Friday, March 8, 2013

My preferential option for women’s day

Whenever the question of gender comes up in a lecture one can be sure that male students will categorically say that they will be neutral in their congregations once they are ordained as pastors/priests. This becomes the painful commitment they are willing to take as part of their commitment to pastoral ministry. Theological colleges all over India try their best to engage with gender studies and try to bring about gender conscientization in the colleges among students and community members. This is the responsibility of all departments.

But where are we as we commemorate another women’s day? Is it enough to be neutral or should we have a preferential option for women in church and society? WACC in its numerous deliberations has brought out the importance of having a preferential option for the poor. This has been a direct challenge to the mainline media who follow the traditional inverted pyramid of journalism whereby women, children and labourers are left out of the mainline discourse.

To turn this around one has to play a pro active role in bringing about gender justice by openly supporting women in churches and in society. This has to be a part of theological education as well. Can we make decisions purely on whether a woman qualifies based on general criteria which have been decided for all or should we include more women based on separate criteria which take into consideration the generations of oppression, lack of freedom and violence that they have undergone and continue to do so? The objection to a separate criteria leads to a skewed system whereby lesser women will get through to do theological education and be in service of the church.

Cases of violence against women continue and public spaces owned and controlled by the church and other religious institutions have imposed limitations on women as well. This means that we will be unable to change the situation of violence against women in India. A pro active stand by the church and church run institutions will lead to better gender parity and better justice. Without this International Women’s Day will be a showcase of how we have failed women and not how women are now equal to men. It will be a sober and sad recollection of our collective failure rather than a celebration of the character and strength of women.

Protest becomes a legitimate tool in the hands of women who have nothing else for support. There needs to be a movement to fill church committees and decision making bodies with women just as much as men. This can come about only with support from various sides and men will also have to be a part of this movement, always ready to do what women want. Theological educators/pastors/priests also have to decide on their preferential option to women. The often travelled route of suspecting the character of women, questioning the ability of women, negating the strength of women has to give way for trusting women, supporting women and affirming and celebrating women. This could be the greatest thing that men could do for women this women’s day. There can never be a neutral way of teaching, a neutral ministry or a neutral teacher/pastor/priest. I and you should opt to listen, accept and support women we come across in our houses, colleges, churches, streets and public spaces. The United Nations is also trying its bit this year. The slogan "A Promise is a Promise: Time for Action to End Violence Against Women" should be a wake up call for the church as well.