A two-day Vatican workshop over the weekend explored the unique challenges faced by women as they balance work with family life, and what true equality for women looks like in the workplace. “It was easy in the old days to know who your enemy was. Everybody just called it 'the man' — 'the man' didn't want you to advance. But now it's not that simple,” said Helen Alvaré, law professor at George Mason University and participant in the two-day workshop. “Women have access (to work) in so many parts of the world, not everywhere,” she added, “yet those positions don't take account of the jobs women prefer. Those jobs are underpaid.” Alvaré was one of the presenters  at the Dec. 4-5- Vatican event titled “Women and Work.” Sponsored by the Pontifical Council for the Laity, the symposium focused on the dichotomy between the needs of work and family faced by women today. Alvaré is founder of the group  “Women Speak for Themselves,” and was also one of the main organizers of the 2014 post-synodal Vatican conference, entitled Humanum, on the complimentary between men and women. The aim of the conference was to promote full inclusion for women in the workplace, especially in the face of discrimination such as pay disparities and that faced by mothers in the workplace, in different countries worldwide. “We don't just want to have great ideas we want to make them action,” Alvaré said, “We’ve been in the workforce outside the home for decades now. Why hasn't almost anything changed?” While women continue to face challenges in workplace, Alvaré said the antagonist in these scenarios is not always the same. “My job would be asking: who is supposedly the enemy today? Sometimes it’s ourselves, sometimes it’s a western version of feminism, sometimes it’s still the man, sometimes it’s our own materialism: where do we begin with all of that?” She stressed the need for global action, as demonstrated in various grassroots initiatives, “to make public and private policies suit women priorities,” rather than “a workplace designed strictly for men without childcare responsibilities.” Archbishop Filippo Santoro  of Taranto, Italy, who also participated in the symposium, pointed to what he called a connection between the defense of life and the defense of creation. “The defense of life and the defense of the dignity of man serves for the physical life but also for the life of the environment. It is vital to have an alliance between defense for life and defense for the environment.” “We see the necessity of women in their condition can work, but not as an alternative of her natural characteristic which is the capacity to form a family,” said the archbishop. “There needs to be a new sensibility.” “Man should look and learn from the sensibility of women with her attention,” the archbishop said. He stressed the importance of emphasizing “the richness of the female universe, which is not just for the life of the family but indicated a perspective that is true to for the whole life.” Ahead of the conference, Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin sent a telegram to the workshop participants on behalf of Pope Francis. The message expressed the Holy Father's hope that the symposium would “help to affirm the indispensable role of women in the family and the formation of children,” and “the essential contribution of women workers in the building up of economic structures and a politics worthy of humanity, and identifying concrete suggestions and positive models for the harmonization of work commitments and family needs.” Pope Francis has often spoke on the need to protect the rights of workers, including those of women. Some one hundred people gathered for the workshop, which explored various themes such as pay gaps and other forms of discrimination against women in the workplace. The conference marks the twentieth anniversary of St. John Paul II's letter to women, published June 29, 1995.

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