Catholic Social Teaching Advances Women in India
Responding to: Women, Development, and Catholic Social Thought
March 9, 2015
Sr. Daphne Sequeira tells a story of how she works to expand education for women in rural India through the Torpa Women's Development Society for Women, which offers literacy and life skills classes, as well as microcredit small business loans, to women and girls who have been denied an education.
Sr. Daphne tried to persuade one family to allow a young woman, Lilly, to attend school, but Lilly was not allowed. One Christmas, Lilly was sent to sell the family's fattened goat at market. Lilly was intercepted by a man shortly before she reached the market. He took the goat and gave her money for it. She refused, saying, "This is not enough money." The man pushed some more bills into her palm. Satisfied that she had extracted a better price for her family, she returned home and proudly presented her husband and father with the thick wad of bills. They were furious. While she had received many bills, they were small denominations. She brought back only a quarter of the price the goat should have fetched. "Stupid girl," the father screamed at her, "You do not even know the price of a goat." "Yes," Sr. Daphne agreed. "And whose fault is that?"
Afterwards, Lilly attended literacy and life skills classes. She became secretary of the group. More than 600 women joined Sr. Daphne's literacy groups in the surrounding 12 villages, and the quality of life in these villages changed for the better. Sr. Daphne notes, "Livelihoods are better. Relationships are better. Health is better. And now, every child from this village where the women are educated, now is going to school." Sr. Daphne's development work is motivated by her faith. "Seeing a girl whose potential is suppressed, her freedom, her desires are suppressed, I say, this is such disrespect to God, who created us all in his image, who created us as man and woman in his image, who promised us to have life to its fullest." Her work exemplifies Catholic social teaching's commitments to human dignity, solidarity, subsidiarity, the common good, and putting the needs of the poor and marginalized first. Sr. Daphne notes that while the Indian government has improved its commitment to educating girls, faith groups "reach the corners of the nation where our government has not reached. If one 'Lilly' is promoted in every village, our nation will see very different things." Women in leadership positions can sometimes be challenged in the Catholic Church, but Sr. Daphne finds the Indian Catholic Church to be a collegial and collaborative environment. "We are a minority religion in India. The Church needs us all."