Opinion

Gender studies, rare experiences in pontifical universities

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06 February 2021

Women and formation are the two words that have characterized my life and professional trajectory since 2009. I began my commitment at the Institute for Advanced Studies on Women of the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum. The relationship between training and women makes us reflect on at least three aspects: access, the subject, and the perspective of training.

With regard to women’s access to education, let us recall that this is a recent achievement and still largely unfulfilled. The first women's college opened in 1837 in the United States inMassachusetts, while in Europe the first university opened its doors in England in 1848, France in 1880 and Germany in 1894. However, it was not until the Second Vatican Council that women began studying theology in pontifical universities. There is still a long way to go -especially outside the West-, and it is one of the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development goals. That girls and women have access to education is not only a matter of individual rights, but a requirement of the common good and integral development. In today's context in which we are all thinking about recommencing after the pandemic, I believe that the formation of women is a fundamental requirement, and that the Church does well when it speaks up for this right.

If we reflect on the relationship between women and education from the perspective of the subject, we can consider the appropriateness and benefit of “women studies”, which are very well known in secular universities and infrequent in Catholic universities and even less so in pontifical ones.  In fact, I believe that my Institute is the only one in this sense. These paths are very varied, but they start from two common assumptions that are at least worth considering: the first is that being confronted with the silence of the history of thought on sexual difference, it is necessary to focus our attention precisely there that is to fill it with content. The second assumption is the need to analyse how gender differences are manifested in different cultures, and to understand discrimination, best practices and opportunities. In order to overcome all male chauvinism and actively promote women’s contribution in culture and society; a need widely recognised by the post-conciliar Magisterium. I believe that more serious studies are needed that have the history of women in different cultural contexts as their subject. Scientific research makes it possible to break out of commonplaces and grasp nuances, and thus can provide more concrete indications for understanding how to keep moving forward.

Finally, we can consider the particular perspective women contribute to education. Although education has traditionally been in the hands of women -university education excluded-, it seems that their specific contribution is a fairly recent discovery. As we move away from the illusion of the neutral universal, we begin to perceive the particular riches that men and women offer in the most varied training fields; for example, in the theological and philosophical fields, in the training of consecrated persons and priests, in business training and the development of skills (soft skills), etc. 

I believe that giving more space to the perspective of women in formation is a path where everyone has something to gain, not because it is a better perspective in an absolute sense, but because it is the perspective that has been most absent until now.

by Marta Rodriguez