Daphne Sequeira, who recently became a member of the Jesuit Advisory Committee for SJES (the Jesuit Social Justice and Ecology Secretariat), has written the following article on collaborating with women for their website to celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8th.
Saten in her short speech on international women's day said, “if the Church and the world recognizes the worth of women and work with them as collaborative partners, the world will be a beautiful place to live”.
There is truth, wisdom, and power in what Saten says. Saten is a 33-year-old woman. She is only 6th std. educated, married, and have 3 children. She is a member of Self Help Group (SHG) working for the empowerment of women in rural India. They are 3 sisters. All three are married. Her father owned 12 acres of land. In tribal custom if there are only girls in the family and if they marry the property goes to their uncle and the girls cannot own anything. Saten's husband is an acholic, so she now stays separately with her 3 children in Torpa, India. She earns her living by sewing clothes. She really has nothing as her own by way of material support and yet she is a happy woman.
The last time I met her I asked her, Saten, you got nothing from your father's side neither from your husband's side and I see you as a woman of freedom and happiness, what is a secret. She said, “Mother Mary's life is a great inspiration for me. God has made us so special. All the men whom Jesus trusted ran away but Mother Mary had the courage to face Jesus on the cross”. Saten has recognized her inner strength!
The foundational and fundamental truth is that as men and women we are different, but we are equal as human beings (Gen 1:27). The Church is the largest institution in the world whose primary mission is to restore and respect the dignity of human beings. More than 50% of the population in the Church are women. It does not speak well that in the 21st century this complementarity is missed, and we ignore the fundamental truth in the church at its helm.
Like Saten unless we recognize the power of the women, the world will ignore half the wisdom that God and nature have delivered on this earth. I strongly believe that unless the power equations in our families, communities, institutions, and society change, the world will grapple with issues with limited perspective coming from exclusiveness. To build a healthy world the inclusive perspective is important. In my opinion the big ecological challenges of the world would have looked different if women were partners in policymaking at all levels from the beginning and finding lasting solutions to our problems.
The patriarchal Society often takes women's skills but is hesitant to adhere to the thinking and wisdom that women can offer as having great potentials for life. The victimization of women on every level, rich and poor, educated and uneducated happens not because of differences in gender but because of mindset that cannot perceive women as equals. If women's strength and potential is recognized and respected the world will be a safer place for humanity.
Women are not weak but different. This was indeed demonstrated during Covid-19 crises globally. The countries headed by women leaders like Australia, New-Zealand, Germany… dealt with the challenging situation differently and creatively. They were successful with their strategies and policies while many other countries struggled. In the new normal of the COVID-19 world today the vulnerability is at its peak. Society is facing huge economic, social, and political challenges. The world mental health curve has risen drastically. The story of Covid-19 continues. Besides knowledge and wisdom, women are blessed with the exceptional capacities of nurturing, intuitiveness, and sensitive intelligence. Women who care, bring solace and peace, foster solidarity, and provide healing to our broken world which is the need of the time today.
I have heard many women around the world who have contributed immensely through the structures of the Society of Jesus to the mission of Justice and reconciliation. Often this contribution goes unnoticed. I have worked with Jesuits in a collaborative project of women's empowerment in the mission of Justice and reconciliation. I was able to contribute much as the program was designed together. I had all the responsibility and freedom to manage and implement the project.
In the process of helping empowerment of women there are some issues, the Jesuit community could pay attention to and help the church bring a paradigm shift:
- So often the partnering in the sense of ownership remains non-negotiable for men. Power without mutuality and reciprocity becomes a tool of domination. Consequently, the center of the Women's empowerment program remains man-centered. These initiatives need to have inbuilt liberating structures leading to mutuality and reciprocity. This would provide equal and dignified level-field for women with whom they collaborate.
- Another power imbalance happens when men are managers and women remain implementers of the programs initiated by men. It is time that women take lead in initiating women’s programs and men collaborate and support these initiatives. The real success of empowerment is when the power is transferred in the hands of those who are being empowered.
- Often women's skills are used in the church from local to global, but they are not included in the thinking and shaping of the programs and policies. It is an urgent need for the Church structure to become inclusive and give back women the space that belongs to them. The Jesuits can play an important leading role in bringing justice within and collaborate with women so that they can contribute their might in the Church.
As we celebrate the international women’s day, with the increasing awareness about the potentials of women across the globe, it is time for a paradigm shift within the Church. It will interest millions of women to see the men's institutions looking for women-initiated programs and reach out to collaborate with them.
I am sure the Society of Jesus with its wide international outreach and influential setups can play an important role in this paradigm shift as a collaborative work contributing to the cause of women in the Church.
The following story would make the point:
A lone journeyer who arrived in a village in the hill country only to find the road ahead was blocked by a mountain. Tired and dismayed, he sat down and waited for the mountain to move. Years later, he was sitting in the same place, old and decrepit, still waiting.
This is the story told by the famous philosopher, Kierkegaard, and the essence of his message is that providence doesn't move mountains. It is we who must climb them or find a route around them. If we are waiting for the mountain to move or approach it in the same old way as everyone else, then we are lost.
Happy Women’s Day!!
Daphne Sequeira RSCJ