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I Was Struck By The Glaring Gender Inequality In My Church’s ‘Women’s Day’ Service

By Bendangrenla Longkumer for Cake:

MALAGA, SPAIN - NOV 29, 2013: Stained glass window depicting Jesus, Moses and Saint Paul, in the cathedral of Malaga, Spain.

I am a Christian woman and go to a fairly, or rather, seemingly liberal church in New Delhi. It is oriented to community building, very warm and people-friendly with mutual respect for one another and there is no denying the fact that I love being a part of the community. As much as I love the warmth of the family and everything it represents, it would be rather unfair if, as a member of the church, I bottle up our blind spots and turn my eyes away from them. As much as the church celebrates gender equality, there is also a glass ceiling that divides the church along gender lines, which goes against what the church stands for.

I am not writing this to point fingers at anyone, neither is my intention to portray anyone, or for that matter any denomination, in a bad light. I simply want to bring to light certain practices of the church which I find to be discriminatory and unfair to women. If you feel that the church, despite its claims, is ridden with gender inequalities, I sincerely pray that reading this will provoke you to start searching for solutions.

When Women Aren’t Seen As Individuals

I remember celebrating International Women’s Day in church in 2015 and feeling elated that our church celebrated its women when so many women in across the country were deprived of even human status. Stories of mothers and wives were being told by men. Stories of sisters were being told. All these stories had a common thread running through them and these stories were about how these mothers, wives and sisters have supported them in becoming who they are. Sadly, there were no stories that recognised them as ‘individuals’ who had their own dreams, desires and aspirations; as humans whose ambitions had been thwarted because of the sacrifices they have to make. I am not claiming that these sacrifices are unnecessary or that women should stop being good wives, mothers and sisters. Yet seeing women as just wives, mothers and sisters is not enough.

All humans have the right to be recognised as individuals — individuals with stories, individuals with distinct characteristics and personalities that go well beyond the ambit of socially ascribed roles. Also, another very disappointing aspect of that day was that no woman was ever asked to share her story. The irony lies in the fact that while advocating for women to raise their voices, no one seemed to bother much about asking for ‘her side of the story’. Instead of talking with a patronising attitude about what ought to be done to uplift women, isn’t it simpler and more effective to just ask women what they really want? Isn’t knowing her side of the story and allowing her to assert her individuality the first step towards addressing gender inequality? We want to be heard. We want to be a part of the larger community. We want to be made visible.

When Women Have No Claim To The Pulpit

My next concern, of which I am quite aware will stir some controversies if not some murmurs of dissent, is the prohibition of women from preaching in some denominations. I am also aware of the fact that the practice is due to certain theological understandings of which I do not claim to have any expertise. But why would the biological factor of being a woman or a man hinder anyone from preaching? I believe that God created both man and woman equally and endowed them with wisdom to be equal partners in His mission. Prohibiting women from preaching implies that women are intellectually inferior, which is simply not true. There are differences in our physical abilities but the same cannot be said about our intellectual abilities. All other reasons, to me, seem to be insufficient in barring women from preaching. Given that a woman is capable and possesses the gift of preaching, which I believe is not a gift solely reserved for men, I find no reason why women cannot share the pulpit with men.

I have never seen any woman serve the communion but the church does not seem to mind much when women serve coffee and snacks after the church service is over! Is it to say that women can do the ‘mediocre’ tasks while men do the ‘important’ ones? Forget about women serving communion. How about men serving tea and snacks sometimes? Is it too lowly or is it because it is culturally and traditionally the women’s task to make tea and serve snacks? I think it is safe to say that the Bible does not assign the task of serving food solely to women. In fact, when Jesus fed the five thousand, his twelve male disciples were the ones who distributed the fish and loaves among the crowd.

The church so often claims to offer the space where all humans are treated equally but with practices like this, it clearly undercuts the ideal of equality. But how can we insist that all humans are created in the image of God when such deep divides exist?

When Women Are Spoken Of As Vices

I was quite taken aback when a pastor in his sermon once mentioned (with a certain sense of surety) that the three things that corrupt men are women, wine and wealth. What can be more enraging and humiliating for more than half of the congregation who were women listening to the sermon? When non-Christians come and attend our church services, expecting a difference, a sermon like the one I mentioned earlier would throw them off. If they are given the impression that the church is no different in condemning its women that would indeed be a big tragedy.
The archetypal stereotyping of the woman as the seductress/temptress is something that the church really needs to introspect.

I, being a woman, am aware of the potent sexuality that a woman’s body can possess. It is innate in us and I see it as something to be celebrated, this feminine aspect that forms the essence of being for many women. However, it is very often mistaken to be the source of temptation for men and a curse for women. Feminine beauty and attraction need not be fatal nor does it have to lead any man to mortal sin. I consider my femininity to be a gift from my Creator and I do not have to be branded a seductress for possessing it.

Despite the presumptuous claims of women being conniving and laden with potential sources of temptation, it is the beholder that really has to decide whether to be tempted or not and whether to appreciate the woman as another being created by God or reduce her to an object of lust. Men should learn to see a woman beyond her body and see her as another individual who has to be respected and admired for her inner beauty and the virtues that she embodies.

