Empowerment Of Women In The Church And Society

By Sr Mariola B.S.

Empowerment Of Women In The Church And Society

Status of women in our society

God created man and woman alike, in his own image. But discrimination of women has become naturally accepted phenomena almost all over the globe. The status of women in Asia is all the

more pathetic.

An Analysis of the Causes

The culture of domination, marginalization and exclusion which embodies ideas, beliefs, values, traditions, rules, norms, perspectives (ideologies) that prefer males/sons has been styled the culture of patriarchy. Through dominating social structures men own, control and manage financial, intellectual and ideological resources as well as the labor, fertility and sexuality of women, and thus perpetuate gender discrimination. Such a culture produces stereotyped notions of how a woman or man should behave (in words and actions), whereby they themselves become transmitters of the above value system. Consequently women also become both victims and victimizers.

The process of globalization which is marketcentered and profit driven, leads to further exploitation of women as cheap labour resulting in the increasing pauperization of women. Fundamentalism and communalism reinforce the subjugation of women to men, suppress women’s movements by dividing women along religious lines and intensify violence against women.

Situation of Women in the Church and Society

The socio-cultural situation of women should not be understood in the same way among all social classes and ethnic groups especially among the marginalised and the oppressed. It has its lights and its shadows. Though we have examples of empowered women in leadership positions and role-models like Blessed Mother Theresa and Saint Alphonsa, nevertheless the reality of women of all sections reveals instances of domestic and societal violence on young girls and women. Depending on the regions, female feticide, infanticide, rape, molestation, kidnapping, abduction, battering, dowry deaths, murdering, trafficking for sex and slavery exist even today.

Women of the marginalized groups such as dalits, tribals, indigenous people, migrants, victims of HIV AIDS, backward castes and minorities suffer much due to poverty, illhealth, lack of access to literacy and appropriate knowledge and lack of hygiene and potable water. In addition, they are being displaced from their lands and livelihoods. They suffer systemic and structural violence that enslave them and dehumanize them economically, socio-politically and religio-culturally.

Gender discrimination has negative effects on boys and men as well. It damages their psyche and increases the incidence of morbidity and crime among them. Relations of distrust, conflict, competition and many forms of subtle abuse emerge instead of those rooted in values of caring, sharing, compassion, mutual respect, collaboration and partnership. Such discrimination thus has negative consequences on human relations.

It is noticed that the structures which facilitate collaborative partnership between women and men as well as clergy and laity needs improvement. In 1992, the CBCI General Assembly stated, “with a sense of sorrow we must admit that the women feel discriminated against, even in the Church”. In the decisionmaking and the consultative structures like the Parish Pastoral Council, Diocesan Pastoral Council, Diocesan Finance Committee which are canonically advocated structures in the Church, the presence of women is inadequate.

In spite of the great contribution of lay women in spheres of education, health care, etc., their potentials are yet to be sufficiently tapped in the administrative and executive roles, as well as theological, liturgical, pastoral and missionary apostolates of the Church.

Signs of Hope

In the midst of this distressing situation there are signs of hope. The Church has been spearheading several initiatives to bring about positive changes in the life situation of women and girls. From the time of the early Christian missionaries who placed emphasis on the education of both girls and boys, through its multiple interventions in the fields of welfare, education, health and the empowerment process to organize women, the Catholic Church has played a prominent role to improve the status of women.

Besides the Church and ecumenical bodies, government and non governmental organizations, trade unions and social movements have played a significant role in facilitating change. Through its policies, for example, the National Policy on the Empowerment of Women, and legislative measures, the Government has contributed to the cause of women. By signing international declarations and conventions such as Human Rights, Convention on Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and Violence against Women, the Government of India has taken a stand in favour of gender justice.

As a result, many women leaders both lay and religious are emerging in the public sphere such as local governance and political leadership. The process of generation of counter-cultural literature and media material, and the revival of subjugated memories of resistance by women against oppression and exploitation are influencing change in mindsets of people to a greater or lesser extent across space and culture. The promotion of appropriate ecclesiastical ministries among

women in the Church is another sign of their participation in the mission of the Church.

The Vision of Christ

Situating the teachings and actions of Christ in the context of Palestinian Judaism, we see how the evangelists not only highlight Jesus’ concern for women, but also his radical redefining of their place and role in their society. In a culture where women were seen only in relation to men, Christ not only liberated them from their oppressive traditions but upheld their dignity e.g. the Samaritan woman (Jn.4:7-42) and Mary and Martha (Jn.11:20-40). He used the life-experiences of women as a paradigm of God’s love and Christian discipleship for all: woman and lost coin, woman and the dough and woman at birth pangs. Even at his death and burial, women were

among those who bore testimony. Jesus entrusted to the women that they announce the Good News of Resurrection to his disciples.

St. Paul reiterates the equality of men and women (Gal.3:28) and continues to refer to many exemplary women. The early Christian Community was sustained by the deep faith of women who shared in the apostolic ministry e.g. Priscilla, Lydia, Phoebe, etc.

In her teaching, the Church continues to uphold the dignity of women, uniqueness of motherhood (Letter to Women, 2), and the complementarity and reciprocity between men and women.

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