ROME – In his prayer video for the month of April, Pope Francis, who has made the role of women a key priority in recent months, lamented instances of gender inequality throughout the world and called for women to be respected and their rights universally guaranteed.

Speaking in his prayer video for the month of April, the pope noted that “In many parts of the world, women are treated like the first thing to get rid of.”

“There are countries where women are forbidden to access aid, open a business, or go to school. In these places, they are subject to laws that make them dress a certain way,” he said, in a likely reference to Iran, where mass protests erupted in 2022 with young men and women pushing for more freedoms and a reform of the Shia-led nation.

Francis also noted that female genital mutilation is still practiced in many countries, a trend he has repeatedly condemned, including on his return flight from Bahrain in November 2022.

“Let us not deprive women of their voice. Let us not rob all these abused women of their voice. They are exploited, marginalized,” he said.

The pope said that in many places around the world, it is generally agreed “in theory” that men and women enjoy the same dignity as human beings but cautioned that “this does not play out in practice.”

“Governments need to commit to eliminate discriminatory laws everywhere and to work toward guaranteeing women’s human rights,” he said, urging the world to have greater respect for women.

“Let us respect their dignity, their basic rights. And if we don’t, our society will not progress,” he said, praying that “the dignity and worth of women be recognized in every culture, and for an end to the discrimination they face in various parts of the world.”

Published monthly by the Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network, the video for April was released Tuesday on the Vatican’s social media outlets.

It comes as Pope Francis and his top advisors are evaluating the role of women in the Church and how to better include them in the Church’s life and ministries, especially when it comes to leadership and decision-making.

Women’s issues have been a key theme throughout Pope Francis’s multi-year Synod of Bishops on Synodality, set to close this October, with many participants calling for a reestablishment of the women’s diaconate.

While repeatedly insisting that women’s priestly ordination is off the table, Francis in the past has established two separate commissions to study the female diaconate, and he and his top council of advisors have heard two presentations exploring the issue in recent months.

The role of women in the Church and their inclusion in positions of leadership and governance is also a discussion point for the pope and his Council of Cardinals, dedicated to advising the pope on church governance and reform, and which for the past two sessions has discussed the role of women in the Church.

Pope Francis set a new papal precedent on Holy Thursday, when he celebrated his March 28 Mass of the Lord’s Supper at a women’s prison in Rome, becoming the first pope to do so, and therefore, the first pope to wash the feet of all women during the liturgy’s foot-washing ritual.

He had previously in 2015 modified the Church’s rules, which limited the ritual to only men, to formally allow women to participate, and he also in 2021 issued a new legal norm officially allowing women and girls to serve as lectors and altar servers at Mass.