Faith And Equality Are Not Contradictions

Across literature, Christianity has often been viewed with suspicion for its misogynistic ideals. I firmly believe that the Scriptures in no way talk about women being lesser or subordinate to men, that they grant equal fundamental rights to both men and women. I have always been uncomfortable with the idea of women ‘submitting’ to men; not that I have any less regard for the apostle Paul but when ‘submission’ is used by patriarchal men as their license to dominate, suppress and ‘command’ women, how can one remain silent? The current culture of inequality in the church has only given the critics of the institution of Christianity a chance to further and prove their claim that the church is indeed unfair towards its women.

The men in our church gave the women really beautiful bookmarks on International Women’s Day that carried a very thoughtful message: “It is you who is making the difference in so many lives.” It felt good to know. But I also wish the men would say, “Let us be the ones that make a difference in your lives.”

The very foundation of the church is built on the love of Christ, but moments like these shake the idea of all being equal. Jesus never condemned the adulteress who was brought before him but instead forgave her and sent her away telling her to sin no more. Even the adulteress found respect and freedom in Jesus. The church should rid itself of its prejudices towards women. We are not here to tempt men. We want to be co-workers in building the body of Christ.

This article was originally published here on Cake.

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  1. Daredevil

    Women have smaller brains, and use emotion instead of logic. The fundamental fault in the character of women is that they have no “sense of justice.”

    This arises from their deficiency in the power of reasoning already referred to, and reflection, but is also partly due to the fact that God has not destined them, as the weaker sex, to be dependent on strength but on cunning; this is why they are instinctively crafty, and have an ineradicable tendency to lie.

    For as lions are furnished with claws and teeth, elephants with tusks, boars with fangs, bulls with horns, and the cuttlefish with its dark, inky fluid, so God has provided woman for her protection and defense with the faculty of dissimulation, and all the power which God has given to man in the form of bodily strength and reason has been conferred on woman in this form.

    Hence, dissimulation is innate in woman and almost as characteristic of the very stupid as of the clever. Accordingly, it is as natural for women to dissemble at every opportunity as it is for those animals to turn to their weapons when they are attacked; and they feel in doing so that in a certain measure they are only making use of their rights.

    Therefore a woman who is perfectly truthful and does not dissemble is perhaps an impossibility. This is why they see through dissimulation in others so easily; therefore it is not advisable to attempt it with them.

    From the fundamental defect that has been stated, and all that it involves, spring falseness, faithlessness, treachery, ungratefulness, and so on. In a court of justice women are more often found guilty of perjury than men. It is indeed to be generally questioned whether they should be allowed to take an oath at all.

  2. Batman

    Women talk about equality in only those scenarios where it benefits them, while trying to benefit from the privileges that society, law, family, and people in general shower on them. Here are 25 reasons why there is no such thing as gender equality.

    1. Seats are reserved for women on buses.
    2. Women are rescued first from wrecked ships.
    3. The media only focuses on women’s issues for ratings.
    5. World’s most dangerous jobs are worked by men, safest by women.
    4. News channels announce deaths of ‘women’ and children.
    6. Juries discriminate against men in domestic violence disputes.
    7. Women have special quotas in the political scenario and corporate world.
    8. Women receive lighter sentences for the same crimes committed by men.
    9. Child custody is given to women is divorce courts, in the majority of cases.
    10. Men have to earn for women, but women are not under any obligation to earn for men.
    11. Domestic violence and dowry are seen as women’s issues, while men are the prime victims.
    12. Men are forced to pay alimony to women. Women don’t give alimony to men.
    13. Men are used as ATMs. Women always marry men who are richer, earn more, ‘well-settled’.
    14. Men die on jobs daily. 97% of work related deaths are of men.
    15. Draconian laws where women land men in jail through fake cases of rape, dowry, domestic violence
    16. Men must get down on their knees and propose.
    17. Separate compartment and reserved seats for women in metros.
    18. Women are released first in hostage situations.
    19. Most teachers hired in schools are women.
    20. Men have to pay child support, not women.
    21. Women rescued first from burning buildings.
    22. Men are expected to buy flowers, chocolates, rings, gifts on Valentine’s day.
    23. Lifeboats are reserved for women.
    24. All the awareness and funding for breast cancer. Little for prostate cancer.
    25. Men make up the majority of war casualties, homeless, jobless, suicides.

  3. The Hulk

    Women just want to copy men as much as they possibly can. #killallmen and the abortion of fetuses is what feminism standsnfor today. The concept of “ladies first”, women hitting men becoming a congratulatory source for women, false accusations of domestic abuse against men, women initiating the majority of divorces and walking out of marriages the moment they see a man with more money, women in the workforce with children left to grow in day care centres, women receiving legal and social privileges at the expense of men, more and more men trapped with women’s lies about rape – only foolish men spend time and money on women, or get in a relationship with them of any sort. Women are hypergamous. They want your money. Not you. Get that in your brain. Women know how to use men for their benefit. Instead of spending money on some women, spend it on your parents. Be grateful to them.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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