Read: John 4, 20
These days every organization, political party or other institutions are bent on promoting safety for woman, to communicate to everyone the steps that they are taking for protecting the rights and dignity of woman. Thus you have number of news items coming up in the newspaper where you find news item of people from holding candle light vigil, to street play, flash dance so as to bring the message of highlighting the rights and also the plight of the woman today. But it was two news incidents about woman empowerment, incidents that happened thousands of miles apart that caught my attention. Last Thursday, the US military leaders formally lifted ban on woman serving in combat positions. This meant that from now onwards woman who serves US military would be allowed to be part of the front line military roles like engaging in combat war. This was announced by the Defence Secretary Leon Panetta who stated that woman have become and integral part of military and they have always demonstrated their willingness to fight war and that their contributions to the military's mission of defending the nation has been unprecedented. The change in the military rule will open up thousands of front line postings and also elite commando jobs to woman. The White House has also endorsed this decision but there is mixed reaction from the people with regards to this decision taken by the military. Incidentally the second incident that caught my attention and was also beamed on all news channel, and this also happened last week but thousands of miles apart in the city of Mumbai. It was all about a scheme by a political party to empower woman in the light of the gruesome assault of para medical student in Delhi, which ultimately led to her death. The conception of the political party Shiv Sena, of empowering woman was by distributing small three inch knives and chilly powder to woman. The party sources claimed that they had distributed almost 21,000 knives to woman in Mumbai and surrounding areas. According to the party spokesperson, the distribution of knives and chilly powder was a symbolic gesture that woman will not longer be silent sufferers not they are not going to be mute witnesses when crime is committed against them, and that they are going to protect and take care of themselves as when a need arises. The party leaders have exhorted the woman to be brave and not to shun from using knife if somebody attacks them and the party has also assured the women that if in the aftermath of self protection, if they are likely to encounter any legal issues, a team of advocates will be there to help them. Though the woman in Mumbai are much more empowered while compared to women from other cities in India, they also face abuse from all forms in bus, trains and other public places and hence I think this move can be considered as very bold. This is an an action consciously taken so as to communicate that woman are not going to be passive any more and if need arises even take rightful law and privileges in their hand. But I think along with this so called self defense tactics it is important for the woman also to find a new understanding of their identity, an identity that can help them to break the so called barriers imposed by culture, religion or other institution where discriminatory laws are formulated and perpetuated by a patriarchal hierarchy. It is this quest to re discover their identify which will help both men and woman to be co workers and building of a society that replicates the image of God's kingdom where both men and woman are equal in the sight of God in term of gender, the roles that they play in the different institutions that they are placed.
When we study the word of God, especially when we carefully examine the ministry of Jesus Christ we will always find that He consciously empowered woman by helping in their search for a new identity, that helped them to redefine their life. There are two notable examples in the gospels, where women after encountering Jesus, are thrilled at the new identity that the Lord gave to them. The first incident is mentioned in John 4 while the next incident that is similar to John 4 is mentioned in John 20. In the first incident in John 4, a Samaritan woman encounters woman. Through the encounter, her life is changed and she has a new understanding of worship, a new understanding of who the messiah is. In John 4 39-42, we find the Samaritan woman going to her village and telling them about the new found discovery not only in terms of the message but also in terms of the person. She communicates the message of the gospel to the village and soon many Samaritans believed in Jesus Christ and request Jesus Christ to stay with them. A woman who casually came to fetch water goes back to village not with pot of water, but with a new found identity of who she is and also a new found purpose through the joy of knowing the Lord. In the same way in John 20, we find Mary Magdalene encountering Jesus Christ soon after his resurrection. Because of her commitment and love for the Lord, she is the first one to come to the tomb where the body of Jesus was laid and she is in for a surprise. She has the privilege of being the first person to witnesses the risen Christ. Amazed and dumbstruck she cant believe her eyes and that is when Jesus gives her a mission. She is commanded by the Lord to go and communicate to the other disciples that Jesus Christ is risen. Mary is so enthusiastic and she runs to the disciples to tell them about the good news but the disciples did not believe Mary [ Luke 24: 10]. Here is Mary with a newfound identity and purpose in life. A life that was in tatters due to consequences of sin, is redeemed by Jesus Christ. This redeemed life now has a new found identity in Jesus Christ and new purpose of being messengers of gospel. I think what is needed in all of us, especially the women so as to help each of them find an identity that totally liberates them from the confines and discriminatory rules or cultural barriers of a patriarchal society. This will help them to rediscover the freedom and right to live in ways and manner that are responsible and whereby they are able to contribute creatively without any discrimination or abuse to the well being of every individual, family, other institutions that they are involved in. This will not only help in the process of strengthening the social fabric but strengthen the social structure, whereby every individual whether man or woman is respected and their individual and corporate rights affirmed and upheld.