Report of the Inauguration and First Seminar of ICWM Kerala Chapter

The inauguration of the Kerala Chapter of ICWM and its first seminar was held at CSI Retreat Centre, Kottayam, Kerala on 23rd September, 2017, from 9.30 am t0 3.30 pm. The programme revolved around the theme: “Women’s Lives Matter”.

61 participants representing the mainstream Christian denominations like CSI, Marthoma, Yakoba, Orthodox and the Catholic community participated in the seminar . A few young women representing the evangelical churches ICC and the Believers Church were also present.

The programme consisted of four significant moments.

  • First Moment: Welcome& Orientation, Prayer, Introduction and Inauguration

Dr. Kochurani Abraham welcomed the gathering and gave orientation to the programme. Explaining the vision and objectives of Indian Christian Women’s Movement (ICWM), Kochurani emphasized the need for creating a space where women gain visibility and make their voice heard, while addressing concerns of gender justice in the churches and in society. Further, she explained the significance of the theme “Women’s Lives Matter” for launching the Kerala chapter of ICWM, as an affirmation of women’s intellectual and spiritual agency in the churches beyond gender stereotyping and as an invitation to address the different expressions of violence that women encounter in the churches and in society.

Dr. Susan Thomas, president of the CSI Women’s Fellowship led the opening prayer. This was followed by a biblical message by Omana Mathew, Chairperson, Women’s Commission of Kerala Council of Churches (KCC). She based her reflections on the five women from the book of Exodus – the two midwives Shipra and Puah, the mother and sister of Moses and the Princess who joined hands to save the child Moses from death, and thus playing a significant role in salvation history.

Dr. Jaisy Karingattil, Vice President of KCC, then animated the session of introduction of the participants and the inauguration of ICWM, Kerala in a unique manner. At the time of registration each participant was given a seed. Dr Jaisy explained the significance of the seed as a symbol of each woman present, who has the potency to initiate something new. The participants were asked to line up in two rows, face each other and introduce each other exchanging their seeds. Thereafter, the inauguration of ICWM (Kerala Chapter) was conducted in a novel way with a special ceremony involving all participants. The participants came forward in twos and sowed their seeds in a tray filled with earth. This joint inauguration symbolized the significance of the contribution of each person, in order to initiate this movement and make a difference in the churches and in society. As each woman came forward and symbolically sowed their seeds, the core group sang a repetitive awareness song composed for the occasion, which called the women to come forward in unity, boldness and strength and to make a difference to life.

  • Second Moment: Panel on the themeWomen’s Lives Matter’

In this panel on the theme, “Women’s Lives Matter”, the panelists were Prof. S. Sharadakutty, Dr. Sr. Noel Rose CMC and Dr. Susan Thomas. The session was moderated by Dr. Kochurani Abraham.

Feminist Writer and social activist Prof. S. Saradakkutty questioned the unjust patriarchal systems and called women to free themselves from the accumulated dirt of patriarchal indoctrination that contains women to restricted roles/spaces and takes woman as woman’s greatest enemy.  Quoting many autobiographies and writings of women, she asserted that women are not to remain victims, but become agents of their destiny. Women need to fight jointly not against men, but against the oppressive systems that enslave them. Her main argument was that nothing can stop a woman who takes steps forward with confidence and determination and she called on women to join hands to create a new social order founded on justice and freedom.

Prof. Dr. Sr. Noel Rose based her reflections on a feminist and liberative reading of biblical texts, particularly the annunciation story and asked if Mary is taken as a model of enslaving obedience or as a woman free to think, ask questions and take important decisions in her life. She invited women to learn from Mary and become free. She observed that religions and Christian denominations are divided on many ideological issues, but they are all united on one thing that is the subordinate status allotted to women. Hence the challenge is to be awakened to a consciousness of collective questioning and take steps towards liberation.

Dr. Susan Thomas reminded that this day is a beginning, where everyone together inaugurated a movement in Kerala sowing seeds that proclaimed ‘women’s lives matter’. Women need to recognize that their lives are precious and reclaim their voice and space and jointly make a difference to their lives and that of others.

  • Third Moment: Interventions by representatives of the different Christian denominations on the need for an ecumenical women’s movement.

The post lunch session began with another panel on the need for women joining hands in an ecumenical women’s movement. The representatives of different denominations who addressed the group are: Adv. Sheeba Tharakan (CSI), Ms Jiji Johnson (Orthodox), Ms Lilly Kavalam (Catholic) and Prof. Shanthi Mathai (Marthoma). Each of them spoke from their experiences about their concerns for gender justice and equality in the Churches and their vision for a new ecumenical initiative where women from any denomination can work together without borders and barriers. Since Lilly Thomas (an ICWM team member for Kerala) who was to be the moderator could not attend due to health reasons, Kochurani Abraham moderated the session.

  • Fourth Moment: Group Discussion on taking ICWM Kerala Forward

After the Panel on Christian women joining hands, the participants were divided into four groups and asked to discuss on how to take ICWM (Kerala) forward. After some intense discussions, in the plenary session that followed, one representative each from the groups presented the suggestions from the group.

Some of the main points that emerged are:

  1. Area-wise groups have to be formed and they should meet at least once a month for study and discussions.
  2. Need for expanding membership.
  3. More youngsters need to be brought into the movement.
  4. Use social media to spread the message of ICWM
  5. There should be a joint meeting of the region once in three months.

Action Plan

Responding to the suggestions, the following action plan was drawn. Three area-wise groups were formed in the areas from which there were more participants and their coordinators were named.

  • CMS Group (Schools and College) – coordinator will be Annie Merly Paul
  • Pallom Group –Coordinator: Shalini Markose
  • Thiruvalla Group – Coordinator: Reeba Shibu