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Women’s Reservation Bill And Its Implications

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.