The 2015 Global Gender Gap Index of the World Economic Forum shows that the Philippines is the seventh among the top ten countries in which the gap between women and men is narrowest specifically in terms of economic opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival, and political empowerment. In the Asia-Pacific region, the Philippines ranks first, followed by New Zealand and Australia.
Although the Philippines is one of the better places in the world to be a woman, especially to be a college-educated and wealthy woman, there are many poor Filipinas whose opportunities are very limited in our predominantly Roman Catholic country. Discrimination and violence against poor women persist, partly because of age-old cultural practices and prejudices that institutional religions have somewhat ignored or reinforced.
According to a local proverb, “A mirror and a woman are fragile valuables.” Another proverb goes further, “once broken, a woman, like a mirror, can never be put together again.” In 2008, the DaKaTeo (Catholic Theological Society of the Philippines) organized a Conference on sexual violence against women. That Conference pondered on the persistence of sexual violence, and how families and communities, Church and theology, help or hinder in the healing of survivors and in holding accountable perpetrators like, among others, predators in clerical clothing.
Thru the centuries and in our times, how has Church and theology promoted, neglected, or rejected the belief that women and men are equally valuable and equally fragile? How has Church and theology helped or hindered in the healing of women and men who have been broken, if not shattered, by sexism and patriarchy? Or using words from the DaKaTeo vision statement, have Church practices and pronouncements been fair to women and inclusive of them, and what can be done to bridge persistent gaps between women and men in terms of opportunities to share gifts for the good of the Church and its mission?
For a specific example, how should we interpret those portions in Amoris Laetitia, the latest apostolic exhortation of Pope Francis, in which he speaks of the necessity of the “feminine genius” and “feminine abilities” of the mother and the “clear and serene masculine identity” of the father in order to create “the environment best suited to the growth of the child” (A.L. 173-175)?
While the papal document admits “a certain flexibility of roles and responsibilities” between the mother and the father, should we welcome the suggestion that there is some immutable essence to gender identity in the Christian household, which is the ecclesia domestica, the Church in the home, and if so, what are the implications for the mission and identity of the laity, the majority faithful? These are among the many questions about which pastors, theologians, and leaders among the majority and minority faithful have to engage in sustained dialogue.