Of Imperatives in Gender Sensitivity in Celebration of Women

Address: Multi-Sectoral Forum on Women, 3.9.12

In the name of the Ateneo de Davao University, it is a pleasure for me to welcome you to this Multi-Sectoral Forum on Women. This is in observance of several celebrations that converge at this time in celebration of women: yesterday’s International Women’s Day, the nation’s current celebration of “Women’s Week” and of the “Role of Women in History” Month. I welcome you all from far and wide, from academe, the Church, government and the NGOs. I welcome you, women and men!

In this context, allow me a few remarks which may make these Welcome Remarks a little longer than you expect, but which may also express how much I support your undertakings in celebration of women, in the name of gender equality, and in the struggle for justice for women, not only in the police stations, in the courts, but also in our culture – which includes life in our civil society, our families, and even in our school.

ADDU is a Jesuit school, so the formulation of its vision and mission takes inspiration from the defining documents of the Jesuits. For the Jesuits, the highest policy making body is the General Congregation. Already in General Congregation 33, held in 1983, reference was made to “unjust treatment and exploitation of women” as part of a list of injustices that Jesuits were being called upon to address. In 1989, General Congregation 34, which I had the privilege of participating in, came out with its remarkable Decree 14, entitled: “Jesuits and the Situation of Women in Church and Civil Society.” This decree categorically stated that the unjust treatment of women is “a central concern of any contemporary mission which seeks to integrate faith and justice” (no. 1).

Illustrating this, GC 34 said: “The dominance of men in their relationship with women has found expression in many ways. It has included discrimination against women in educational opportunities, the disproportionate burden they are called upon to bear in family life, paying them a lesser wage for the same work, limiting their access to positions of influences when admitted to public life and, sadly but only too frequently, outright violence against women themselves. In some parts of the world, this violence still includes female circumcision, dowry deaths and the murder of unwanted infant girls. Women are commonly treated as objects in advertising and in the media. In extreme cases, for example in promoting international sex tourism, the are regarded as commodities to be trafficked” (No. 2).

“The prejudice against women, to be sure, assumes different forms in different cultures. Sensitivity is needed to avoid using any one, simple, measurement of what counts as discrimination. But it is nonetheless a universal reality. Further, in many parts of the world, women already cruelly disadvantaged because of war, poverty, migration or race, often suffer a double disadvantage precisely because they are women. There is a “femininization of poverty” and a distinctive “feminine face of oppression (no. 4).

It then repeats Pope John Paul IIs call to all men and women of good will to make the essential equality of women a lived reality. [We are called] to change our attitudes and work for a change of structures. The original plan of God was for a loving relationship of respect, mutuality and equality between men and women.

In this context, a celebration of Women’s Day or Women’s Week or Women’s Role in History Month might suggest that we reflect on our culture, to make sure that in our relationship with each other, we are not doing injustice to women. Culture, of course, is not easy to reflect on. It is very broad: the way we act, the way we think, the way we speak, the way we think or not think of the manner in which we express our thoughts and act and build our institutions.

Sometimes, in the way we speak, we can annihilate half of the population and not even be aware of it.

When I was a child, I memorized, “Man is created to know God, to love God and to serve God, and thereby to be happy with him forever on earth.” It was a catechetical truth that girls and boys in my classroom memorized, and was held to be doctrinally true. The only problem here was: what happened to all the women? Were they not all created by God as well?

That problem repeats itself in the tenet: “God has come to save all men…”

Have you ever gone to Mass and paid attention to the words of the priest when he prays the fourth Eucharistic Prayer? It is as follows:

“Father, we acknowledge your greatness: all your actions show your wisdom and love.
You formed man in your own likeness and set him over the whole world to serve you, his creator, and to rule over all creatures.
Even when he disobeyed you and lost your friendship you did not abandon him to the power of death, but helped all men to seek and find you.
Again and again you offered a covenant to man,
And through the prophets taught him to hope for salvation.
Father, you so loved the world that in the fullness of time you sent your only son to be our Savior….”

Women just don’t exist. Of course, the Father knows that they do. Sometime we just seem to overlook… them?

After the Vatican Council, the words of consecration of the wine were:

“…Take this all of you and drink from it. This is the cup of my blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant. It will be shed for you and for all men so that sins will be forgiven. “ In the intervening years, thank God, “men” was removed, allowing “all” to be more inclusive.

The defense for this insensitivity is normally the objection that, “women are included in the concept of ‘man.’”

But supposing I were to say: “In celebration of Women’s Day, I am declaring a holiday: all women may go home.” I wonder how many men would stay in school because they are not “women.” But if I were to say, all men should have gone home as well because they are included in “women,” wouldn’t they accuse me of duplicity? Similarly, if I were to say, “Because of the law, all women are to pay withholding taxes or go to jail,” I wonder how many men would end up in jail, then blame me for misguiding them!

It is not sensitive to presume that women are included when you say “men,” nor sensitive to say men are included when you say “women.”

Last week, when we celebrated our new centers and institutes, I stood next to Judge Dory Avisado, one of our university trustees, as together we sang our “Blue Knight Song.” Together, we sang:

“With visor high and sword in hand, come Blue Knight take your stand. Be men of virtue tried and true in your armor white and blue…”

“So grateful sons spread o’er the land, come Blue Knight take your stand. With hearty song sing loud the fame of the Ateneo name.”

After singing it, Judge Avisado said it would be nice if some day the lyrics could be changed to be more gender sensitive. So last Sunday, I changed the lyrics, and am proposing a new version which is cured of the gender exclusivity.

Many have said, it’s high time we do this. Many are grateful for the new version. Many say, “Now we can sing along, and feel included.” But others say, “Don’t touch our sacred tradition! Don’t change our beloved song which we’ve been singing since we were children in grade school!” “We have no problem with the lyrics! We don’t feel excluded when we sing of ‘men of virtue’ and ‘grateful sons’!”

But what of the feelings of those who do?

Women’s Day, Women’s Week, and Women’s Month means that we must have the courage to teach, to explain, to admonish, to coax, convince, argue, and break traditions and structures to promote gender sensitivity and equality, and to recognize women for the crucial role they play in our society. It means that we decide to be more sensitive to those who feel excluded from society because of our insensitivity, especially when this exclusion lays the groundwork for massive injustices committed against women in our society.

In this light, may you all have a fruitful meeting!

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About Joel Tabora, S.J.

Jesuit. Educator
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One Response to Of Imperatives in Gender Sensitivity in Celebration of Women

  1. Meong says:

    Fr Joel, your message during the multi sectoral forum on women and climate change was well received by many members of the women’s groups. They wished me to relay to you that they felt affirmed especially with your firm understanding of the Jesuit policies on women and your efforts to promote gender sensitivity in AdDU through the Blue Knight Song. Like them, I am grateful for the support your have extended to the activity and to the cause of our sisters and brothers in the community. Thank you.

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