Women address the causes of poverty

For the Third World Day of the Poor, on 17 November 2019, we have assembled a series of three articles. Each reflects on emerging developments in Catholic social mission. In November 2018, the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales encouraged leaders of Catholic organisations to work together on addressing the housing crisis. This first article in the series explores some progress in the Archdiocese of Birmingham, within the wider context of the Church’s pastoral work and mission in communities.

By Maureen Meatcher, NBCW Convenor of International Committee

In his message for the 2019 World Day of the Poor, Pope Francis asks all of us, whatever our means, to unite in love and in acts of service to one another.  He explains: “It is my wish that … Christian communities will make every effort to create moments of encounter and friendship, solidarity and concrete assistance.” That is why the National Board of Catholic Women (NBCW) takes responsibility for the change Pope Francis wants to see – to use our resources to be the catalyst of change.

“Whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor.  God’s voice is no longer heard, the quiet joy of his love is no longer felt, and the desire to do good fades.  This is a very real danger for believers too.  Many fall prey to it, and end up resentful, angry and listless.  That is no way to live a dignified and fulfilled life; it is not God’s will for us, nor is it the life in the Spirit which has its source in the heart of the risen Christ.” Evangelii Gaudium 2

It is our responsibility as citizens of the world to monitor what our country is doing to enable every person to enjoy their human rights. There are those in power who would prefer that this was not allowed. The space for civil society to remind governments of their duties is reducing. We must use whatever opportunities present themselves for us to be instruments of change. That is why, in March, NBCW sends representatives to New York to attend the United Nations Conference on the Status of Women (CSW64) – answering the call “to go into the court of the gentiles”. We work with other women’s organisations – both secular and faith – who have a united vision of the changes we wish to see in the world. We are all working towards the 2030 agenda when we hope we will have eliminated world poverty by achieving the 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

Since the 1980s, Britain has been subject to rampant consumerism and individualism, while Christian values of solidarity and selflessness have been supplanted by a secular creed of self-interest. There is a widening gulf between rich and poor, while community life is declining. Christian leaders have warned that the politicians are “making promises aimed more at selfishness than basic fairness, fostering a brand of self-interest that is destroying the “glue” that holds society together. Pope Francis has advised that we are impelled to contribute to the public discussion of social issues, not only as involved citizens, but also because of the Christian understanding of what a just and sustainable society looks like. Politicians assume that the value of a given community is founded solely on its economic output. There is a general economic assumption that the economy has the power to dictate what is and is not possible for human beings; if the economy can be fixed, the fixing of human beings will automatically follow. While in the past our country was governed with Christian principles, our greatly secularised society seems to agree on only one un-Christian principle: every person for themselves.

In order to overcome structural problems, especially economic barriers, we need to disrupt and redefine what we value and how. As we prepare for CSW 64 in March 2020 we will be calling for a complete overhaul of the current economic system, moving away from extractive and profit-driven capitalism. We will advocate a move towards a care economy focused on people and planet to create measures that value social progress; that recognizes unpaid care work as “work” that gives right to social protection; that connects social protection and taxing systems to individual rights, and addresses gender-based violence at work.  We will be focussing on those areas of employment which are more exposed to violence against women such as care, domestic work, media, and informal work; over-representation of women in precarious employment, and low wage employment. The informal economy must be addressed by ensuring universal access to a living wage and social protection. A global care crisis must be averted by committing a minimum of 2% of income to public care services. 

In the words of Pope Francis, “no one can demand that religion should be relegated to the inner sanctum of personal life, without influence on societal and national life, without concern for the soundness of civil institutions, without a right to offer an opinion on events affecting society. … An authentic faith – which is never comfortable or completely personal – always involves a deep desire to change the world, to transmit values, to leave this earth somehow better than we found it.” (EG183)