Gender Equity beginning with the Church … the journey continues …
The CSI Gender Conclave wasanother significant milestone in the journey towards a gender equal society beginning with the church. The Church of South India affirmed three important messages during the Conclave. This conclave was held in the context of preparing to celebrate the 70th anniversary of its formation: (i) Gender inequality is pervasive in our socio cultural context and the church has taken its role in breaking this cycle of inequality seriously. (ii) The responsibility to break this cycle of inequality is not on women alone but should be a task to be handled in partnership together as men and women. (iii) We realize that as a church we need to work simultaneously at different levels to tackle gender inequality. Tackling Gender inequality can be achieved by changing the mindsets of people culturally and theologically, sending strong messages from our pulpits and making “zero tolerance towards gender inequality” our official policy as a church.
66 participants representing different regions of the Church of South India including Presidents of Diocesan Women Fellowships, Women Fellowship Secretaries and Men Fellowship Secretaries of the 24 dioceses of the Church of South India met between 6thto 8thAugust 2017for the “CSI Gender Conclave” at CSI Center, Chennai.
The Conclave is a continuation of the CSI GEET Orientation to dioceses held in March 2017.The purpose of the Conclave was to deliberate on components fora Gender Policy for the CSI. Before the Gender Conclave members of the Consultative Group for the Gender Policy met and decided to collect input from our dioceses to be included in the Gender Policy. Towards this end the participants of each diocese contributed their ideas for developing the CSI Gender Policy.
The Most. Rev. Thomas. K. Oomen Moderator of the CSI inaugurated the Conclave. He highlighted the biblical story of Zelophelad’s daughters claiming property (Numbers27) and affirmed the right of women to family property. He also strongly affirmed that only the church can give leadership to bring gender equity in society; only the church can give new hope and life for women and men partnering for gender equity. As the church brings the kingdom of God on earth, church becomes the source of gender equity, new life and new hope.
Mrs. Miriam Samuel presented the Overall Context of Gender in India from a Sociological Perspective. She highlighted the prevalence of addiction and psychological problems among men in the family as they shoulder the expectation “to be strong” in all circumstances. Speaking on Gender and marriage she rued that churches are unable to address domestic violence in families as Christian counselling still stresses on women to adjust and men are told to be strong.
Rev. Dr. Dexter Maben spoke on “Biblical and Theological Foundations of Gender: Towards Equal Partnership”. He reflected on the biblical narrative ofHagar and Sarah found in the book of Genesis and emphasised the need to find indigenous stories and methodologies from our context to understand ways to reconstruct gender relationships. On the second day heel aborated on the character of Lydia found in book of Acts 16: 14-15, 40 and drew parallels to stereotypes regarding single, independent women in our contexts.
Activities on Gender & Social Construction helped participants to understand that sex is biological while gender is socially constructed and learnt. Through thought provoking group activities participants were led through a process to understand the following: that identity markers like sex, gender, religious identity, caste and ethnicity and institutions in society like family, religious institutions, the State, education and the market all intersect to inform the type of understanding of gender we have. Activities also highlighted that different attributes are assigned to each gender due to social conditioning from all the intersecting social and identity markers. Our roles assignments in Church life and ministry too therefore tend to be based on these stereotyped gender attributes thus perpetuating gender inequality. These experiences prepared the participants as change agents in their respective contexts.
Rev. Dr. Lalitha Jayachitra presented on Gender & Sexuality to highlight the variety of genders that are scientifically proved and pointed out that as a church we have not even begun to grapple with this variety. She highlighted the biblical story of Judah & Tamar to expose the double standards applied to women’s and men’s sexuality. The challenge issued was that churches should create safe spaces to introduce our young people and children to healthy sexuality and understanding of our bodies.
A panel presentation introduced participants to gender related topics that are often neglected. Dr. Aiswaraya Rao highlighted the challenges of Disabled people and women with disability in particular through sharing of three stories that highlighted that when barriers are removed and there is community support people with disability can achieve even the impossible. Ms. Jaya and Dr. Sudha elaborated that Trans people stand as a reminder that we need to go beyond gender binaries to understand the life and livelihood challenges of Trans people.
Participants brainstormed in groups about the strengths and weaknesses of CSI in terms of our Gender Equity witness and practices. That churches need to give equal opportunities to all genders was reiterated.
Rev. Dr. Rathnakara Sadananda, General Secretary, in his concluding remarks affirmed that creation was “ex nihilo” (out of nothing),which indicates that all are equal. He pointed out that we have partnerships in the church but many a times they are not equal partnerships.
Learning and suggestions from this Conclave will be incorporated in the proposed Gender Policy of the CSI.
Ms. Jessica Richard, Coordinator (Campaigns & Advocacy) CSI–SEVA, Mrs. Glory Thomas and Ms. Merlin Jochebeth, Program Executives (GEET) coordinated the conclave
Rev. Asir Ebenezer
Director, CSI- SEVA