LUANDA, Angola (CNS): Pope Benedict XVI strongly defended women’s rights and praised the many “silent heroines” of Africa who are holding families and society together.
African women in particular are working under adverse conditions that are often caused by the “behaviour and attitudes of men”, the Pope said in Angola on March 22.
“History records almost exclusively the accomplishments of men, when in fact much of it is due to the determined, unrelenting and charitable action of women,” he said.
“Think of all the places afflicted by great poverty or devastated by war, and of all the tragic situations resulting from migrations, forced or otherwise.
“It is almost always women who manage to preserve human dignity, to defend the family and to protect cultural and religious values,” he said.
The Pope’s remarks touched on a huge issue in Africa that has increasingly drawn Church attention.
He spoke to members of Catholic movements working for women’s promotion in St Anthony Church in Luanda, where a mostly female audience greeted him with lively African singing.
Church and human rights agencies say women in many parts of Africa are still treated as property, lack legal rights, suffer intimidation and beatings by their husbands, and are subject to sexual violence and human trafficking.
The Pope said there was a natural “captivating charm that radiates from woman” because of the grace God has given her. Man is enlightened by this quality, he said.
“In a world like ours, dominated by technology, we feel the need for this feminine complementarity, so that the human race can live in the world without completely losing its humanity.”
While no one should doubt that women deserved the right to be active in all areas of public life – a right that should be guaranteed through legislation – that doesn’t detract from women’s unique responsibility in families, the Pope said.
In fact, he said, the presence of a mother within the family was so important for family stability that it should be recognised and supported in every way.
For the same reason, he said, “society must hold husbands and fathers accountable for their responsibilities toward their families”.