Letter to Women
Letter to Women is a pastoral letter written by Pope John Paul II to all women, and deals most essentially with the rights and dignity of women, the many challenges that women in the modern era had to face, and ways in which the cause of woman could be forwarded in the world. Written and distributed on June 29, 1995, this letter was written in anticipation of the Fourth World Conference on Women in September 1995, hosted by the United Nations in Beijing. This letter was an affirmation to the continuing thought of Pope John Paul II on the importance of women in the Church, and the special roles in which only they can contribute in the realms of the family, the Church, and the world. In his pontificate which lasted longer than 26 years, he continuously upheld the dignity and honor of women, and this letter was a significant contribution to his corpus of works on the importance of women within the Church. Through this letter not only was the dignity and honor of women affirmed but of all people.
This letter begins with Pope John Paul II giving thanks to the United Nations for sponsoring such an important event, and continues by giving thanks to God for the gift of woman, and for each individual woman. He continues the letter by then giving thanks to all women for their various accomplishments and work, and follows with an apology lamenting the fact that members within the Church have not always recognized the importance of women and their contributions throughout history. He also strongly condemns the history of sexual violence against women, and the failure of many societies and cultures which have failed to fully integrate women socially, politically, and economically.
Seeking to effect a change in this condition of women, Pope John Paul II makes an appeal to all states, nations, and institutional organizations to improve and better the situation and condition of work and life for women throughout the world. Pope John Paul II would lend his support to the movements of women in forwarding improvement in their lives, and called for women’s equality to be standard throughout the world. Things advocated within this letter is that of equal pay for equal work, protection of the rights of working mothers, and a call to a fair system of career advancement for women. The Pope would also raise a concern regarding a trend of society in denigrating motherhood, and of penalizing women who would seek to have children.
Pope John Paul II upholds the great honor of women as being the only ones who could ever bear life, and continues the theme of the feminine genius from his earlier encyclical, Mulieris Dignitatem. This concept revolves around the idea that the feminine character contributes and enlivens society especially suited to the feminine character; the contributions of this “feminine genius” thus is special to women, and the Pope acknowledges that this feminine genius has not been lost in its contributions to the Church and to history, “...from the heart of the Church there have emerged women of the highest calibre who have left an impressive and beneficial mark in history.” The "feminine genius" includes qualities such as that of receptivity, emphasis on the person, empathy, protection of life, and sanctity and modesty, among others. Each of these qualities serves to strengthen and enliven the feminine character, and should serve to be inspirational and uplifting, and should in no way be hidden or repressed. It is precisely the “feminine genius” that the Pope calls on to defend the right and dignity of women today, and sees the feminine genius as the answer to the “culture of death” inherent in society’s penchant for abortion, euthanasia and war. Pope John Paul II exalted Mary, as the Mother of God, as a prime example of the feminine genius, and encouraged all men and women to look to her as an inspiration for their own lives. He ends his letter with the hope that the United Nations conference in Beijing would “...bring out the full truth about women.” He hopes that the conference will emphasize the gift of ‘’the genius of woman” not only in regards to great, accomplished female leaders but the ordinary women who have contributed so much in the spirit of service. He attributes this to the ability of women, more so than men, to be able to acknowledge the human person and to help them regardless of ideology or politics.
- "Letter of Pope John Paul II to Women". Vatican.va. 1995-06-29. Retrieved 2012-02-23.
- "Letter to Women : Catholic Women Studies". Endow Groups. Retrieved 2012-02-23.
- "CNS STORY: Pope John Paul II looked closely at role of women in church". Catholicnews.com. Retrieved 2012-02-23.
- "Letter to Women". Campus.udayton.edu. Retrieved 2012-02-23.
- Zeno, "Every Woman's Journey", Chapter 3: The Genius of Women, p. 29-39.