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Dana Theus Headshot

Is Pope Francis Helping or Hurting Women?

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The Wall Street Journal reports that Pope Francis is beginning a serious examination of how women can be brought into more influential roles in the Catholic Church. This comes alongside new efforts by the Church to examine its family policies including divorce and, maybe, birth control. It seems fairly clear in the article that this effort is not a wholesale opportunity for change, as much as it is a mercy-driven effort to address the reality of people's lives, where 57 percent of women in the developing world want to avoid pregnancy in order to achieve healthy timing of births for themselves and their families . Despite their desire, over half of these women are not able to obtain reliable birth control. (By contrast, in the United States 62 percent of women of reproductive age are currently using birth control, and 99 percent have at one time or another.)

But at least the Church is willing to study these issues.

It's tempting to see the Pope's efforts as too little, too late for the women who struggle to empower themselves on behalf of their children, families and communities. Every day a woman can't receive the medication and social support she needs to raise healthy families is a day our world suffers. And make no mistake that empowered women create tangible economic benefit to any organization they participate in, when they constitute at least 30 percent of the participants. Actually, put more precisely, when women and men are working together, in roughly balanced numbers (between 30-70 percent of any group), the group is healthier. I call this The Woman Effect and it's happening in corporate boardrooms and African villages.

When women participate as a "non-minority" in any social structure, dialog and decision-making patterns become more collaborative. More options get on the table. Success is defined more broadly -- usually to include the wellbeing of the people in the system, whether they are employees or children. The decision-making dynamic changes, and the outcomes are decisions and actions that benefit more people and build a stronger social structure.

In this light, I look at the Pope's baby steps to bring more female influence into the Catholic Church with more hope. Change leadership teaches us that people open to change more readily when we work with the social dynamics that they value. When we master change leadership, we learn to uncover what they care about and help them make small shifts and build on those small successes until they are driving the change all by themselves.

So, yes, I'd like to see important institutions like the Catholic Church move farther faster to help women bring their socially healthy ways into our world, cultures and economies more quickly. But I'm also appreciative and supportive of the Pope's efforts to begin the process and bring women into the inner dialogs of the Church.

Every little bit helps. The ocean is made of a billion drops of water. What drop of you contributing today? To what oceans?