Nagaland: Towards making space for women leadership in churches

The sun sets behind a church somewhere in Nagaland. (Photo Courtesy: Talimoa Pongen/For representation purpose only)
The sun sets behind a church somewhere in Nagaland. (Photo Courtesy: Talimoa Pongen/For representation purpose only)

Y Merina Chishi
Dimapur | August 29

Women are indispensable assets to the church in terms of their support and contributions in the mission and evangelical fields.

Unfortunately, it is rare to see women serving in senior leadership positions in the church.

The church in Nagaland has come a long way. From the orthodox ways of functioning to a more liberal style, the church is slowly evolving and embracing changes that are taking place across other parts of the world; including gender equality.

Women have been teaching, preaching and doing mission work for decades but it is only recently that some churches in Nagaland are beginning to accord more rights to women.

After fighting over two decades for more rights and privileges, the Western Sümi Baptist Akukhuhou Kukhakulu (WSBAK) or the association of western Sümi churches has set a benchmark in conferring women with ministry license.

30 women church workers under the WSBAK are currently licensed ministers.

Before this, Hokheli Sumi was conferred the first license by the Sümi Baptist Church Association, Nito Mount, Zunheboto.

Kakheli Inato Jimomi, Secretary, Women Ministry, WSBAK, who holds a license since 2019 says that it is a big breakthrough and a giant leap for all Naga women. “WSBAK has set a very good example,” she says, adding that this is by far the highest number in any church in Nagaland.

The license gives these women the right to conduct all religious ceremonies like marriage, funerals, the Lord’s Supper, christening and conducting baptism. Till a few years back, such privileges were accorded only to men.

The Sümi churches have for long felt the need to place women in higher standings and conduct. However, the fight for gender equality has not been easy, Jimomi says. She credits the former WSBAK Executive Secretary Reverend Hevukhu Achumi, who relentlessly fought to provide women equal right and opportunity. Many male counterparts have also shown immense support over the years, she adds. 

The Challenges
Being ordained with a religious license is no mean feat for these women. These women have been religiously serving the church for years and have accomplished a lot in their careers. The criteria to become a licensed minister include a minimum of seven years in service of the church; possess good and able leadership qualities. But most importantly, the person as well as her family members should possess a clean and chaste life testimony.

So, obviously the responsibilities that come along with the job are quite challenging. The patriarchal mindset of Naga culture is deeply rooted even in the church, Jimomi says and that women find it difficult to breathe in such spaces.

“For most men it is difficult to tear away from such mindset and it becomes visible that they do not support women in higher positions even in the church,” she points out.

She also says that most people are still hesitant to give the women ministers the privilege to conduct rituals as it is deemed unconventional.   But amidst these challenges, she adds that it is the women who must set an example and be torchbearers for the future generation of women church workers. “If we start right, change can happen,” she says.

Changing mindset
Ironically, Jimomi feels that church is the best platform to address gender bias issues and change peoples' mindset. She points out that there are many well qualified and educated women who are yearning for more prominent roles in the church and opportunities should be given to them. She feels that change must begin somewhere and that the church can play a vital role in it to take effect.

She also emphasizes on the role of parents in shaping the minds of their children. “There is need to rethink parenting. We cannot differentiate the role of boys and girls inside our homes and think that our children will grow up to become liberal thinkers.”

“Change must begin at home,” she says.