Culture of Equality is Urgently Needed Today (June 25, 1995)
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
1. Respect for the full equality of man and woman in every walk of life is one of civilization's great achievements. Women themselves, with their deeply felt and generous daily witness, have contributed to this, as have the organized movements which, especially in our century, have put this subject before world attention.
Unfortunately even today there are situations in which women live, de facto if not legally, in a condition of inferiority. It is urgently necessary to cultivate everywhere a culture of equality, which will be lasting and constructive to the extent that it reflects God's plan.
Equality between man and woman is a fact asserted from the first page of the Bible in the stupendous narrative of creation. The Book of Genesis says: "God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them" (Gn 1:27). In these brief lines we see the profound reason for man's grandeur: he bears the image of God imprinted on him! This is true to the same degree for male and female, both marked with the Creator's imprint.
2. This original biblical message is fully expressed in Jesus' words and deeds. In his time women were weighed down by an inherited mentality in which they were deeply discriminated. The Lord's attitude was a "consistent protest at whatever offends the dignity of women" (Mulieris Dignitatem, no. 15). Indeed he established a relationship with women which was distinguished by great freedom and friendship. Even if he did not assign the Apostles' role to them, he nevertheless made them the first witnesses of his Resurrection and utilized them in proclaiming and spreading God's kingdom. In his teaching, women truly find "their own subjectivity and dignity" (ibid., no. 14).
In the footprints of her divine Founder, the Church becomes the convinced bearer of this message. If down the centuries some of her children have at times not lived it with the same consistency, this is a reason for deep regret. The gospel message about women, however, has lost none of its timeliness. This is why I wanted to present it once again with all its richness in the apostolic letter Mulieris Dignitatem, which I published on the occasion of the Marian Year.
3. One can already perceive the immense dignity of woman by the sole fact that God's eternal Son chose, in the fullness of time, to be born of a woman, the Virgin of Nazareth, the mirror and measure of femininity. May Mary herself help men and women to perceive and to live the mystery dwelling within them, by mutually recognizing one another without discrimination as living "images" of God!
“It is urgently necessary to cultivate everywhere a culture of equality, which will be lasting and constructive to the extent that it reflects God’s plan.“
It seems that at least in the West, this culture of equality that John Paul speaks of is on its way to being realized on many levels. In other places, however, it is regrettably and in many cases, tragically, absent. In these parts of the world, how can this deeply embedded cultural bias be shifted? Surely an entire culture cannot be changed at the level of one’s convictions? I would say that it can, although much would be required. It must begin with women themselves, who after all, affect society and culture at the primordial level - through their children. This is assuming that she herself knows what she is about, and can then communicate this attitude to the boys and girls she raises and nurtures. It is certainly a long-term work, from one generation to the next, mothers touching the future, and hence their cultures, in a profound way. But we must first find the means for women to know their immense dignity, the “image” of God imprinted on them. Any ideas how this might be accomplished?