Pope Francis’ universal prayer intention for March is, “That all cultures may respect the rights and dignity of women.” This makes us wonder if today’s society has really achieved mutual complementarity and mutual respect between men and women or not. Do women now enjoy equal opportunity of participation and share in social achievements in the actualisation of their social role? Are they free to speak out in fighting for their own rights?
Issues involving women’s treatment in the workplace, the situation of foreign domestic helpers and even the integration of low-income and newly-arrived immigrant women into the community are worthy of our reflection. It begs the question of whether women are being neglected, discriminated against, or even suppressed.
By the same token, in the Church, many women and men also ask if the relationship between the two sexes complies with the harmonious relationship at the beginning of God’s creation or not. Do women receive just and caring treatment? Does the Church support women’s rights so as to enable them to live out their true identities?
The Church in the past, influenced by social culture, was also stifled by traditional patriarchal thinking and dominated by chauvinism. With a growing chorus of voices systematically criticising sexism in social culture and religion, and with the reforms and renewal of theological thought advocated by Vatican II in the 1960s, Church leaders saw the signs of the times.
They explicitly pointed out that being made in the image and likeness of God, men and women enjoy equal dignity and rights. Recently, Pope Francis also reaffirmed women’s contribution to society, the family and the Church.
The leaders of the Church in Asia have repeatedly appealed for a greater awareness of concern for women. The Asian bishops pointed out, “The Church in Asia would more visibly and effectively uphold women’s dignity and freedom… by opening to them ever greater opportunities to be present and active in the Church’s mission of love and service” (Post-synodal apostolic exhortation, Ecclesia in Asia, #34).
To enhance the role of women in the Church, there should be greater opportunities for them to study theology and it should be made possible for them to participate in Church life and mission (#45).
In the local Churches, for example in Hong Kong, more and more women are able to participate in Church life and play an active role in planning and leading in the fields of education, theological education, training of preachers, social welfare and endeavours related to justice and peace.
These are noteworthy. However, with advancements in society, the Church also needs to discern the signs of the times for further progress.
Some women, after reflecting on their personal experiences, are of the view that there is still a big gap between theory and reality, and that women, undoubtedly a majority in terms of numbers, are still a minority in Church policy and unable to enjoy fully the opportunities of achieving complementarity and partnership between men and women in the Church.
As we have already entered Lent, a time for repentance, reflection and renewal, the Church at all levels, should humbly reflect on its failures. SE