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Recognise women's role
   
 
  By Ritu Sharma  
  A LEADING nun has called for women Religious to play a greater role in Church and society.

Holy Spirit Sister Helen Saldanha, the leader of Streevani, or the voice of women, has organized lawyer nuns as a forum, and encouraged them to work for the victims of the 2008 anti-Christian violence in the Kandhamal district of Orissa.

Her organization, formed in 1982, runs several other programs for women. It also researches issues concerning women to help them in their multiple roles in the family, workplace, community and the Church.

Here, Sister Saldhana speaks on wide-ranging issues including gender justice and ways to seek more participation in the Church:

UCA NEWS: What's your work in Kandhamal?

SISTER HELEN SALDANHA: Kandhamal is a very big issue. Several Religious sisters have been working there, following the violence. We conducted our second workshop on ways to help riot victims in 2009. The idea of a forum of Religious lawyers was formed there.

Our lawyers are helping riot victims file cases. We went through the cases, and found victims were failing to get justice because they do not have proper legal guidance. We are helping to remedy the situation by providing them all with legal help.

What problems do you face in Kandhamal?

In most legal cases, the witnesses and evidence are not strong and therefore the accused are often acquitted. Some people are punished but the real culprits who engineered the riot are not booked or punished. We need to have a strong voice.

We initiated the work with a particular group of lawyers. Many religious groups including men are part of it. The process is on to bring it to a higher level, so that the victims of riots get justice.

Other than this, what does this forum do?

The forum is a body of religious lawyers from different parts of India. At an individual level, they take up women's issues in local civil courts. At the national level, we can take up certain issues of our identity. Our role in society is the focus of the forum. This collective identity is to strengthen us as lawyers.

India has some 100,000 women Religious but their voice is not heard. Why?

This is true. Generally, in the patriarchal structure of the Church, we don't have space to make decisions. We are hopeful that we will be able to bring change at some level in our own way. We ourselves have to be involved in more areas of work to be more recognized.

Do you think there would have been fewer sex abuse cases if women had more participation in the Church?

Women's participation is a must. They should think critically and assert themselves.

Sex abuse cases are an issue of power. Both in the Church and society, power is concentrated in the hands of men. Unless we bring the other half to negotiate, to discuss, this will continue as 50 per cent making decisions for the other 50 per cent.

Power has to be shared even while talking about sex abuse and other issues.

So you think gender injustice exists in the Church?

Gender injustice has developed over the years. At the same time, it is our task to look at it systemically instead of being quiet about it. We have to bring it to the notice of others, bring it to certain forums, we have to discuss it. We have to realize how we ourselves become victims, and seek ways to fight that.

Gender injustice is there in the Church just as it is in society. It is not only men, even women sometimes become agents of gender injustice. As a structure, the Church has to go a long way and this can happen only with the participation of women.

What is Streevani doing to spread awareness about gender equality?

Our forum is in the initial stages. We have to strengthen ourselves by reflecting more and more about issues. Streevani is a small body and we need a larger representation of women who are awakened.

What are the problems women face because of gender injustice?

Within our own structures, we tend to do what we are told rather than make our own decisions. Women tend to be subservient rather than voice their opinions. It is not that our opinions will not be respected but we fear to take the risk of voicing our opinion. Patriarchy benefits men, so it is up to the women to fight patriarchy.

What is the role of women Religious in building peace?

We can come together in groups for those who are disturbed and tell that we women are the worst victims of any violence. Our role in building peace is to become a catalyst, to speak about and be non-violent in our approach. We can also build solidarity groups to help peace in society. (www.ucanews.com)
 
   
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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