The theme for this year’s International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women (November 25) is ‘Orange the World: End Violence against Women Now!’ as the colour denotes a brighter and violence-free future. It will also mark the beginning of 16 days of activism that will conclude on December 10 (International Human Rights Day).
“It’s time to speak up,” says noted researcher and activist Sister Noella De Souza (from the Missionaries of Christ and Jesus) who was involved in the recent study conducted by the women’s section of the Conference of Religious, India (CRI), about the exploitation of Catholic women in the church. The study was later published as a book titled `It’s High Time, Women Religious Speak Up on Gender Justice in the Indian Church.’
CRI is a body of all religious men and women (priests, brothers and sisters) working in a particular diocese. “We interviewed 400-odd Major Superiors and got 101 respondents to participate. This was a sample size enough to understand what’s happening. Various areas were problematic. For instance, there is harassment of sisters by not acknowledging their professional competence. According to the response we received, several got meagre salaries,” Sister De Souza told The Indian Express.
To recognise various forms of violence against women, girls and gender minorities — verbal, emotional, financial, physical, sexual –and understand how one can respond to prevent, protect, and redress such abuses, two programmes have been arranged by The Poona Diocesan Women’s Commission, Indian Christian Women’s Movement and Streevani on November 27 and December 5.
A third programme has been organised by the Conference of Religious in collaboration with Streevani on December 11 in Mumbai on the topic ‘Orange the World – Women in the Church Speak Out’. The issue is significant in the light of the increasing number of various kinds of abuses of religious sisters who function directly under the male leadership within the Church, Raynah Braganza Pasanha, chairperson of Poona Diocesan Women’s Commission told The Indian Express.
According to the activists, the male leadership controls various aspects of religious life, to the extent that women religious are trained to fear the consequences of incurring the displeasure of the male leaders. This psychological violence is extremely disabling for women, they pointed out.
The programme will include Dr M T Joseph, a professor of Mumbai University, speaking on ‘Orange the World: Addressing the enemy within’ while a panel will follow on topics like the culture of silence among women religious. Sister Noella D’Souza will provide an insight into the issue while gaps and barriers to reach out to women in the Church will be addressed by activists including Pasanha and Dr Astrid Lobo Gajiwala. Virginia Saldanha a feminist theologian, writer and social activist, will speak on the structures, ethos and values that support violence against women and girls and other gender minorities.