“The original plan of God was for a loving relationship of respect, mutuality, and equality between men and women, and we are called to fulﬁl this plan. The tone of this ecclesial reﬂection on Scripture makes it clear that there is an urgency in the challenge to translate theory into practice not only outside but also within the Church itself.”
– Decree 14 GC 34 (1995)
A little over a year ago, the delegates for the Jesuit Social Sector gathered in Mexico for the Assembly of the Social Apostolate of the Latin American Jesuit Conference (CPAL). While reflecting on themes of equality and social justice, the question arose: where are women in our apostolates? The question could not be fully answered and this generated some unease within the social sector of CPAL. This unease turned into action, when Mario Serrano SJ (social delegate of CPAL) convened a group of women from various Jesuit provinces in Latin America so that together they could reflect and develop transformational proposals on the participation, role and position of women in the Society of Jesus and in its ministries.
As a member of this group, I share here a few reflections on its origin and purpose and the challenges it faces. 24 women from 16 Latin American Jesuit Provinces have been meeting virtually every month since June 2019. We set some concrete objectives for our gatherings: to develop a foundational theoretical framework for our gender analysis which would serve as a reference; to identify the positive experiences and good practices already in place in the Society of Jesus and its social apostolates; to systematize our own organizational process and develop a strategic framework for our work.
In November 2019 a number of women representing Jesuit provinces across the globe attended the 50th anniversary of the Social and Ecological Apostolate in Rome. The representatives from the Latin American provinces took the occasion to share with the other women participants the existence and accomplishments of the “Group of women of the Jesuit Conference of Latin America.” We wanted to generate enthusiasm and encourage all women delegates to work together on this issue. We then all met with Father General of the Society of Jesus and proposed the formation of a “Global Commission on Gender.”
Father General welcomed the idea and asked that we submit a formal proposal for the creation of a commission with terms of reference. The women followed up, working in sub-committees and collectively agreed on a draft proposal for Father General with proposed objectives, functions and activities for the Global Commission on Gender. The reflection and final proposal were enriched by the contributions of women from different provinces from around the globe and we submitted our proposal to Father General.
Subsequently, Father General established a high level commission, composed of his secretaries and Valeria Mendez de Vigo of the Secretariat of Social Justice and Ecology in the General Curia to review the proposal and make final recommendations to Father General. One of the objectives of the Global Commission on Gender would be to evaluate the extent to which a gender justice perspective guides the analysis and apostolic planning of the Society of Jesus.
There will be more news to share about the formation of this Global Commission on Gender in the near future. In the meantime, our work in Latin America and the Caribbean continues at the regional level. Our group has grown and has been enriched by the participation of more women, some lay men and Jesuits. There are now 31 participants: 26 women and 5 men, 28 of whom are lay people; 3 are Jesuits. Together we continue to sow new seeds and work together to assure abundant harvests in justice and equality.
We are now in the process of discerning how to structure and organize creatively our Latin American group on gender. We are looking at how to work locally and at the province level and how to engage with other networks at provincial, regional, conference and global levels of the Society of Jesus. We see our role that of creating a space for reflection from a gender justice perspective, on issues such as the participation, the role and position of women in society. We wish to be a platform for the development of concrete proposals to foster and cultivate relationships based on love, mutual respect, reciprocity and equality between men and women.
To question unequal power relations, to challenge inequalities and to sow seeds of courage and boldness, to make integral social justice a reality, is what we aim to do.