Women’s Reservation Bill And Its Implications

Written By: on Mar 11th, 2010 and filed under Columns, Features, Opinions.


After 14 years, the controversial yet historic Women’s Reservation Bill, ensuring 33% reservation for women in Parliament and state legislative bodies, was passed in the Rajya Sabha on Tuesday, 9th February 2010. The Catholicose and Malankara Metropolitan Baselious Marthoma Didimos I, welcomed this bill and described the measure as “momentous and historic”.

Women’s reservation in parliament and state legislatures would change the “culture of the country because women today are still caught in a culture prison. In the name of tradition, stereotypes are imposed and we have to fight these every day”.

John Calvin the Reformer of the Western Church wrote in his commentary to the first letter of St. Paul to Timothy in the following way: “Whatever hypocrites or wise men of the world may think, God is better pleased with a woman who considers the condition God has assigned to her as a calling and submits to it, not refusing to bear the distaste of (cooking) food, the illness, the difficulty, or rather the fearful anguish associated with childbirth or anything else that is her duty — God is better pleased with her than if she were to make some great display of heroic virtues and refuse to accept the vocation given her by God.” (John Calvin on I Tim. 2:15).

Eastern Fathers have expressed more than a thousand years back from Calvin very progressive and revolutionary ideas on liberation of women. Let me quote from St. John Chrysostom. “A woman undertakes no small share of the whole administration, being the keeper of the house. And without her not even political affairs could be properly conducted. For if their domestic concerns were in a state of confusion and disorder, those who are engaged in public affairs would be kept at home, and political business would be ill managed. So that neither in those matters, as neither in spiritual, is she inferior.”

The role of the woman is a much discussed issue in the world at large, and especially in modern society. We live in the day of women’s liberation, women’s rights, and the feminist movement. Women are clamouring for equality with men and are seeking fulfilment not in the home and not in raising a family, but in the profession, and careers traditionally occupied by men. The women’s movement has become highly organized, a political force to be reckoned with. It is not surprising, therefore, that there is also a parallel movement in the churches pushing for the admittance of women into the special office, the offices of minister, elder, and deacon. Women are enrolling in the seminaries. And some churches are actively ordaining women into the offices.

We want to clear up a common misconception and misrepresentation. Often the two sides on this issue are divided into those who are “for” women and those who are “against” women. The position “for” women means that women can do anything men can do, may hold any office that men may hold. All possible distinctions are to be erased. The position “against” women means that women are not allowed to do all that men do, are not allowed to hold every office that men hold, and are called to be in submission to the man in the home and in the church. At best this is a serious misconception; at worst it is a deliberate and malicious misrepresentation. It is our conviction that the Bible does not allow the woman to hold every office that the man holds and that the woman is called to be in submission to the man in home and in the church. But this is not a position “against” women, but a position “for” women, really the only position “for” the women. The Bible is “for” women, that is, the Bible has the woman’s own best interests in view and prescribes what is best for the woman herself. Exactly because the church is motivated by the good of the women themselves, the church must be committed to adhere to the Bible’s teaching on the question of women in office.

Vide Bull 266/2008, the Malankara Orthodox Church allowed woman to attend Parish General Body Meetings. But they have no voting power. It is the high time to think about the voting right in the General Body and reservation for ladies in the Managing Committee. Women play a major role in all areas of life from family to careers. They represent a significant portion of our church membership and are actively involved in many aspects of church operations. However, their exclusion from voting in General Body meetings and Managing committee duties contradicts the principles of equality and fair representation. Our tradition also sends a very negative message to our children about our church’s discouragement of the role of women in the Church. Our children should not be taught that a woman does not have equal opportunity in our church especially for the generations, who are now settled outside of India. In order for the church to prosper outside India, it must be willing to adapt to modern practices as other churches have done. Progress and success only comes with flexibility and practices with a positive vision for the future.

