The National Catholic Review
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Do you remember what you were doing on Oct. 11, the United Nations’ first International Day of the Girl Child? Malala Yousafzai, a 14-year-old Pakistani girl, was fighting for her life. She had been shot in the head and throat on Oct. 9 by a Taliban assassin intent on making the teenager an object lesson in fear. Ms. Yousafzai had dared to challenge the Taliban raging across Pakistan’s Swat Valley. Her offense was her determination to get an education. Her poignant diary, written for BBC Urdu’s Web site in winter 2008-9 about the daily struggles of a girl seeking a better life in a profoundly, even violently patriarchal society, had captivated the world and transformed her into a spokesperson for all girls barred from education and, regrettably, into a target in her homeland.

Gravely wounded, she has been transported to Britain for more sophisticated medical treatment and for her own safety. Taliban agents have vowed to complete their deadly mission. Ms. Yousafzai suffers today on behalf of all the girls in the developing world, millions who are shut out at birth from educational and career opportunities because of their gender; forced into child marriages, servitude or sexual slavery or murdered to preserve family “honor”; or prevented from being born in the first place as sex selection abortions depress the birth rate of girls in India, China and elsewhere.

This first observation of a day to acknowledge and celebrate the girl child focuses on the suffering engendered by child marriage. In the developing world, one in seven girls marries before age 15. The cultural institution of early and forced marriage essentially denies a girl her childhood. It disrupts her education, restricts her opportunities, increases her chances of becoming a victim of violence and abuse and jeopardizes her health.

The world wounds itself in its suppression of girls. Today there are 500 million adolescent girls in the developing world. If they could all express the fullness of their talent, their heart, their creativity and ambition—what would be the limit on their future accomplishments? How much could their vision and experience improve upon the plodding patriarchy in government and among international nongovernmental organizations dedicated to combating hunger, disease, poverty and social and economic inequity? But the spiritual loss of girls to the world is even more devastating when so many are denied the fullest expression of their humanity by “tradition,” by fear and ignorance, by malicious and ultimately self-lacerating misogyny.

The church condemns the grave moral evil of violence against women and the sexual exploitation of women, whether in their own homes or through the vicious trade of human trafficking and sexual bondage, an industry that particularly abuses young girls. Beyond these obvious offenses to human dignity, however, various other degradations of girls have a significant material impact on the future in terms of a profound void opened up in global productivity and creativity that is literally incalculable. The church has repeatedly promoted the full and equal dignity of women, and by extension girls, in a world where many societies are hostile to that notion.

In his “Letter to Women” in 1995, Pope John Paul II, after apologizing for the role Christians have played in undermining the dignity of women through the ages, highlighted the urgent need to achieve “real equality” for the world’s women as a matter of justice “but also of necessity.”

“Women will increasingly play a part in the solution of the serious problems of the future,” he wrote, “leisure time, the quality of life, migration, social services, euthanasia, drugs, health care, the ecology, etc.” What the church has called the “genius of women” will favor “processes of humanization which mark the ‘civilization of love.’” But before that genius can be realized, the world’s girl children must be protected and cherished.

The depravity of Ms. Yousafzai’s attackers has generated outrage throughout Pakistan. It is possible that, as one government minister suggests, her shooting could prove a turning point as pressure mounts to finally contain the Taliban. It is tempting now to succumb to platitude and sagely note that such an outcome would mean Ms. Yousafzai’s suffering would not have been in vain. But that is inaccurate—the suffering will surely continue for girls in Pakistan and around the world for many years after this first declaration of an international day for girls. And it is unfair to Ms. Yousafzai. She should never have been asked to pay so dear a price simply because she was born with a hunger for knowledge and a hope to do more with her life, as well as with the inescapable, wonderful and, in her case, daunting reality of her gender.

Comments

AL ODELL | 11/15/2012 - 11:53am

I enjoyed the editorial.  Malala Yousafazi is, indeed, a courageous young woman.  Hopefully, the atrocity committed against her will seriously damage the recruitment efforts of Muslim extremists.  I need to take exception, however, to one sentence: "The church has repeatedly promoted the full and equal dignity of women..."  At one level, the statement is true, and the church needs to be lauded for its efforts.  That voice, however, is, for many, seriously muted by the church's own failure to give anything like equal status to women within her own hierarchial structures and ministries.  As long as that condition persists,  the church's voice for the "...full and equal dignity..." of women will sound, to some at least, a bit hypocritical.

Edwin Eckel | 11/4/2012 - 8:24am
What an interesting notion:  equality for all.  That would, of course, come with a dollop of obedience to heirarchical authority, one established in the dim, mysogynist past, an authority which asserts God speaks through the membership of the heirarchy.  

While the Roman heirarchy has not recently enforced its assertions with physically violent oppresssion, the distance from Inquisition to Taliban (to make but one comparison) is not so large that the beam in one eye is significantly larger than the splinter in the other's eye. 

To press the point a bit more:  how often we pray "Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the time of our death". Mary, the ultimate symbol of a life of meek and silent service, consigned to the ages as one who beseeches foregiveness, given no voice or opportunity to lead, thankful, we are asked to believe, that she has been chosen to bear the life imposed on her by a rapacious and unapologetic archangel.  Should we call it a blessing or bitter irony to experience such imposition at the behest of God the Father?   

