National Young Women’s Leadership Formation
The National Young Women Leadership Formation gathering was organized by the Gender and Social Justice Desk of the Student Christian Movement of India in December 2021 at the SCM Programme Centre in Bangalore. The event was sponsored by Global Ministries of the United Church of Christ and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the USA. The 10-day leadership training program was exclusively for female students with the objective to sensitize and strengthen them on existing gender disparity issues and to participate and contribute in building an inclusive and just society. There were 30 participants from the Northeast, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, and Andhra and Telangana Regions. The program was of special significance as it was organized in commemoration of the 16-days Activism to End Gender Based Violence.
The schedule included interactive sessions, Bible study, debate, creative worship, and exposure to NGOs that work to end gender-based violence. The resource persons were Shruti Shrada, Vinod Shemron, Rev. Shalini, Hrishikesh G from MAVA, Angarika from MARAA, Vinay Chandran from SWABHAVA, Ben Jonathan, Delfina Kanchana Sundar, from Nirangal Chennai, Adv. Poorna Ravi Shankar and Adv. Syeda Saba from Alternative Law Forum, Rev. Silpa. The topics were mostly based on defining gender, identifying violence against women/girls, understanding patriarchy and masculinity, learning about policies for the prevention of sexual harassment, and legal protection mechanisms. The exposure to Vimochana and Solidarity Foundation helped the participants to see the reality and hear stories of abuse and violence women face in different realms of society. Topics on gender and sexuality were also discussed, which was eye-opening for most of the participants, and diverse stories from transgender persons on their struggles for injustice and acceptance.
The central message conveyed in each session was to free society and bring transformation in every life, lives which are often trapped in the web of patriarchy. Participants were encouraged to advocate and build communities that are safe places to avoid the violence and atrocities carried out towards the marginalized of the society. The program gave the participants a broader understanding of what gender means including the realities of transgendered persons. It was shared that all forms of gender in society are controlled by a patriarchal system where the ideas about gender are constructed and enforced. These forms of enforcement are so deeply rooted that gender is attached to even a small piece of clothing, to adjectives, and to colors leading to stereotyping and discrimination.
The rules and norms in the society are formulated in such a way that men enjoy more freedom and privileges, and women are often reduced to a mere subordinate position. This form of sexism has influenced the education system, home, religion, government, culture, politics, and even media. In this fight for gender equality, the enemy is patriarchy creating hierarchy, hetronomality, an unjust structure, and a misogynistic society. In this unjust structure, women are expected to be patient and endure, soft and silent. Women’s lives are sculpted in the ways they should behave, the clothing they should wear, their choices of work, etc. This has created a common definition of women as people who stay at home/kitchen and men as those who should be out. It affects the whole psyche of society, forming conscious and unconscious gender stereotyping. The calling, therefore, is the freedom to envision a new world where women are change-makers and initiators in the economic, political, and social realm of society because history has proven that when a woman initiates change, there is always evidence of deep change.
The identities of transgender persons and their struggles were also brought into focus. Their stories of harassment and condemnation testify that they face the worst kind of atrocities in society. Often they are ostracized by society and by their family. In many instances, they are branded with the word ‘abnormal.’ Their entire life span is scanned from the lens of abnormality which is derogatory and pejorative. Patriarchy is the main culprit for triggering violence against the marginalized and is so embedded that the courts and law are patriarchally influenced. Legal institutions often pass verdicts in favor of men and deny justice for women and transgendered persons. Setting the courts, society, culture, church, and homes free from such influences needs urgent attention. The workshop during the program stirred participants to engage, participate in creating a just and inclusive community and inspired them to say NO to every form of suppression and discrimination.
The training workshop ended on a very positive note whereby the participants expressed their feedback and positive evaluation of the entire training, adding to the meaningful closing of the 10-Day training program. And to express appreciation, certificates were given to all participants for completing the 10-day leadership training.