Women Vote 100 | Respect and equality for women begins at home


By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger

Women won the right to vote 100 years ago and through the years have continued to pursue equal rights in many other aspects of their lives — from the family to the public square to the workplace.

Barb Arland-Fye
Jeanne Wonio prays the rosary outside the former Planned Parenthood in Bettendorf in this file photo.

However, one of the rights that some women champion, the right to an abortion, violates church teaching and denies the right of an unborn child to be born, say pro-life advocates such as Jeanne Wonio. The original goal of the women who fought for the right to vote was to ensure that women had a voice and societal value equal to that of men. That is a goal worth pursuing, believes Wonio, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Davenport.

“We’re all children of God — men and women — equal in God’s eyes. In our lives, we can promote all aspects of that in our marriages, in motherhood and in education,” Wonio said. “We want to make sure we’re teaching our kids Catholic values, and (at home) we need to make sure kids see a loving marriage where the father respects the mother.”


Certainly, the lives of women have changed dramatically in the past century. Women have more options, especially in the workforce, Wonio said. Today, women make up about 47 percent of the workforce, compared with 20 percent a century ago, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. When Wonio graduated from St. Ambrose College (now university) in Davenport in the early 1970s, the idea that “women could have it all” was just beginning to permeate society. It became more socially acceptable for women to fulfill career ambitions after marriage, she observed. Wonio worked as an art instructor in the early years of her marriage and was active in local pro-life ministries and programs while raising eight children. Recently, she served as vice president of Iowa Right to Life.

However, as her daughters have come of age, she has noticed a shift from “women can have it all” to “women should have it all,” Wonio said. “My kids feel that pressure … to stay home and take care of your kids is not enough. You (are expected) to contribute financially.” In her opinion, women who make the choice to be a homemaker or stay-at-home mother deserve the same level of respect as wives and mothers who work outside the home. Likewise, a woman who chooses a vocation to religious life should feel supported in society. The goal of women’s rights should focus on having equal say and equal value to men, Wonio believes.

With more options to choose from, engaged and married couples should sit down and decide — together — how they can achieve their goals inside and outside the home. “Women should ask themselves, ‘Can I be happy working? Do I really want to work?’ A lot of times, the answer is yes.” If the answer is no, a couple can decide how to make that work financially. In some cases, the husband might choose to be a stay-at-home dad while the wife works outside the home. In all cases, women should feel that their opinions are valued.

This respect, Wonio says, should extend to women experiencing an unexpected pregnancy. Wonio has worked with these women for more than 40 years through her involvement in Iowa Right to Life, 40 Days for Life, Quad City Right to Life, Women’s Choice Center-Bettendorf and Helpers of Gods Precious Infants of Iowa. She observes that women facing an unexpected pregnancy often feel as if their voices do not matter. They may face intense pressure from their boyfriends, parents or society to terminate the pregnancy.

“They are told abortion is their only option,” Wonio says. “Even if they do choose (life), we are pretty cold-hearted toward young moms and moms without support systems,” Wonio said. If a woman wants to keep her baby despite difficult circumstances or chooses to give the child up for adoption, she should feel free to make that choice.

Wonio suggests that Catholics pray for all women and their unborn children to be heard and respected. Male or female, “we all have rights given to us by our creator.”

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