Women and Development in developing countries - Intervento di Flaminia Giovanelli all'Ambasciata australiana presso la Santa Sede, 9 marzo 2015

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Pubblichiamo il testo in lingua inglese dell'intervento che la dott.ssa Flaminia Giovanelli, Sottosegretario, ha tenuto all'Ambasciata australiana presso la Santa Sede, lo scorso 9 marzo 2015, sul tema "Donne e sviluppo nei Paesi in via di sviluppo".


First of all,  I would like to express my warm gratitude to the Australian Ambassador to the Holy See for organizing this seminar and giving us the possibility to meet on the occasion of the celebration of the International Women's Day 2105. Before starting my presentation, I would like to apologize for my poor English.

         Two premises regarding women

         1. The first one: when talking about women, about their condition, one should always keep in mind that the situation of women is different, sometimes very different, according to the countries and cultures where they are born or live. I will focus my presentation on women and development in poor countries, or rather, in developing countries.

         2. The second one: my short presentation will have a "feminine taste", if  I may use my vocabulary is old fashioned and not specialistic at all. I hope you will excuse also this limitation. In fact, this presentation has been thought taking principally into account people. In the sense, that I have taken as point of reference my personal practical experience - apart from my usual work - as responsible of an association, of what we call in Italian "onlus", which purpose is to help a group of young girls and girls (from 8 to 18 years old) - all very poor, mainly orphans, in Mozambique, to get out from their condition of extreme poverty. This is why my presentation will maybe sound a bit unusual considering that I have been invited in my position of undersecretary of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, that is to say in my "institutional" capacity. The expectations should rightly be different!



         Two premises regarding the concept of development

         1. In the international community, but also among specialists, there are clear signs that the concept of development is evolving from the idea of pure material and economic development, or even social development, towards a sense that is nearer to the idea of "man's complete development and development of all mankind" as presented by the social teaching of the Church, starting from the Encyclical Letter Populorum Progressio[1] of Pope Paul VI. In this sense, social and economic development is considered not as an end, as a purpose in itself, but as a process, a way to achieve the fulfillment, the flourishing of the human person, of the community, of the nation, of the human family.

         A major sign of this change in the vision of development is the fact that the GDP growth is more and more called into question when measuring the well-being of the society.

         2. Another idea on development that deserves to be stressed is that when dealing with questions concerning development all the elements have to be taken into account at the same time. In other words, it is necessary to act on several fronts at the same time.

         Here I can make reference to what we are experiencing with the association I mentioned before in Chitima, in the province of Tete, Mozambique. Answering to a request coming from there, we started, less than five years ago, with the purpose of enabling a group of young girls to go to school and so mainly to avoid forced premature marriages which are, if not the rule, in any case, very common in that area. Yet from the very beginning, we understood that enabling the girls to go to school and improving their formation was not enough. The girls needed and desired to learn how many other things work: how to grow vegetables, to cook, to sew, to send e-mails, etc. and we also realized that we had to promote the development of the entire local community to make the environment ready for the inclusion of the girls in the community once they will leave our Center, the "O Viveiro" Center.



         The importance of the role of women in development

         In consideration of these two premises, I think that the importance of the role that women already play in development and the necessity of reinforcing it are more evident.

         1. If we regard development in the sense of "complete development"  I mentioned before - that is to say, a concept that considers the human person as "unity of body and soul"[2] - the contribution of women to development can be made clear. In fact, for the well-being of persons and societies it is not enough to satisfy their material needs[3], there are also many other needs related to  family, education of the children, care of the persons in general, particularly children, young, sick and elderly people. Moreover, active participation in the civil society is also necessary. Without the satisfaction of these needs, a society cannot consider itself a developed society. In this sense, paying attention to what the economists call the "care economy", the role of women, both in developed and in poor countries, but maybe particularly in the latter, is absolutely fundamental. The problem is that, as the work of women in these sectors is mainly an unpaid or a poorly paid work, it is impossible to rightly evaluate it: the fruit of this work cannot be accounted[4]  and, consequently, is not considered in the GDP as it should be.

         2. As for the second premise, the one by which I intended to stress the necessity of a holistic approach in fulfilling development, nobody can deny that women are particularly gifted in tackling many issues at the same ... I have a prove of it when I consider my young colleagues combining their challenging jobs with the demands of their families, sometimes large families. But even more, I personally can observe it in Africa, or at least in the area I know where women have the major responsibility of working the land, feeding the children and the other components of the family etc. . . . Moreover, as I mentioned before, I see this capacity in the little girls and the girls that we host in our Center: all the initiatives we propose them enjoy great success.

         What can be done to assure full participation of women in the process of development?

         In fact, when we look at the MDGs, or rather, at the SDGs, and we consider the condition of women, in general, we cannot but see that they are still greatly disadvantaged, in spite of the progress made in many areas, comparing with men. And this is particularly true in poor countries.