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6 Responses for “Women’s Reservation Bill And Its Implications”

  1. Susan Jacob says:

    Thanks for deliberating on the subject of the status of women in our church, including voting rights. I agree that reservations is a patronizing gesture, and disregards the intellect, achievements and potential of women. Maybe it was done as a gesture of paving the way for participation. The women are not choosers so they are grateful for the crumbs that fall of the table. As a woman I feel that even though voting rights isnt much to write back home about, it symbolizes equality and the freedom to chose…which means more than the practical act of voting or participation in church administration.
    Somewhere down the line the women lost their heritage… of being deaconesses of the likes of Phoebe, of hosting house churches, many women were martyred and many started monasteries and led secluded lives…. we have lost a lot on research and study by keeping women out of seminaries, by keeping them away from being hospital chaplains, counselors, and so on. I dont think women ordination is an issue in our church, the only issue is that we be treated with respect and dignity, and let us be Marys or Marthas or Priscillas /Phoebes/deborahs/miriams/
    I think among all denominations, our church lack women theologians. We have many illustrious and eminent Theologians but not a woman among them. I think there are a few nowadays because of their studies in other seminaries…. Theological studies need not necessarily be linked to ordination and priesthood, but should be open to everybody who wants to study it.
    All of us, both men and women love our church and cherish our faith, I am proud of it wherever I go, even though the Orthodox everywhere are the objects of all jokes. I suppose what we need is to work together for the church shoulder to shoulder. When Jesus told John and Mary who stood grieving at the foot of the cross …. behold your mother, behold your son…. He was actually entrusting us with the message that they have to take care of each other the men and the women…. there can be a deeper theological meaning, but I did not go to the seminary you see…. I would have loved it…

  2. John Mathew says:

    Abe George:

    1. Priesthood does not come under the definition of employment. Let’s not take the secular legal system and apply it to a nonsecular entity. The Church is not a corporation, and priests are not employees.

    2. Church admin shows a hierarchy; however, the actions of the admin have nothing to do with the implementation of the religion. The former is temporal while the latter is purely spiritual. The administrators administer the temporal affairs of the Church, and ensure that heresy does not enter the Church. That’s all. Voting rights? What does that have to do with Christianity? A sad by product of the last 200 years of the Malankara Church is that we are confusing the legal system, and various administrative actions (committees, secretaries, the Synod, etc.) with the religion. The religion has absolutely nothing to do with the political antics of the Church. The religion is pure doctrine, and that is what we all subscribe to. These other miscellaneous items are peripheral concerns.

    This is the complete opposite of the secular world where items such as having one’s say in the running of a society are important — since in society, our survival and freedom are at stake. In the Church, nothing is at stake when committees assemble, and people vote. So whether or not people have power is meaningless. Personally, I’m agnostic on this issue — I don’t vote, I don’t care to vote, I don’t care who votes, and I don’t care about the results of the vote.

    3. What’s the “wrong practice” you’re referring to? I fail to see what you’re talking about. This is not at all equal to slavery or denial or women’s vote in society — in the former, one’s very rights and quality of life are affected. Whether or not someone votes in Church has absolutely no meaning or effect whatsoever. Whether or not one can be ordained a priest similarly has no effect on one’s freedom to live or pursue life.

    4. Can we please quit stuffing words in Jesus’ mouth? What exactly did Jesus do that was radical in the sense you are talking about?

    5. The militancy in your view is you are making a big deal of something small. You are making it look like the Church is a powerful organization — on par with secular government — when in reality it is not powerful at all. It is an optional organization. And it is an internal organization. One’s spirituality is not dictated by the antics of priests, bishops, and committees. Orthodoxy is an introverted religion, a religion of the mind. Unfortunately, our leaders — by their political inclinations — have succeeded in converting it to a meaningless shell of a religion, where trivialities such as “Catholicate day”, court cases, bogus ordinations, Synodal meetings, elections, etc., have replaced the deep spirituality of the ancients.

    For example, look at the majority of the junk that gets posted on ICON, or malankaraorthodox.tv. Absolute trivia. And this gives people the impression that the political shell *is* the religion.

    This is an error and a disgrace.

    I’m in favor of looking at the issues you are talking about through the lens of the spiritual fathers of the Church. As a starting point, we should revive the female deaconate (which is orthodox), and go from there in a careful, studious, well-thought-out manner. This is not about bringing secular law into the Church just because everyone else is, but rather understanding what the Church actually is and what it actually means, and operating under those parameters.

    The problem is, no one really studies these things in an objective manner anymore. Everyone has an ideology, and they work in terms of their ideology. So nothing get’s achieved, but a lot of hot air gets blown.

  3. Abe George says:

    If priesthood comes under the definition of employment, sex discrimination in employment can become a legal issue for the church. I hope readers who are familiar with the sex discrimination law will post their comments to enlighten us.

    Church administration clearly shows a hierarchy. John is correct in pointing out that the hierarchy does not equal to worthiness of a person. However, when we evaluate sex discrimination (not just employment as clergy, but women’s voting right in the Parish Assembly, to start with), the current hierarchy does matter because the power to make decisions converges as we go up on the ladder.

