Working Women: Church teaching on women’s right to work

Pope Francis often speaks about the dignity of work and importance of people having the opportunity to work. The workforce in the United States has greatly evolved over past decades, with more and more women and mothers working outside of the home than ever before. Many opportunities have opened up for education, training, and employment of women, but there is still work to be done in all areas of the world. What does the Church say?

“I sometimes get this question: ‘does the Church have a teaching position on women’s role in the workplace?’” said Msgr. Stuart Swetland, host of Go Ask Your FatherTM on Relevant Radio®. The answer is, yes! For this, we turn to the Compendium of Social Doctrine of the Church, which states in paragraph 295:

Women and the right to work

295. The feminine genius is needed in all expressions in the life of society, therefore the presence of women in the workplace must also be guaranteed. The first indispensable step in this direction is the concrete possibility of access to professional formation. The recognition and defence of women’s rights in the context of work generally depend on the organization of work, which must take into account the dignity and vocation of women, whose “true advancement … requires that labour should be structured in such a way that women do not have to pay for their advancement by abandoning what is specific to them”. This issue is the measure of the quality of society and its effective defence of women’s right to work.

The persistence of many forms of discrimination offensive to the dignity and vocation of women in the area of work is due to a long series of conditioning that penalizes women, who have seen “their prerogatives misrepresented” and themselves “relegated to the margins of society and even reduced to servitude”. These difficulties, unfortunately, have not been overcome, as is demonstrated wherever there are situations that demoralize women, making them objects of a very real exploitation. An urgent need to recognize effectively the rights of women in the workplace is seen especially under the aspects of pay, insurance and social security.

“I know that’s a lot of words, but let’s unpack that,” said Msgr. Swetland. “The Church teaches women have the right, and therefore the duty, at times, to be in the workforce. Every person has to discern his or her vocation. And so the workplace must not only be open to women, but should desire their presence. As it says in the very first sentence, ‘The feminine genius is needed in all expressions in the life of society,’ so there should be no place where that is not welcomed and also cherished.”

women at workThis begins with good formation for workers. “For both women and men, it doesn’t help that we say they have a right to work if we haven’t formed them well to be able to perform those tasks and to fulfill their vocation in life,” explained Msgr. Swetland.

Work-life balance can be extremely difficult in some professions, and possibly even more so for mothers and fathers. Making time for work, family, and God (not in that order) causes many people to feel like there’s never enough time in the day.

“People say, ‘Well, my work is so demanding and what little time I have left I give to my family, so I don’t have time to pray.’ My answer, always, as a spiritual director: if we’re too busy to pray, we’re too busy. We always need prayer. But we also need family life, we need vacation, we need a balance in life. And so … earlier in the Compendium, it talks about the work-family balance that should be guaranteed to all parents. Just like all parents deserve a living wage so that they can raise their family in dignity and out of poverty,” he said.

The Compendium goes on to mention discrimination against women in the workplace, which should be fought against. “This is a problem that we have to fight, and with that access to places in the workforce there also comes the responsibility of proper remuneration—a living wage and equal pay for equal work.”

Catch Msgr. Swetland’s Catechetical Corner each Wednesday during Go Ask Your Father. Go Ask Your Father airs weekdays at 1pm ET / 10am PT only on Relevant Radio.


Lindsey is a wife, mother, and contributing author at Relevant Radio. She holds a degree in Journalism and Advertising from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Lindsey enjoys writing, baking, and liturgical living with her young family.