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Pope Francis meeting with Buddhist monks in Yangon, Myanmar, Nov. 29 2017.. Pope Francis meeting with Buddhist monks in Yangon, Myanmar, Nov. 29 2017..  (AFP or licensors)

Vatican's Vesakh message: promotion of women and girls

In a message for the Buddhist festival of Vesakh, the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue urges Buddhists and Christians to help uphold and promote the rights and dignity of women.

By Robin Gomes

The Vatican is inviting the world’s Buddhists and Christians to work together to uphold and promote the rights and dignity of women and girls. 

The Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue (PCID) made the call in a message released on Saturday in view of the Buddhist festival of Vesakh, which will be celebrated in most countries on May 19. 

Sometimes informally called "Buddha's Birthday", Vesakh actually commemorates the birth, enlightenment and death of Gautama Buddha, and is celebrated on different days in different countries.

Entitled, “Buddhists and Christians: Promoting the Dignity and Equal Rights of Women and Girls,” the message, signed by PCID Secretary Bishop Miguel Ángel Ayuso Guixot, is inspired by the Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together, signed in Abu Dhabi on 4 February 2019 by Pope Francis and Grand Imam Sheikh Ahmad Al-Tayyeb of Al-Azhar.   

Among several issues, the Abu Dhabi document includes an important call for people everywhere to promote the dignity of women and children.

Gender equality

The Vesakh message recalls the teachings of Jesus and Buddha and the two faiths on the equal dignity of men and women and the important role the two religions play in the advancement of women.  However, it says,  too often women also experience discrimination and maltreatment and sometimes religious interpretations depict women as inferior to men.

Violence, discrimination, exploitation

Bishop Ayuso notes that violence against women and young girls is a global problem “affecting as much as a third of the world’s female population”. 

Situation of conflict, post-conflict and displacement favour such violence.  Women and young girls are especially vulnerable to human trafficking and modern slavery, and these forms of brutality negatively and often irreversibly affect their health. 

Among the ways to fight such injustices, the Vatican suggests that young women and girls be granted access to education, guaranteed equal pay for equal work, that they be ensured inheritance and property rights, that their under-representation in politics, government and decision-making be overcome and that the issue of dowry be addressed.

Women’s equal rights and dignity, he said, also need to be promote in interreligious dialogue where  they are still outnumbered by men.

Bishop Ayuso notes that the Abu Dhabi document calls for the protection of women from exploitation and from being treated as merchandise or objects of pleasure or financial gain.

In the document, Pope Francis and the Grand Imam call for an end to “all those inhuman and vulgar practices that denigrate the dignity of women,”  and the modification of laws that prevent women from fully enjoying their rights.

Responsibility of authorities

The Pontifical Council calls on authorities and leaders to encourage their followers to uphold the dignity of women and young girls, and to defend their fundamental human rights. 

It also urges the promotion and protection of the institution of marriage, motherhood and family life.

11 May 2019, 13:31