    Sometimes it is necessary to take radical steps to correct a wrong practice hardened through centuries of following. That is what Jesus did too. I wouldn’t call it militant.

  4. http://newsweek.washingtonpost.com/onfaith/guestvoices/2007/01/biblical_record_is_clear_god_c.html

    Bible Crystal Clear on Male-Female Equality

    The Bible states that in the very beginning of the human race God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.” (Genesis 1:27-28) In other words, the Biblical record is clear: God created men and women equal. Period. Dominion over everything was given to the woman as well as to the man. The woman was not created inferior to the man; nor was the man greater than the woman.

    However, when sin entered the human race, one of the consequences was that men and women became separated from God. And that basic broken relationship distorted the Divine order in many ways, one of which was that men began to rule over women (Genesis 3:16).

    A vast variety of religions have been established in a vain attempt to reach God…to bridge the gap between God and man that sin opened up. But the attempts have been futile…man has remained a sinner, separated from God. And this sinful state has been very evident in the way women have been treated throughout human history by various religions.

    Religion down through the ages has been hard on women in general. From ancient times when their babies were sacrificed to the gods, to Greek times when they were used as prostitutes in the temples, and to a lesser degree, in modern day practices where women are discriminated against or oppressed, the implied message has seemed to be clear: Women are second-class citizens, objects of scorn or sex or service. Generally speaking, they have not been highly valued in religious circles…nor in the cultures those religions influence… until Jesus came.

    God Himself elevated the status of women forever when He chose to send His own Son, Jesus Christ, to be born of a virgin. The words and actions of Jesus underscored His elevated opinion of women, as did the early church that was established in His name following His return to heaven:
    His first miracle was performed in response to a plea from His mother (John 2:1-11).
    His first revelation of Himself as Messiah was to a woman (John 4:25- 26).
    His greatest miracle was performed at the request of two women (John 11:1-44).
    His death was memorialized by a woman (John 12:1-8).
    Women were included in His expanded group of disciples (Mark 15:41). Women stayed with Him throughout His crucifixion, even after the men had left (Matthew 27:55-56).
    Women observed His burial (Matthew 27:61).
    Following His resurrection, He appeared first to a woman (John 20:1- 16).
    He commissioned women as the very first evangelists (Matthew 28:1- 10; John 20:17).
    Women were included in the group of disciples who met daily for prayer after the ascension of Jesus (Acts 1:14).
    Ancient prophecy was fulfilled when the Spirit of God was given equally to men and women at Pentecost (Acts 2:17).
    Women were among the very first “believers” or “Christians” who made up the early church (Acts 5:14; Acts 8:12; 17:4, 12).
    The first church in Europe was begun with a group of women and actually met in the home of a woman (Acts 16:13-15).
    The early church was staffed by many women (Romans 16:12, Philippians 4:3).
    At least one early church was co-led by a woman (1 Corinthians 16:19).

    The very fact that the Bible goes out of its way to carefully record all of the above reveals the intentionality of God’s purpose to reestablish the position of women to that of equality with men. His Son, Jesus Christ, not only bridged the gap between God and man through His death on the Cross that made atonement for man’s sin, He removed all barriers including that of gender, race, and nationality.

    This was confirmed by the apostle Paul when he stated, There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ then you are… heirs according to the promise (Galatians 3:28-29).

    Today, when the Bible, which is God’s Word, is read, applied, obeyed, and lived out, women are treated with respect and honor as co-heirs with Jesus Christ in the Kingdom of God (1 Peter 3:7).

    In summary, women may not have fared well in the world’s religions, but they are greatly loved by God who, in the beginning, created them equal to men. The discrimination that women bump into does not come from the heart of God. He created them in His own image–with a capacity to know Him in a personal relationship. And when sin destroyed that relationship, God redeemed them through the death of His own Son. And one day, He will welcome into His heavenly home every woman who has claimed Jesus Christ as her personal Savior and Lord. And the equality, respect, and status she has longed for will be hers. Forever.

  5. Abe George says:

    1. Fr. Johnson Punchakonam stated: “It is the high time to think about the voting right [of women] in the General Body and reservation for ladies in the Managing Committee.” I completely support this opinion. I also support women having equal rights in all aspects of our church including priesthood. I believe that taking this anti-discrimination position is the right one in this era we are living in. How can a practice that prohibit half of our church members from actively taking part in church administration an acceptable one for anyone?

