A municipal corporator from Mira Road, a theology teacher from Delhi, a pastor from Agra were among the 90 odd Christian women who came together for the first time to discuss a topic close to their hearts: gender equality in the Church. The two day convention organized by the Indian Christian Women’s Movement in Pune concluded on Monday with a zeal to work towards equal position in the Church.
“We don’t have a say in the decision making of the Church. We are aiming at gender equality as equal disciples and inclusion at the decision making table”, said sister Noella deSouza, the national convenor of ICWM.
Among the many topics that were discussed at the forum included the allegations of sexual abuse involving the clergy. “Not only in the Church, we need to strongly condemn sexual abuse anywhere in the country. We do feel that the male leadership in the Church may be responsible for the inadequate response to such cases”, said sister Shalini Mulackal, a theology teacher at the Vidyajyoti College of Theology in Delhi who feels that the voice of Christian women has to become powerful. “If women get equal participation, they can condemn, advocate and ensure that incidents of sexual abuse are not hidden under the carpet”, she said.
According to sister Shalini, deeper issues like sexual abuse exist everywhere. “We have to realize that the clergy is also coming from the same community. The Church is a human institution as much as divine. All its members are human beings”, said sister Shalini citing an example of a lecture in south India where she posed a question about sexual abuse to theology students who were to be future priests. “Shockingly, nearly 45% of the students said that they were sexually abused as children. We have to accept that the priests are also coming from the same community as all the others are. The problem of sexual abuse is much deep rooted and cuts across religions and cultures which we need to fight hard”, she said.
The ICWM started in 2014 and has been growing steadily since then. Sister Shalini says that the Church may be divided into various sects but the Christian women have decided to come together under one umbrella. “We have representation from the Catholic Church, Orthodox Church, Baptist Church, Church of South India, Church of North India etc”, she said.
Merlyn D’sa, a municipal corporator from Mira Road, also a member of the ICWM, said that the structure of the Church is patriarchal. “Long ago, when I was a member of the parish council, a parish priest once told me that it was a consultative body. The ultimate power of decision making is with the parish priest”, said Ms D’sa adding that there is no involvement of women to the extent of decision making.