (p. 4)

As a global network of Catholic women committed to “staying in and speaking out” with regard to challenging misogyny in church institutions and structures and promoting the full participation of women, we embrace the vision set out in this Executive Summary and commit ourselves to work towards its realization. We believe that the Church must lead the way by example, and we hope that our leaders will empower women to move towards transformed models of being and belonging in ecclesial as well as in secular institutions and societies. Otherwise, exhortations to bring about bold and radical social and economic change will be seen as hypocritical if the institutional church remains mired in anachronistic male hierarchies of power and leadership and does not effect similar changes within its own structures and relationships. Only when the full dignity and equality of all are recognised, and when the discipleship of equals described in Galatians 3:28 is manifest at all levels of Catholic life and practice, will we shine forth as a beacon of hope and a model of justice in our wounded world.

STATEMENT ISSUED BY CATHOLIC WOMEN SPEAK

10 March 2021

To watch a series of interviews with women around the world about the impact of the pandemic on their communities and faith, please go to this link.