Statement of the Meeting of the
Indian Women Theologians Forum
At Goa from 22nd to 24th April 2014
Gathered for our annual meeting of the Indian Women Theologians Forum, at the Pilar Animation Centre, Goa, from 22nd to 24th April, 2014, we reflected on the theme “Violence against Women – A Feminist Theological Response.” Our reflections were enriched by the presence of two feminist theologians from the UK and a woman activist from Goa.
We shared experiences of violence from our personal and other women’s lives in its varied manifestations. We reflected upon the physical, emotional, intellectual, and psychological dimensions of violence. We identified internal violence which women experience as they struggle to break through their conditioned subjugation to authority and power within the family, society and Church. We realized that patriarchal structures whether social, political, economic or religious, cause, perpetuate and shield violence against women and vulnerable groups in society.
Today a new phenomenon of violence to women is observed in the trauma of the victims/survivors of HIV/AIDS. Most women are innocently infected because husbands do not disclose their status to them. As victims they carry the blame, stigma and responsibility for caring for the husband as well as other household responsibilities. They suffer terrible social ostracisation and neglect. Gender inequality is most responsible for the spread of HIV/AIDS.
The fragility of victims of violence is compounded by poverty, casteism, corruption, the market economy, unjust legal & political structures, biased interpretation of religious texts, and the misogynist attitudes of a patriarchal society. The ownership and control of resources, especially money in the hands of males tilts power relationships in their favour, making women feel powerless in the face of violence.
We are convinced that domestic violence should rightly be termed “domestic torture” to expose its brutality and prompt national, international and religious institutions to address it in a systematic and sustained way. The complimentary and authority models promoted by the official Church teachings defining specific roles for men and women, contribute largely to the perpetuation of violence against women within the family. There is an urgent need for Christian theology to challenge this unhealthy model and advocate for a model that promotes equality and mutuality between men and women. We are aware that the ‘supreme’ example of the suffering of Christ has often been used to make women submit to abusive situations. We understand the suffering of Jesus as the consequence of his prophetic stance and not a passive acceptance of victimization.
We are painfully aware that women are considered inferior to men because they are defined more by their bodies than their intellectual capacities. Consequently they are barred from decision making processes at all levels. Reflecting on Jesus’ response to violence against women we came to realize that he strikes at the root cause of violence by treating women not as inferior or as objects but as persons with equal dignity and worth. Jesus recognizes and affirms their intellectual capacity as he engages them as equal dialogue partners. His mission was to liberate human persons from all oppression. The condition of the bent woman (Lk 13: 10-17) is a paradigm of women’s status in that society. Jesus included women as his disciples, taught women, and discussed theology with them. Women were witnesses of his teachings, his death & resurrection although in the Hebrew context women’s witness had no value. Jesus challenges this mentality and values women’s presence and their witness (Jn 20:16).
We also realized that people taking a prophetic stance experience violence but their spirit endures and continues to stay faithful to Jesus of Nazareth who did not let himself be overpowered by violence but conquered it. Like Jesus, we have to find resources to overcome violence by following the spirituality of Jesus which was a spirituality of resistance. Struggling like him we need to challenge and transcend the unjust structures so as to transform those very structures of which we are a part.
We felt a great need for spiritual sisterhood and companionship for sharing our pain and affirming our personhood in the context of violence and victimization to resist situations of violence.
Countering violence today calls women to interpret scripture from a feminist perspective and to understand their role in salvation history and to take up their legitimate space within the church and society. It calls us not to be content with benevolent patriarchy but to commit ourselves to:
· Creating awareness through writings, one to one interactions, and the use social media
· Promoting the recognition of woman’s self-worth, enabling self-assertion and inner freedom
· Working with men and women to change attitudes, and to recognize women’s equal status and selfhood
· Promoting the feminist interpretation of scripture, and making known strong biblical women and other women saints as role models
· Promoting a spirituality that is empowering for women
At the end of our reflections and deliberations we resolved to work for a violence free society where women are respected and treated as human beings with equal dignity and rights and for a church that recognizes the equal discipleship of women and men.
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The theme for the 2015 meeting of the Indian Women Theologians Forum is 'Common Priesthood of Women - A Theological Reflection.'