Preference for boys is widespread in the country. Girls are considered an "economic burden”; however, in some tribes, women are “in charge”. The Syro-Malankara Church hands out prizes to women who evangelise. Mgr Jacob Mar Barnabas, chairman of the CBCI Council for Women, speaks on the issue.
New Delhi (AsiaNews) – Mgr Jacob Mar Barnabas, president of the Council for Women of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India (CBCI), spoke to AsiaNews about a series of initiatives in favour of women, including "A social and political movement of women to fight for women's rights and raise awareness of the value of women in India". For the prelate, "women have the same dignity as men".
The aim of these initiative by the Indian Church in favour of women is "to change the dominant mindset that generally considers them inferior to men". This "is a long process” in which “the Church is fighting for them".
Mgr Barbabas spoke after the Indian Ministry of Finance reported that the country had 21 million “unwanted girls” whose parents raise them even though they keep on having children until they have a boy. The authors of the report also found that 63 million women were "missing" from India's population because of sex-selective abortions, death or neglect.
Despite this background, for the prelate, “It is wrong to think that women are always considered inferior to men in the country. There are some ethnic groups in which women are in charge, in which the inheritance goes to the daughters, not the sons."
In general though, "the dowry system is still widespread in the country, which creates many problems, especially for poor families. Even when parents divide assets equally among children, the greatest difficulties arise among indigent families. That is why last week I helped a needy family who married off their daughter."
Little girls "are seen as an economic burden. And in recent years the practice of selective female abortions has become widespread thanks to the tests that determine the sex of foetuses, even though they were declared illegal ".
But little by little, "the mindset is changing. For girls it has become easier to find work, for example as nurses abroad." And the Catholic Church is involved on several fronts.
"In addition to the CBCI Council for Women, of which I am the president, each parish has support groups for women. We organise conferences, meetings, to inform the faithful about the value of women.”
"For example, on 8 September, the Solemnity of the Nativity of Mary, we handed out a letter in all the churches. We know that this helps to raise awareness about the role and importance of women. In different missions there are also centres that take in abandoned women and girls, and allow them to study and find work."
The Indian Church has undertaken several initiatives. In particular the Syro-Malankara Church, one of the three rites of the Catholic Church in India, of which the bishop is one of the leading figures, has “awarded prizes and honours for some 20 years to women – in addition to men – to recognise their commitment to serve the Church and the spread the faith. These women sit as guests of honour at all official meetings, both in their diocese of affiliation and in the others.”
“By increasing awareness, we change society. In November, the Council for Women of the CBCI held a three-day conference in Orissa (Odisha) with women from all over India who distinguished themselves in the field of evangelisation and the promotion of Christian values. We gave them a certificate and some money to push them to continue their work."
With such cultural and educational initiatives, awareness programmes and awards, "we are pushing to change the mindset. Our last proposal is the creation of a social and political organisation that brings together all the women of India."
"In a few days the Bishops will meet in Plenary Assembly. If I am confirmed as the Council’s president, I will work with my team to set up this movement of women that could affect Indian society.”
"The situation is difficult and the caste system makes matters worse, but we must not forget that we have already had a woman prime minister, Indira Gandhi [1917-1984]. In this sense, it can be said that India has been ahead of its time compared to many Western countries and America."