         It is fully recognized that the majority of poor people in the world are women. According to the World Food Programme, 7/10 of the hungry people in the world are women. In addition, 60% of the poorer workers in the world are women: they even don't earn 1$ a day, so it is impossible for them to get out of the situation of extreme poverty. Other very serious data concern women's literacy. According to UNESCO there are still 775 millions of adults illiterate in the world and 2/3 of these are women. But the sector in which the discrimination of women is more serious is that of the rural work[5]

         What has to be done, then, to empower women and let them enjoy the fruits of development?

         1. Restoring the dignity and human fundamental rights of women removing barriers mainly due to culture. The legal instruments, national and international, exist, of course, but they are not put into practice. I will mention just some starting from the more offensive.

·        There are still too many parts of the world where sex-selective abortion is practiced because of cultural norms that value male children over female children[6].

·        Forced premature-marriages are also offensive of women's dignity. This practice has been at the origin of the request to set up our project in Mozambique.

·        As I mentioned before, the simple fact of being a female, rather than a male, can increase the chance of remaining illiterate and having only limited access or none at all, even to primary education[7]. Enjoying the right to education is fundamental. I would add, the right to “quality” education, and this applies to women and men as well.

·        Working conditions of women are too often offensive to their dignity. Not only because the work of women is less paid: the concept of decent work[8], promoted by the International Labour Office intends to deal with this question. The case of domestic work is a paradigm. In fact, the ILO Domestic Workers Convention adopted in 2011, clearly states:  "Domestic work continues to be undervalued and invisible and is mainly carried out by women and girls, many of whom are migrants or members of disadvantaged communities and who are particularly vulnerable to discrimination in respect of conditions of employment and of work, and to other abuses of human rights"[9].

·        Violence against women is still a plague in developing countries and developed countries as well. Just think that the countries of the Council of Europe only in 2011 estimated that a legal instrument to prevent and combat violence against women and domestic violence should be approved. This instrument, the Istanbul Convention, entered into force last August.

         2. Promote the participation of women in economic life creating infrastructures and conditions that foster their financial inclusion.

         I will mention only three.

·        The question of water, and particularly safe water. In poor countries to get water for all the purposes of the family is a women task. Too much of their time has to be dedicated to this. Just think that in the 2006 UNDP Report is affirmed that if the average distance to the moon is 384 400 km,  all of the South African women walk the equivalent of a trip to the moon and back 16 times a day to supply water to their homes[10].

·        Financial inclusion of women is also crucial. Promote their access and the use of financial services, is essential for their empowerment. In fact, women disproportionately face financial access barriers that prevent them from participating in the economy [11].

·        I will also mention, as my third point, the question of remittances. Feminization of migration is a growing phenomenon in our days. Ever more women emigrate from poor countries to rich countries to work - particularly in families as domestic workers or to take care of children and elderly - and send back home the money they earn to improve the life of their own families. Reducing the global average cost of transferring is consequently very important: in some countries bank charges for sending money home from abroad is as high as 10 per cent. The relevance of the issue is evident when thinking that migrants’ remittances are the first source of financing for development.

3.  Finally a change in the mentality of the economic world could be advantageous for women. Finding new indicators to measure the well-being of persons and societies and including the unpaid work in the calculation of GDP would mean to take into consideration the concrete reality of women’s condition and help to improve it.

I will conclude my presentation mentioning what can be considered at present the main barrier to the full participation of women to development: the numerous wars and conflict situations in the world. If conflicts cause a setback in the development processes in general, they affect women in a special way. Too often women are the victims of rape used as a weapon of war and carry its health consequences, women suffer loneliness when they lose their husbands and children, women have to face the severe life conditions in the refugee camps whose number is sadly increasing all over the world. Our thought cannot but turn towards our “sisters” in the many countries in conflict: Iraq, Syria, Nigeria, Congo…



[1]    Paul VI, Populorum Progressio, nr. 14-21

[2]    Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, nr. 127 and following

[3]    Blessed Paul VI warns in Populorum Progressio nr. 18: "the acquisition of worldly goods can lead men to greed, to the unrelenting desire for more, to the pursuit of greater personal power. Rich and poor alike—be they individuals, families or nations—can fall prey to avarice and soul stifling materialism".

[4]             cf. Sisti, E. e Costa, B., ed., Le donne reggono il mondo. Intuizioni femminili per cambiare l'economia, Milano, Altraeconomia, 2010. A UNDP Survey affirms that more than 2/3 of unpaid work is carried out by women.

[5]    cf. Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Terra e Cibo, LEV, 2015, p. 31.

[6]    cf. John Paul II, Address to Member of the Delegation of the Holy See to the Fourth World Conference on Women, 29 August 1995.

[7]    ibid.

[8]    cf also Benedict XVI, Encyclical Letter Caritas in Veritate, nr. 63.

[9]    Preamble of the ILO Domestic Workers Convention, 2011(No. 189)

[10]  http://hdr.undp.org/en/content/human-development-report-2006

[11]  http://www.worldbank.org/en/results/2013/04/01/banking-on-women-extending-womens-access-to-financial-services