Joint statement of clarification on the March of Women 2000

Monday, May 15 2000

As four major national Catholic organizations, we jointly reaffirm our support of the objectives of this year’s World March of Women. These objectives are to end violence against women and poverty.

Women make up 70 per cent of the world’s poor and represent the majority of the world’s refugees. They are also victims of rape in wars around the world – and on the streets of Canada. Catholic social teaching calls us to transform the world in solidarity with the poor and marginalized. That is why we are supporting the objectives of the World March of Women, although we also understand that other Catholics in their prudential judgement may not completely share our approach. We however believe that the March, involving 4,190 groups from 153 countries, represents an historic worldwide grassroots cry for justice, and that its momentum will improve the lives of girls and women around the world – from Mexico to Nigeria to the Philippines.

The issues at stake are critical. The World Demands of the March include the following: to cancel Third World debt; to end loan conditions that force countries to cut education, health and basic services; to end sweatshop conditions in free trade zones; to ensure food security for countries; to end all trafficking in women and girls; to prosecute those using rape as a weapon of war.

Development and Peace funding played an important role in ensuring that women in developing countries could be fully involved in the World March of Women 2000, so that this great effort would help them bring about real and lasting change in their own countries.

The World Demands contain no reference to abortion. One demand contains a reference to a woman’s right “to control her body and reproductive function”. This is a broad demand including issues of forced sterilization and forced marriage. (The text follows the wording supported by the Holy See at the1995 Fourth World Conference on Women, held in Beijing, with the caveat that it did not assume “reproductive health” to include abortion.) In the international context we can agree with this demand, with the clear qualification that we do not support any use of this demand, or any aspect of any other demand, to support abortion.

The Canadian Women’s March Committee has prepared a document called A Time for Change which sets out 59 demands or means of implementing the objectives of ending violence against women and poverty. Our four organizations have not approved or signed this document.

The second last demand in the Canadian document (#58 under the section of the document that encourages active citizenship) calls for “quality publicly funded abortion services”. In response to inquiries our organizations have received about this demand and the demands under the section on lesbians, we wish to underline that support of the general objectives of the World March of Women 2000 does not mean support for each and every one of the specific Canadian demands. In particular, we wish to make it crystal clear that it does not include support for abortion or alter the profound commitment of our organizations to respect, promote and protect human life, especially the unborn who are most vulnerable.

We believe that Canadian Catholics should not allow themselves to be shut out of the March of Women because some groups decide to press for demands that are clearly unacceptable to us. The basis of Catholic participation should be the long-held Church teaching on respect for human life from its very beginning to its natural end, the preferential option for the poor, marriage as an equal partnership between husband and wife to whom the transmission of life is entrusted, solidarity with the oppressed, and the equality of men and women.

As Catholic groups, we engage in the March in a spirit of respect for women around the world, acknowledging our differences and finding the common ground on which to build change. The March of Women 2000 is a powerful bridge of solidarity to our sisters – across hemispheres, languages, faiths and experiences. They seek justice. We are there with them.

Ms Susan McNamara Scott
Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace

Msgr. Peter Schonenbach, PH
General Secretary
Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops

Sister Gloria Keylor, SP
National President
Canadian Religious Conference

Mrs. Sheilah Pellerin
National President
Catholic Women’s League of Canada

For more information, please contact :

Ms. Mary Corkery, CCODP : 1-800-494-1401, 1-416-922-1592 ext. 29
Mr. Bede Hubbard, CCCB : 1-613-241-9461, ext. 275
Rev. Richard Renshaw, CRC : 1-613-236-0824
Ms. Kim Sass, CWL : 1-888-656-4040, 1-204-885-4856