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Women Empowerment Summit highlights role of women in Northeast India

"In Indian society, including the Church, women play a secondary role. They are subjugated by fathers, husbands, in-laws in the families, and their bosses at the workplace. It is time that we stress the equal importance of women in society, family, and the church." 

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Guwahati: The Regional Women Commission of Northeast India organised a two-day Women Empowerment Summit to highlight the important roles women play in society at the Jubilee Memorial Hall, here on 18 and 19 March 2023.

Speaking at the inaugural function, the Archbishop of Guwahati and the President of the North East India Regional Bishops’ Council (NEIRBC), John Moolachira, said, “In Indian society, including the Church, women play a secondary role. They are subjugated by fathers, husbands, in-laws in the families, and their bosses at the workplace. It is time that we stress the equal importance of women in society, family, and the church.” 

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Addressing the 450 delegates from the fifteen dioceses of Northeast India, the Archbishop said, “Women empowerment basically means treating men and women equally and giving equal freedom to women to develop themselves. Such gatherings are an impetus for women to assert their position in the family and to teach the society that women have their rights and they are able to carry out their responsibilities well.”

Bishop Dennis Panipitchai, the Chairman of the Regional Women Commission of Northeast India, delivered the keynote address and declared the summit open.

Highlighting the theme of the summit, ‘Empowering Women Today for a Sustainable Tomorrow’, the Auxiliary Bishop of the Miao Diocese said, “Women Empowerment means to increase and improve women’s social, economic, political, and legal strength. Empowering women will ensure that their entire family receives better healthcare, nutrition, access to education, employment, economic justice, and sustainability. The Northeast Region, with all its uniqueness, should lead and be the harbinger of the change that our country and the world are in need of.”

Held at the beautiful auditorium of the North East Diocesan Social Services Society, the event included input sessions, animation, and a panel discussion on topics pertinent to women and the daily challenges and discrimination they face in society. 

Wishing women on Women’s Day alone is not going to empower women, said Ruth Chihanphi Luiram, anti-human trafficking program coordinator for Caritas India. “The Northeast India Region has almost become synonymous with human trafficking. Innocent girls and women, due to a lack of education, are lured with job offers and sold as cattle, and many, once they leave home, cannot return. Education is key to the empowerment of women, and it is the fuel that makes our wheels move to create an empowered society”.

Sister Lidwin Fernandes, National Secretary for the Women Commission of the Conference of Catholic Bishops in India, spoke on the accomplishments of women today, and Sister Archana FCC, the Women Commission Coordinator from the Imphal Archdiocese, spoke on the role of women in the Church.

Professor Lukose P.J. from Assam Don Bosco University, Guwahati, spoke on building sustainability for enhancing women’s empowerment, Sr. Navya FCC, National Secretary for the Women Council of the Catholic Bishops Conference of India, spoke on caring for the earth for a sustainable planet; and Sr. Margaret MSMHC spoke on ways to achieve gender equality in Northeast India.

The panel discussion helmed by three men, Father Tom Mangattuthazhe, Secretary for Ecumenism of NEIRBC, Father Tony Marshal, and Mr. Jonas Lakra, Zonal Manager, Caritas India, also highlighted the need for awareness among men to effect women’s empowerment.

The practical tips for the physical, mental, and psychological health of women by Dr. Manisha from Railway Hospital, Maligaon, and the session on empowering women politically by Vilanuo Angela Yhome, a woman activist from Nagaland, were the most liked sessions by the delegates.

 All the participants expressed happiness over their participation at the empowerment summit. “This is the second biggest women’s gathering I am attending after the one we had in Shillong in 2013”, said Diolis Marwein from Nongstoin diocese. 

Taw Mary Bogam from the Itanagar diocese said the sessions were truly motivating and empowering. Lucy Vanlalhruaii from the Aizawl diocese said, “All the sessions were relevant to the challenges that we face in society, and the summit has given us some understanding of what it means to be an empowered woman.”. 

Hemlata Choudhury from the Guwahati Archdiocese said, “It was overwhelming to see women from different cultures and dialects coming together under one platform to share their concerns and seek a solution” and Priscilla Vung from the Imphal Diocese said, “We should have such programmes more often and at different dioceses of the region to learn from each other and our tribes better”.

Tilotama Reang from the Agartala diocese said, “The Summit has indeed empowered all of us. We go back now to our own places to apply what we have learned from here in our homes, villages, and society today to become empowered women tomorrow”. 

The women’s group from different dioceses in the region performed colourful cultural items and theme-oriented skits and songs at the concluding ceremony.

To be able to conduct a mega summit like this for the women by the women is itself a big example of women’s empowerment, said Sr. Sunanda SND, Secretary of the Northeast India Regional Women Commission. “We cannot solve all the existing problems merely by coming together in large numbers, but this is a good start in that direction”, she said in her concluding remarks.

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