Mary, Queen of this Church operated in dogmatic un-equality, Patron of girls everywhere who cannot receive the institutional support necessary to live a life of self-identified meaning and equality, send your Holy and Just Anger to energize those able to sweep away barriers preventing girls (and boys) from living a holy and meaningful life filled with self-selected paths of participation. Help us to start with the children in our commmunity and to choose actions that expand the lives of meaning and influence of every child in every place in this Creation. 
Marie Rehbein | 10/30/2012 - 8:54am

The Taliban has it right.  Educating girls is the first step toward equality for women.  It is only because women are educated that they can say they are meant to be considered for the priesthood, for example.  It is only because the Catholic Church teaches that God calls us that women realize God is also calling them to be priests. 

It is a good thing that America Magazine stands behind the efforts of girls like Malala.  Women have come a long way in a short time in Western cultures, and this can be credited to their education.  How many children in our country, however, fail to recognize the importance of their education?  Malala offers us parents an important teaching opportunity about the value of going to school. 

Elaine Tannesen | 10/30/2012 - 7:48am
As the church becomes more fundamentalist, there appears to be only two approved roles for women, stay home and keep having babies or serve under the direction of men.  How am I supposed to justify this to my daughters who are compassionate and professional women? All the honeyed words in the world will not compensate for the continuing injustice and waste of women's gifts in this church.
Craig McKee | 10/30/2012 - 12:58am
Note to editors:
May we please have the source of the photograph which accompanies this article?
A Judy | 10/29/2012 - 7:35pm

Is there any more pernicious harm that can be inflicted on girls and women than religious teachings that they deserve respect or dignity, but not equality. All the appologizing in the world is pointless until this changes.

Robert Sherman | 10/27/2012 - 6:37pm

"The world wounds itself...." This phrase is meaningless moral relativism. And it is the kind that dilutes belief. It was not the 'world' that shot this young girl. American Catholics were not raised nor do we raise our children to be ignorant.


and "In his “Letter to Women” in 1995, Pope John Paul II, after apologizing for the role Christians have played in undermining the dignity of women through the ages, highlighted the urgent need to achieve “real equality” for the world’s women as a matter of justice “but also of necessity.” There is absolutely no need to keep saying that the Pope apoligized. If you don't think it was enough when he did it, then perhaps you should apoligize for yourselves. When you go to confession you move on.


 

Lisa Weber | 10/27/2012 - 3:05pm
After looking at the problem of silence of women in the Church, my sense is that the silencing is far less a matter of the hierarchy of the Church silencing women than it is a matter of women silencing women.  The role of women in the Church will be different than that of men.  The Church certainly needs to find a way to allow women to preach, and the diaconate is an obvious route, but talking about women in the priesthood is a fruitless occupation at this point. 

Evolution is often a matter of doing what is possible until opportunities expand.  Much more is allowed than women are currently doing.  Some priests don't want to see women do more, but most of the resistance to women taking a more active role in church comes from women.  The lesson of Martha and Mary is that when Mary leaves the kitchen, and becomes a disciple of Jesus, the complaint comes from Martha, not from Jesus or the other disciples.  This is still true today.

Before we cast harsh words at the Church hierarchy, we need to look in the mirror at the problems we cause ourselves.  We need to look at the aggression among the women and address that.  It will be a much more fruitful endeavor than throwing rocks at the men.
Christopher Rushlau | 10/26/2012 - 9:48pm
Thank God nobody mentioned the priesthood.
Jennifer Reek | 10/26/2012 - 7:40pm
'If they could all express the fullness of their talent, their heart, their creativity and ambition—what would be the limit on their future accomplishments? How much could their vision and experience improve upon the plodding patriarchy in government and among international nongovernmental organizations dedicated to combating hunger, disease, poverty and social and economic inequity? But the spiritual loss of girls to the world is even more devastating when so many are denied the fullest expression of their humanity by “tradition,” by fear and ignorance, by malicious and ultimately self-lacerating misogyny.' What an astounding and painful statement considering its source. I guessed in reading this that 'the editors' are men, probably Jesuits, and somehow completely clueless? Do you ever spend any time with Catholic women? Are any of your friends Catholic women? Do you really pay so little attention to your own tradition and how women are silenced and ignored in it that you can write such a statement and believe you are not existing in a tradition that is deeply misogynistic? Have you absolutely no idea of how women in the Church feel? What their experiences of 'malicious misogyny' have been and continue to be? How devastating is the spiritual loss of women to the Church when they are denied full participation and voice and are consistently considered as unimportant? You might consider having some conversations with real women in the Church before you write again of injustices against women elsewhere.
Anne Heck | 10/26/2012 - 5:30pm
"The church has repeatedly promoted the full and equal dignity of women, and by extension girls, in a world where many societies are hostile to that notion." I wish I could believe that statement, but I don't. I have one simple test to apply to see if such a statement is real or just lip service: Do women have a voice in the church? Are they invited to participate when decisions are being made? The answer, sadly, is "NO."
KEITH BRADSON FR | 10/26/2012 - 5:26pm
over the past 10 years i have read so many articles regarding the harm done by the Taliban not only in Pakistan but throughout the mideast. Is there any possibility of dialogue between the governments of these states which the United States is funneling billions of aid, and the Taliban? I feel that our engagement with these countries governments is more political than humanitarian. It is so depressing to read about this outrageous threat to women yet i feel totally incapable of having any impact upon improving it..
Victoria Thorne | 10/26/2012 - 5:23pm
"The church has repeatedly promoted the full and equal dignity of women, and by extension girls, in a world where many societies are hostile to that notion." Please explain the meaning of full and equal dignity. Does this mean women deserve respect, but not full and equal rights? How can one be truly respected if one's rights are not equal?

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