My view

Breaking the bias is the theme for the 2022 International Women’s Day celebrations on March 8.

Mar 04, 2022

Sandra Ann

Breaking the bias is the theme for the 2022 International Women’s Day celebrations on March 8.

It is about working towards a world free of stereotypes and discrimination against women that is diverse, equitable and inclusive, especially for women. It’s a world where difference is valued and celebrated. It is also a basic Christian tenet – treat others as you would wish to be treated yourself.

Whether deliberate or unconscious, bias can make it difficult for women to move ahead. Knowing that bias exists isn’t enough, action is needed to level the playing field. Individually, we're all responsible for our own thoughts and actions. We can break the bias in our communities. We can break the bias in our workplaces or schools.

In many parishes, women are the life force. You will see them in numerous areas – from BECs to the different ministries in the parish. They are also the ones who most often transmit the faith to the next generation.

However, how many of them are in leadership positions in the Church? A recent survey conducted by Caritas Malaysia showed that many felt that the presence of women as office bearers or in leadership roles is lacking (Office Review Exercise, Nov 15 to Dec 26, 2021).

Another discovery was that if there were women in leadership roles, they would be in the range of 51-60 years while men are in the 31-60 age. Why the difference?

Do take a look at your own parish and diocese, what is the composition of the top leadership? Are women just token participants to fulfil the so -called quota or are they actually respected and their opinions sought and listened to? Are they part of the decision-making process?

Currently, my organisation is run 100 per cent by women, but … this is an anomaly. There is still much that can be done in the workplace. There is growing research that a gender diverse workforce drives better results in your organisation across all areas.

For many, the Church is a male hierarchical organisation. But there are certainly more opportunities for women’s leadership in the agencies of the Church (which has a long history of leadership by women, through female religious congregations.)

Pope Francis has been a prominent champion for women to have a bigger role in Church leadership, noting in Querida Amazonia that “women have kept the Church alive ...through their remarkable devotion and deep faith.” He has gone further and modified canon law to open the lay ministries of lector and acolyte to women. He has also taken steps to increase women’s leadership at the Vatican.
There are also some improvement in the appointment of women to leadership roles in some parishes and dioceses (for example, the role of Chancellor in a diocese is filled by women in some cases).

Hence, increasing the number of women in leadership roles in the Church is also key to evangelisation and mission. In the upcoming Second Assembly of the Plenary Council, many are hoping that the issue of women in the Church will be addressed in a direct manner. There are interesting proposals in relation to women preaching, gender-inclusive governance practices and interest in consideration of a female diaconate. Any steps taken by the Church in the direction of women’s equality would be a source of hope for many. So together, let’s strive towards breaking the bias.

“Feminism isn’t about making women strong.

Women are already strong. It’s about changing the way the world perceives that strength.”– G.D. Anderson

Sandra Ann
Assistant Editor

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