    2. Fr. Johnson Punchakonam also states that the restrictions women experience now are imposed by the Bible and those restrictions have women’s own best interest in view. Isn’t this statement a direct contradiction to the above statement achen made?

    During the American slavery, the slave owners insisted that without an owner, the slaves will be lost in this world. The slave owners claimed that they had the best interest of the slaves in mind. I hope the author sees the parallel between his statement and the statement of the slave owner.

    Men should not claim that they know what is best for women. And worse, men should not quote the Bible to support sex discrimination as the slave owners once did to support slavery. We can find Bible verses to support almost any side of a debate.

    3. John Mathew is asking for intellectually strong arguments to understand why women are excluded from priesthood. My question is this: If someone comes up with an intellectually strong argument for this practice of discrimination, will we be satisfied with that and continue with the discriminatory practices?

    I do not care why historically we encouraged this practice. Rather I care that this practice of discrimination is demeaning to the members of this church.

    It is necessary that we adapt to the environment (time and place) we live in. That includes eliminating all kinds of sex discrimination in our church.

  6. John Mathew says:

    There are several serious problems with this article.

    1. Quoting John Calvin? Is this what our scholars are reduced to? Do we need any more proof of the Protestantization of our Church?

    If John Calvin wrote something worthwhile, that might be something. But the quote above — is hardly in the spirit of the Women’s Reservation Bill. What possible relevance did that quote have other than to diminish the importance of women who get an education and perform tasks other than cleaning and maintaining the home?

    2.” Eastern Fathers have expressed more than a thousand years back from Calvin very progressive and revolutionary ideas on liberation of women.”

    If that is true, the author certainly didn’t display any proof. What he did produce was evidence of mere patronization of women. “Woman are great because if they didn’t cook and clean, all our other affairs would be messed up”. Yes, very progressive. Sure.

    3. The discussion of “for” and “against”. Absolutely incredible that the author considers that the restriction of “freedom” for women is a “for” position, and that the feminists, who try (sometimes annoyingly) to enhance women’s stature, as being “against”.

    This is nothing more than a hokey, hollow, shallow, hand-waving argument. Utterly absurd! When — *WHEN* — will our Church regain the intellectual giants it once had? We once had Konat Malpan, Mor Dionysius V., etc., who were able to make us proud with their intellectual fortitude. Now, what do we have? Protestantized, shallow fluff. This is disappointing.

    4. “In order for the church to prosper outside India, it must be willing to adapt to modern practices as other churches have done.”

    Only outside India? From this statement, one would expect that the Churches outside India are torn by this issue (they are not).

    No. What the *whole* Church needs to do is to understand *why* women are restricted from the priesthood, and develop logical and cogent explanations. We don’t need mere reaction, so that our Church fits in “outside India”. We need solid teaching on this topic, from the fathers and from the Bible — certainly not from Seramporeized, cryto-Protestant, Orthodox pastors.

    Unlike our clergy who make not care about intellectually-strong arguments, men and women of the future (whether in India or the “West”) will expect strong reasons, backed by strong references (the Bible, our fathers — not John Calvin), for why it does what it does. If women are restricted from the priesthood, tell us why — and tell us properly.

    Moreover, we should truly understand what the Church really stands for. The author writes: “Exactly because the church is motivated by the good of the women themselves, the church must be committed to adhere to the Bible’s teaching on the question of women in office.”.

    Yes, it should understand the teaching of the Bible — and the fathers (the author mentioned the Bible only; again: is he one of our many crypto-Protestant priests?) — on this topic. The author talks about women entering seminaries as an effect of feminism (which he disparages as being “against” women!) — but is the author ignorant of the fact that the female deaconate once existed in the Orthodox and Syriac Churches?

    So — the author has failed in his attempt to write a worthwhile article on the topic. Rather, he’s demonstrated that we need some serious scholars to look at this. Rather than be reactionary and merely “adapt” outside India, the Church should understand, clearly, it’s own historic position. After generations of being caught, and decimated, by various political forces (the Mongols, Islam, colonialism, missionary infections, etc.) our Church has perhaps lost many aspects it originally had — the female deaconate being one example.

    The Greek Orthodox are, in fact, looking into the restoration of the female deaconate. That is — *restoration* of the old ways, and not mere “adaptation” which is what our priest in this article is suggestion.

    Sorry for the harsh assessment, but I’m personally tired of priests who do more to lead our people down wrong paths, than to maintain orthodoxy.

    If only we could replicate Fr. Baby Varghese, Fr. Kanianparambil, and Fr. Thottapuram, and re-populate our Church while such intellectual giants…

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