RE: International Women's Day March 8, 2009/Women's History Month
From our friends in India....
IT’S “WOMEN’S DAY” ONCE AGAIN !
A time to reflect on where we are and how much more all of us should be doing to ensure that women have their rightful place in Church and in society.
A fitting first step will be to read, reflect and to implement this document which the Bishops of India have given us.
Let’s make a beginning today!
The ‘PRASHANT’ Parivar
March 8, 2009
28th General Body Meeting of Catholic Bishops Conference of India
EMPOWERMENT OF WOMEN IN THE CHURCH AND SOCIETY
- As the Universal Church celebrates the 20th anniversary of the Apostolic Letter of Pope John Paul II , 'Mulieris Dignitatem', on the Dignity of Women, we, 160 Bishops, belonging to the 3 Individual sui juris Churches of the Catholic Communion in India, are gathered at XLRI in Jamshedpur, from 13th to 20th February 2008, for the 28th Plenary Assembly of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India. The theme was the Empowerment of Women in the Church and Society. There were 40 lay and religious women and 7 lay men representing all the 12 ecclesiastical regions of the country as invitees for the meeting.
Already in 1984, there was a CBCI initiated Consultation on Women held in Mumbai, on the "Role of Women in the Church and Society". In 1992, the concerns of women were taken up again at the Plenary Assembly of the CBCI in Pune and consequently a Women's Desk was instituted with the appointment of the first Woman Secretary to the Office of the CBCI. In 1996, the Women's Desk was raised to the status of a Commission. While the Church and society undergo rapid changes, women are being marginalised and continue to suffer and since their concerns are not adequately addressed both in the Church and in society the Bishops thought it opportune to discuss this theme.
1. Situation of Women in the Church and Society in India -
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 Blessed 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, backward castes and minorities suffer much due to poverty, ill-health, 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 was 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 decision-making 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.
2. 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 market-centered 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.
Lack of development and articulation of a spirituality rooted in women's experiences and insights into God, Mission, the Sacraments and the Scriptures have impoverished the Church. The interiority of women and the capacity to endure suffering are the areas that are not adequately capitalized in the building up of the Kingdom.( Letter to Women by John Paul II, 29th June, 1995)
3. 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.
4. 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 re-defining 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. To this day, the Church continues to witness the heroic character of women in their testimony to their faith even at the moment of persecution as in the cases of Sr. Rani Maria in Madhya Pradesh, Mrs. Graham Steins in Orissa, as well as the women and men of Rajasthan, Gujarat, Chattisgarh and now again in Orissa.
5. Commitment to Action -
Taking into consideration all the recommendations arrived at during the process of discussion at the Plenary Assembly, it is necessary to mobilise our collective efforts towards elimination of the root causes of discrimination against women. Accordingly we commit ourselves as a body to evolve within a period of one year from now, a gender policy developed by each Regional Bishops' Conference with time bound action plans for their region with monitoring mechanisms. Basing on these, the CBCI Gender Policy will emerge. The Women's Commission of CBCI will give general guidance and norms for developing such policy, if required.
The following areas call for our immediate action:
i. Impart skills for effective parenting through Family Education programmes and Marriage Preparation Courses, keeping in mind the need to overcome the cultural bias against the girl child and sexual stereotypes.
ii. Encourage family-oriented movements like 'Marriage Encounter', 'Teams of Our Lady', and 'Couples for Christ' to promote the fundamental equality of husband and wife as both a gift and a right deriving from God, the Creator
iii. Incorporate a gender perspective in all the Commissions of the Church and foster networking to further the goal of a gender-just Church and society,
iv. Provide theological, biblical and canonical studies that promote gender justice and an ecclesiology of partnership;
v. Provide scholarships and part-time courses for women for theological, biblical and canonical studies.
vi. Provide opportunities for theologically-trained women to contribute as pastoral workers, researchers, faith formators, professors in theologates and spiritual counsellors.
vii. Prepare audio- visual material as an effective tool for gender sensitisation.
viii. Offer at least 35% (moving towards an ideal of 50%) representation of women as office- bearers and members on parish and diocesan pastoral councils, and finance committees and in the ecclesial bodies at the local and national levels.
ix. Affirm the pastoral work of women –lay and religious- as catechists, lectors, and animators of Basic/Small Christian Communities, counsellors, liturgists and community workers through the recognition of these as ministries.
x. Work towards a commitment for the uplift of the tribal, dalit and disadvantaged women, including their education and opportunities for employment in Church institutions.
xi. Take concerted efforts to address the needs of migrants and domestic workers, and keep fighting against the trafficking of women and children.
xii. Help women emotionally and legally through the canonical processes of separation of bed and board and annulment.
xiii. Support women in their process of political leadership for Panchayat, Legislative Assembly and Parliament
Towards this end, we seek to join hands with the Central and State governments, civil society organizations, and other religious groups to safeguard the rights and freedom of all, especially women, irrespective of caste, creed, and vocation. We desire to strengthen institutional mechanisms with adequate personnel and finances at all levels of the Church to inspire, motivate, coordinate and monitor the process and results of execution of the gender policy.
6. Conclusion -
The Church, as the sacrament of Christ, has been entrusted with the mission of proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom of God. This she has consistently done in the face of the concrete challenges with which she has been confronted. One such challenge has been the issue of the dignity and role of women in the Church and society.
We conclude this Statement with our thoughts centred on the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God and our mother; "therefore the fullness of grace that was granted, with a view to the fact that she would become Theotokos, also signifies the fullness of the perfection of 'what is characteristic of woman', of 'what is feminine'.
Here we find ourselves, in a sense, at the culminating point, the archetype, of the personal dignity of women." (MD 5). May Mary, our Mother, model and guide, lead us to be authentic disciples of her Son, in realizing His Kingdom in the context of our beloved motherland India.
February 20, 2008