09/09/2009, 00.00
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Church of Kerala: promote women without humiliating them with "nudity"

by Nirmala Carvalho
The bishops of the Indian state propose initiatives for women. Access to the world of work and politics, combating domestic violence and the phenomena of male chauvinism. A commitment that starts from within the Church itself with a reflection on the role of women in the life of the community and Catholic institutions

New Delhi (AsiaNews) - “Nakedness is not simply a matter of a piece of cloth it is nakedness which arises from lack of dignity.  Today, in many cases, modern woman, who has reached comfort and has been freed from poverty, has voluntarily become naked." Fr. Paul Thelakat, director of the weekly Syro-malabrica magazine Satyadeepam cites Mother Teresa to explain what it means to promote the dignity of women in India today.

Interviewed by AsiaNews, the priest considers so-called "gender equality" in light of the positions of the Commission on Women's Council of Catholic bishops in Kerala (Kcbc) which recently announced new initiatives to support the role of the women in the family, Church and society.  

The Indian state is home to over 6 million Catholics who represent 19% of the population. This is one of the largest Christian communities in India, capable of promoting charitable, educational and social issues that have a large impact on people's lives. Although they are often hampered by the political authorities, they have contributed to making Kerala a model state in the Indian landscape including in the defence of women's rights.

Women represent 51.4% of the nearly 32 million inhabitants of Kerala. Recent statistics reveal that the State of South India is the first in national rankings with regard to the literacy of women (over 87% of women) and their access to health services (over 60%). Recently, their participation in the world of work and politics has seen significant increases compared to the situation in the rest of the country. In urban areas, 20% of women have a job compared to 16% average of the rest of India; in municipal administration in the state 33% of those elected are women, while normally the percentage is below 20%.

Fr. Paul Thelakat, director of the weekly of the Syro-Malabar Satyadeepam, tells AsiaNews: "Gender equality is a need of our time. Although the Kerala shows encouraging figures, domestic violence against women and the phenomenon of "male chauvinism" continue".   The Kcbc Commission's aims to launch activities and initiatives for the promotion of women's role is to intervene at all levels, both in areas of society where Kerala already has made significant progress as well as areas where backwardness prevails.

The Church is also looking within its own structures, to paying greater attention to education and training of girls and women religious, as well as the involvement of women in educational, social and civil rights activities.  

"Signs of this culture of inequality are also found in some aspects of the life of the Church," confirms Father Thelakat. "A typical example is the comparison between the funds spent on the training of priests, and those for sisters: there is an unbelievable difference." The Kcbc intends to work on this and other fronts within the Church, speaking also on how women are employed and on the salaries of women in Catholic institutions.  

The Commission states that the rights of working women is one of the critical issues for society. Their access to employment and fair wages are points on which the Kcbc intends to broaden its commitment. The bishops also want resolute action against the abuse of alcohol and extra-marital relations, two very common phenomena among the male population of which women are often victims.

To promote a culture of equality in society, the bishops stress the importance of International Women's Day (March 8) on the day devoted to young girls (8 September) and the day against violence (25 November). These events are opportunities to raise awareness on the phenomena of discrimination against women.
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