Pope Francis states his support for gender equality in the workplace

On Wednesday, Pope Francis issued an official statement calling for equality in the workplace between men and women, stating that the global wage gap is “pure scandal” and that Christians must become “more demanding about these issues.”

“We must support decisively the right to equal pay for equal work. Why should it be taken for granted that women must earn less than men? No! They have the same rights,”  he said, according to The Washington Post.

The statements were a part of the Pope’s speech on marriage and family during his weekly general audience at Saint Peter’s Square in Vatican City. Pope Francis attributed the decline in marriage rates in part to gender inequality, and implored Catholics to remember “the Christian seed of radical equality between men and women.” He also called it an “insult” to imply that the increasing divorce rate was a result of women’s emancipation; and, according to the National Catholic Reporter, went on to say that blaming marriage failures on women’s rights “is a form of chauvinism that always wants to control the woman.”

Pope Francis’ statements were easily his most explicit to date when it comes to gender equality — and they couldn’t have come at a more essential time. According to statistics agency Eurostat, women are paid approximately 16.4% less than men on average in the European Union (EU), while the US Census Bureau indicates that, based on annual median salaries, women earn 77 cents to the man’s dollar in the United States. These numbers, of course, become even worse when broken down by race and other factors — but many still refuse to believe that the problem exists at all.

That Pope Francis would so decidedly address the wage gap is huge. In the United States alone, 23.9% of people identify as Catholic, according to the Pew Research Center. If putting his voice behind such an important cause helps to create awareness and shift the tides on wage inequality, the effects could be monumental.

As The Washington Post notes, Francis is not the first Pope to address gender inequality. In 1995, Pope John Paul II also addressed equal pay in a “letter to women,” stating that “there is an urgent need to achieve real equality in every area: equal pay for equal work, protection for working mothers, fairness in career advancements, equality of spouses with regard to family rights.” Given that little has changed since then, it’s nice to know that Pope Francis has brought the issue to the forefront once more.

Of course, the statement was not without its problems. As many have pointed out, while the Pope has made it clear in the past that he would like women to have a bigger role in the church, he has also stated that the “door is closed” when it comes to the possibility of female priesthood — suggesting that, at least for now, that equality has its limits. Furthermore, Pope Francis has remained vocal that he is against marriage equality, and his most recent statements further emphasize the church’s very singular definition and idea of the word “marriage.” It’s problematic to frame our need for gender equality entirely as a means of upholding and preserving the institution of marriage, as well — but stating the importance of equality at all is certainly a start. Here’s hoping the Pope’s statements help to foster an open dialogue about the wage gap, and help to contribute towards equality for all people in the future.

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