National One-Day Webinar: Church & Women with Disabilities

Women with disabilities are one marginalised group that are not on the radar of most of our interventions – both in secular spaces as well as within faith-based spaces because the systems simply invisibilise them. This invibilisation of women with disabilities in society extends into Churches as well. They are doubly marginalised in terms of their gender and disability and often also because of their faith affiliation and caste identity.

A long cherished desire of the ED Network has been to create a platform and space for Women with Disabilities (WwD) to come together to share their stories – challenges, joys and expectations. ED was honoured that a group of women with disabilities allowed us to accompany them in planning and putting together this one-day National workshop. 

This National Workshop was held on 4 Dec 2021 as part of the observance of  the 16 days of activism against Gender Based Violence  as well. Engined and led by women with disabilities and persons with disabilities and attended by over 90 participants from all over India and abroad, ED was proud to partner with NCCI-IDEA to create a unique space of learning, interaction, unlearning, and building of solidarity and networking. 

Prof Alamelu. B.R, Assistant Professor of English Literature in Indraprastha College for Women in Delhi, is a board member of the Delhi Bible Fellowship, an active member of the ED Hun, Delhi, and a person who lives with visual impairment, painted the broad landscape of realities, challenges, and issues in “Understanding Women with Disabilities,” a session that was moderated by Mr Sandeep Paul, of Unnathi, Justice & Hope, and member of the ED Hub – Chennai. 

Ms. Jessy George, Assistant Professor, Dept. of Christian Ministry, South India Biblical Seminary, Bangarapet, and herself a woman with locomotor disability, made a poignant and powerful presentation on “Christian Ministry and Women with Disabilities” that laid threadbare the discrimination and challenges that abound for women with disabilities in who are in Chrsitian Ministry in various roles, especially within theological education. Rev Asir Ebenezer, General Secretary of NCCI and Chair of ED, ably moderated this session and the interaction thereafter challenging participants both individually and as a church to reflexively listen to the challenges and introspect how churches and institutions could address them. 

Ms. Pranitha Timothy, Senior Consultant, Justice & Hope and herself a person with speech impairment, highlighted issues of physical, attitudinal, communication, and worship accessibility challenges in the session on Practical Inclusion in the Church, a session that was moderated by Rev. Jyoti Singh, Executive Secretary, Womens Concerns, NCCI.  

The session on the Rights of Women with Disabilities was strongly grounded in first-person experiential sharing that drove home the themes the panelists were assigned. The only State Disability Commissioner in India who is also a person with locomotor disability herself, Ms. Diethono Nakhro, State Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities, Nagaland took participants through highlights of the  Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016 especially its relevance for women with disabilities as well as its omissions that need more attention.    Dr. Aiswarya Rao, Founder, Better World Shelter, Chennai, a doctor, public health consultant and a person with locomotor disability herself strung together narratives of stories of challenges of women with disabilities with regard to their bodies, and their agency in a personalised presentation on  Sexual & Reproductive Rights of women with disabilities.

Ms Jubin Varghese facilitated interviews with Mrs. Sujaya, parent of a Ms Shreya, a woman with disability, Dr Sharon, a woman with disabilty and her spouse,  and Ms. Bartha, a woman with disability who facilitates and works on livelihood and employment issues related to women with disabilities in an interactive session on Women with Disabilities: Family life and livelihood. 

Every session had time for interaction of speakers/ panelits and participants. 

The most powerful and touching highlight of this one-day webinar was the  Snapshots from the lives of Women with Disabilities which were 5 minute-video presentations that served as bridges between each session. These presentations were based on interviews of women with disabilities collected by members of the planning team for this national workshop using a simple google form tool that the team put together to collect such stories. 

Despite it being a day-long virtual event, most participants stayed throughout the day and actively participated in the sessions. For most participants this was the first time they were introduced to the depth and urgency of the need to understand the life, challenges, and issues of women with disabilities. 

ED is thankful to Mr. Jianthaolung Gonmei, Executive Secretary, NCCI Youth Concerns, Mr. Doulalem Neihsial, Programme Coordinator, NCCI – IDEA and all members of the Planning Team of the Women with Disabilities workshop who spent many months putting together this webinar.

ED is thankful to Dr Ravi Tiwari, from the Methodist Church of India, a theological Educator and former Registrar, Senate or Serampore, who opened the day with prayer and participated through the day.

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