Women burying their differences to come together is not something new in India. But Christian women forgetting their denominational differences and coming together to claim their space within the Christian community is creating ripples. Regional units of the Indian Christian Women's Movement (ICWM) are now being launched in different parts of the country. Its Kerala unit, in the southern state was started in September. The affirming presence and enthusiastic participation of women in the movement testifies to the tremendous synergy in such an initiative. The initiative, began at the national level in 2014, envisions creating an autonomous space for women beyond their religious Christian denominational affiliations. It aims to enable Christian women to join hands to address gender concerns in the churches and in society. Such coming together is particularly striking in various social contexts in India, where the patriarchal plot to "divide and rule" thrives because women's religious conditioning. The need for addressing this hegemonic hold of religion and its impact on women's lives becomes crucial in this context.
Thank you. You are now
signed up to our Daily Full
Generally speaking, Indian women have made enviable advancements in the socio-political and economic fronts, thanks to a changing consciousness and increasing opportunities. Despite the many progressive developments in the secular world, regressive religion-backed traditions continue to have a say on Indian women's psyche. Although Christian denominations in India are divided on theology, traditions and pastoral approaches, they seem to be united on refusing women their rightful place and role. Communities may not be homogeneous on the issue of women's participation, but it is undeniable that gender equality is a distant dream. Leadership in churches continues to be a male domain. Even in churches having women priests, they hardly have any role in decision making. Ironically, in many mainstream churches, organizations of women are led by men and women are subjugated even within these ecclesiastical commissions established in their name. It becomes necessary then to create a sisterhood of solidarity to challenge unjust beliefs, practices and structures that perpetuate patriarchy and accentuate the exploitation of women at various levels.
Gathering the voices of Christian women, the movement intends to be an advocacy group that can speak out in one voice against violence that women experience in civil and ecclesial structures. It proposes to have campaigns of resistance against policies and power games that lead to the diminishment, humiliation and denial of women across the class, caste and religion divide. By raising the questions of gender justice, it affirms the richness women can bring to their churches if they can be modeled on the foundation of equal partnership in the different aspects of ministry and mission. Any move towards gender justice in Christian churches can also facilitate greater acceptance of transgender persons and people with different sexual orientations, who are generally taken as deviant to the norm. Welcoming all, irrespective of differences — particularly those at the margins — enables the churches to be effective in the service of the reign of God initiated by Jesus Christ. These assertions by Indian Christian women are founded on freedom, which is a key principle of the politics of the reign of God. Women claiming autonomous thinking spaces beyond male protection and control is an expression of their coming of age, particularly in their capacity to exercise rationality. However, women creating an autonomous thinking space within the ecclesiastical framework could be seen in bad light since their dependency is generally the prescribed gender norm within the precincts of religion. Even when religions and churches engage in women empowerment programs, it is done mainly in a gendered fashion, enabling women to function within the structures allotted to them and exercise power according to the roles defined for them. In this situation, women growing as free thinking persons could be seen as a threat to the androcentric establishment. Women themselves are party to this problem. It is not easy for the majority of women to think critically about the oppressive elements of religion, even when they oppose discrimination and exploitation in other aspects of their lives. Having internalized dependency as the mode of being a 'good Christian woman,' they tend to shy away from autonomy, and this could hinder the impetus of the movement. The birth of the Indian Christian Women's Movement is a historical milestone. It apparently translates to life the saying attributed to Victor Hugo that "Nothing can stop an idea whose time has come!"
The realization of this 'idea' may involve many hard negotiations, yet the promises it holds for facilitating greater partnership between women and men will indeed be a blessing to the churches and wider society. Kochurani Abraham, a Catholic feminist theologian, is the coordinator of the Kerala unit of the Indian Christian Women's Movement.