Christian Women's Movement Begins in India

Women in India celebrate Pope Francis in 2013

A national conference of women religious and others on the impact of the Second Vatican Council has led to the establishment of a national Christian women's forum.

The Indian Christian Women's Movement was launched Jan. 11, the final day of the four-day conference on "Paradigm Shift in Vatican II and Its Impact on Women."

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"We were challenged to change our patriarchal mindset, to develop a feminist way of thinking, to create gender sensitivity, promote the use of inclusive language, break boundaries and move into a new way of being and doing," said the statement from the conference participants, 113 women and seven men. The statement said the new women's forum was to be a "voice for Christian women, the poor and the marginalized at the national level."

An ad-hoc committee has been formed to mobilize more members into the movement and draft the modalities of the new forum of Indian Christian women. The conference was initiated and jointly organized by Streevani (Voice of Women) and Montfort Social Institute along with three other Catholic organizations, including the Indian bishops' conference Office for Women.

"In a highly divided and unjust world, where the prophetic role of the church is almost lost, religious women/men are challenged to live their consecrated life fully dedicated to God and to God's people and ... to help them overcome exploitation and oppression," said a statement from the conference.

Although several documents issued during and after Vatican II spoke about the equality of women and men, the conference statement pointed out that "a lot remains to be done to make the shift from subordination to partnership in church and society."

In his opening address to the conference, Archbishop Bernard Moras of Bangalore referred to Pope Francis remarks that a church without women "is a lifeless body."

Father Cleophas Fernandes, director of the National Biblical, Catechetical and Liturgical Center, acknowledged that although in 2008, the bishops approved a 12-point action plan for empowerment of women, several of the steps recommended were yet to be implemented.

However, a survey on awareness on the historic "gender policy" that the Indian church adopted in 2010 showed that gender awareness in the church remained at low levels.

"Gender awareness is far below our expectations," said Holy Spirit Missionary Sister Julie George, a practicing lawyer and director of Streevani, as she released the survey report on the role of women in the Catholic church in India.

While only 16 percent of the 1,000 parish council members surveyed from 99 dioceses—two thirds of them graduates—had read the gender policy of the church, 44 percent of them had not even heard about the policy.

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