VATICAN CITY (CNS) — The Catholic defense of human life from conception to natural death includes doing everything possible to defend each person from the violence and injustice that are attacks on human dignity, Pope Francis said.

“When we defend the right to life, we do so in order that each life — from conception to its natural end — may be a dignified life, one free from the scourge of hunger and poverty, of violence and persecution,” the pope wrote in a message to a conference of Catholic women’s groups.

Representatives of the World Union of Catholic Women’s Organizations and the World Women’s Alliance for Life and Family met in Rome May 22-24 to strategize on their input for the drafting of the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals, which should be finalized by member states in September.

In his message, Pope Francis said it was important for the United Nations to hear the contributions of “so many women and men committed to the defense and promotion of life and to the struggle against the poverty, slavery and injustices” that, unfortunately, afflict too many people in the world, particularly women.

In the West, he said, women face discrimination at work, often are forced to choose between family and work obligations, and too often face violence in “their lives as fiancees, wives, mothers, sisters and grandmothers.”

In developing countries, he said, “women bear the heaviest burden.” They walk miles to collect water, are more likely to die in childbirth, face kidnapping, rape and forced marriages. In some countries, the pope said, they “even are denied the right to life just because they are female,” and so are victims of sex-selection abortions.

Recognizing the women’s groups’ “commitment to the defense of the dignity of women and the promotion of their rights,” Pope Francis asked them to always “let yourselves be guided by a spirit of humanity and compassion in the service of others.”

The world needs “the immeasurable gifts with which God has enriched women, making them capable of understanding and of dialogue to resolve conflicts big and small,” giving them the “sensitivity needed to heal wounds and care for every life, including on a social level, and the mercy and tenderness needed to keep people united.”