VATICAN CITY — Many doors have opened the past several decades for women in education and employment, but very little has been done to support women as mothers and wives, said a U.S. expert in family law.
Western Europe is quite advanced, "but is not joined by many, many countries in the degree of its policies that allow women to work and to take care of their children," said Helen Alvare, professor of law at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va.
Read "The Charter of the Rights of the Family"
Alvare and others spoke at a Vatican news conference Sept. 20, highlighting some of the issues being discussed at a Sept. 19-21 international congress sponsored by the Pontifical Council for the Family. Nearly 200 jurists also attended the gathering, which focused on family rights and today's challenges.
"There has been great focus on policies that essentially allow the woman to enter into the world on the terms of a man without children," Alvare said.
The cultural, social and political realms basically say to women, "'We will be very strong on guaranteeing your right not to have a child through either contraception or abortion. But we will do comparatively little to assist you if you do have a child,'" she said.
Alvare cited the lack of paid maternity leave, maternity leave that is of adequate length and affordable child care are some examples where assistance is lacking.
The little support for women when they have kids is coupled with the "obsessive promotion" of contraception and abortion, which are meant "to assure the woman that she can enter into whether it is education or the labor force without children, and abortion is the back up for this," Alvare said.
Easily available contraception and abortion help lawmakers "get off the hook and not be held responsible for providing a package of policies" that are family friendly, but harder to pass, she said.
The church has a great opportunity to promote its teaching, she explained, because it offers a balanced view of "women's dignity and her proper place in the family and the public sphere. The church also demands respect for the child before birth as well as after."
The church also has a balance approach "to the male-female relationship and to the family and to the child," she said.
Alvare said women want to be in "good, healthy relationships with men, they wish to marry, to have children, to prioritize their family and to take care of their children, to do justice at home" and to make important contributions outside the home.
She said women who are poor or minorities are hurt the most by child-free propaganda and policies, explaining that healthy families provide the stability and economic and emotional support that is often lacking in their lives.
"I think the world's economies are in part deeply affected by the falling apart of the family," she said.
Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, president of the Pontifical Council for the Family, told journalists the council is re-releasing its "Charter of the Rights of the Family," which was published in 1983.
The principles have not changed, he said, but they need to be remembered and promoted in new ways given the radical changes that have taken place in the past 30 years.
Many of the principles have been neglected, like the right to decent work that pays enough to support a family, the right to a home and the right to assistance during sickness, infirmity or unemployment, he said.