by Mary Szoch
March 8, 2021
Today is International Women’s Day, which always brings to my mind Pope St. John Paul the Great’s Letter to Women. In this beautiful letter, as Pope John Paul II thanks women in every walk of life, he remarks, “Women’s dignity has often been unacknowledged and their prerogatives misrepresented; they have often been relegated to the margins of society… This has prevented women from truly being themselves and it has resulted in a spiritual impoverishment of humanity.”
Pope John Paul II wrote this letter in 1995, but his words remain relevant today. Men and women—though equal in human dignity and value—are different. If we ignore these differences and prevent women from being themselves, we do so to the detriment of our society.
Part of the reason International Women’s Day exists is to call upon humanity to counter “gender bias,” sexism, and stereotypes in the workplace. But so often, instead of creating a work environment that is actually welcoming and accommodating to women, these well-intentioned efforts nevertheless force women to sacrifice the differences that make them unique in order to fit a status quo better suited to their male counterparts.
The so-called “Equality Act” promises equality for women—but only if women sacrifice who they are. If passed, the Equality Act would redefine sex to include “gender identity and sexual orientation,” thereby eliminating biological distinctions between men and women. Our society cannot truly empower women if our laws eliminate what it actually means to be a woman.
Furthermore, the Equality Act would redefine what constitutes “sex discrimination,” resulting in what is effectively a right to abortion. It would require abortion to be taxpayer-funded and covered by insurers. As Erika Bachiochi pointed out, this would incentivize businesses to “prefer abortion for their pregnant employees over far more costly accommodations for parenting.”
We cannot recognize the dignity of women if we continue to create a culture where women can only excel if they deny their very being. The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) is another piece of legislation supporters claim will uplift women. But in reality, it is an effort to enshrine abortion-on-demand in all 50 states, once again implicitly signaling to women that if they would like to be successful, they must check their fertility at the door.
This is, as Pope John Paul II writes, an example of the gift of motherhood being “penalized rather than rewarded, even though humanity owes its very survival to this gift.” Passage of the Equality Act and the Equal Rights Amendment would create a world where women will be further exploited, marginalized, and devalued.
Pope John Paul II offers an alternative:
I am convinced that the secret of making speedy progress in achieving full respect for women and their identity involves more than simply the condemnation of discrimination and injustices, necessary though this may be. Such respect must first and foremost be won through an effective and intelligent campaign for the promotion of women, concentrating on all areas of women’s life and beginning with a universal recognition of the dignity of women.
If we truly want to “Choose to Challenge,” as the theme of International Women’s Day suggests, we should do as Pope John Paul II says—choose to challenge “systems to be redesigned in a way which favours the processes of humanization which mark the ‘civilization of love.’” Choose to challenge society to actually value women—value their opinions, their unique voice in the workplace, AND their fertility. Choose to challenge workplaces to develop policies that allow women to be moms, not policies that force women to choose between their children and their livelihood. Choose to challenge the idea that women and girls need abortion on-demand in order to succeed by supporting pregnancy resource centers. Choose to challenge the lie that men and women are exactly the same and instead celebrate the God-given differences that allow our society to flourish.
On this International Women’s Day, let’s join Pope John Paul II in thanking “every woman, for the simple fact of being a woman!” and pray the world recognizes that, through their “insight, which is so much a part of womanhood,” women “enrich the world’s understanding and help to make human relations more honest and authentic.”