Presented at the 3rd Annual North American Women’s Conference
New Vrindaban, October 1999
by Pranada dasi
How many of you have seen the September/October issue of BTG?
For me this issue is very telling. In fact, this single issue spoke volumes to me about women in the Krsna consciousness movement.
My initial introduction to the magazine was common enough. As I was reading I was quite impressed with the quality of the articles. The visuals seemed improved over other issues. The magazine was engaging. Overall I had this good feeling about my time with this issue. I turned to the back cover and thought, “Great, something else new, too” Then I picked up the magazine to return it to the bookshelf having completed my review.
I didn’t realize that my review was just beginning.
As I went to put the magazine down it dawned on me, “Hey, most of the articles in here are written by women and they are good articles. This wasn’t just filler stuff. There was refreshing depth of realization on a wide range of subjects. This has substance!”
As I examined this magazine the whole history of women in ISKCON became clear. What is currently happening for women also became clear and in seeing that I got a glimpse of the future–a very bright future.
As I stepped toward the bookshelf this flash of clarify was confirmed by my recent experiences in Alachua and I felt reassured of the truth of my insight. This issue indeed pointed to a trend in our movement.
Women’s participation in ISKCON is increasing–sometimes in areas where previously they were unseen. And overall their contribution is noteworthy. It’s not that doors are opening, some women are coming forward and we’re amused by the cute attempts. Rather, I’m overwhelmed by the impressive contribution they are making.
In Alachua there are about nine women on the Bhagavatam class schedule. Ladies are giving class and leading kirtanas a few times every week. It’s starting to feel very natural and we’re getting a chance to see how much talent has been carefully tucked away for so long. It’s like taking valuable gems from the closet and seeing, as if for the first time, their sparkling beauty.
I’m responsible for asking the ladies to do these services, so I regularly see how they respond. They go from fear and horror or terror or completely discounting my request as a valid one, to happiness–actually ecstasy–once they finally find the courage to do the service.
On Vyasa-puja day our Godsister Sunita Prabhu spoke some homages to Srila Prabhupada for the first time ever. It was very difficult for her to relate just one pastime about Srila Prabhupada in front of everyone. But afterward she came up to me with this effulgent smile and with a slight tear in her eyes and said,” I just want to thank you so much for getting me to finally do that. It was such a wonderful experience I want to do it again. I never thought I could do that!”
I am regularly moved to see this transformation in my Godsisters. Here are ladies that have been deeply programmed for many, many years, that they have no value, or very little worth to our movement. And they have believed it and lived it for as many years. To break free of this is an immense challenge, requiring us to really apply ourselves to change.
As I’m watching women around the movement come forward more and more I see parallels of our collective journey to an individual’s journey of recovering from mistreatment.
Initially there is blind acceptance of the mistreatment, or perhaps simply denial it exists. Then gradually the person awakens to the fact they are being mistreated and they decide not to accept that anymore. Even after that determination occurs, though, there is a long journey of putting the pieces of self-worth back into place. As the person is finding their way back to health and balance, they may venture out of their previous boundaries with great caution and trepidation. They test the water here and there to make sure it’s safe and no more peril awaits them. As they do this they receive confirmation of their value as human beings and can further blossom in their true glory. Then they start manifesting qualities and abilities even they themselves were not aware of.
If you look at BTGs from the 70s and 80s they starkly contrast this current issue. One or two women were writing even then, but for the most part women all but disappeared from sight in ISKCON and thus those BTGs document the dark time in history when women in ISKCON were convinced of their lack of worth both as human beings and devotees. Actually BTG simply mirrored the climate prevalent all over ISKCON which had systematically de-empowered, de-valued and marginalized women.
The current issue has simply mirrored another a time in history and this one tells of progress: Women in Krsna consciousness are healing. Gradually we’re becoming empowered and we’re understanding we have contributions to make to Srila Prabhupada’s movement in ways we didn’t think possible before. It is in recognizing the signs of recovery then that this BTG showed me there’s no stopping the ladies’ journey to full health and participation. And that’s why this moment in history is so exciting and full of hope.
Today I just want to urge each one of you in this room to help each come out of hiding; in whatever way you are currently withholding from expressing your full contribution for Srila Prabhupada. I’m here to tell you unequivocally you each have immense value and can do much to spread Srila Prabhupada’s movement. Take courage that you’re not alone in the fear and uncertainty and feelings of lack of qualification. As each of us face our fears–not letting them dictate to us–then we’ll each get additional courage and strength to go forward.
I see this happening in our little microcosm in Alachua. As women and young ladies regularly see that it is all right for women to perform these services and they see women doing them, then they start to see the possibility that they too can do the services. They gain courage. It is contagious. It’s not only kirtana and Bhagavatam class, but also any service where previously women were prohibited. We need women showing by example in all services.
Don’t think there aren’t opportunities for you. There are unlimited opportunities. Every other day I have someone ask me if there is a woman somewhere that would be willing to be a temple president here, or could be the manager of a PR office for the GBC, or could be on the editorial review board of IWR, or work with the development of Mayapur to make sure women are represented there or could help children. The list is endless. In fact, perhaps the Women’s Ministry could function as a clearinghouse connecting you to service opportunities in the movement. Aside from particular services, though, the journey we’re on is more about rebuilding our sense of dignity and our place in the Krsna consciousness movement.
Each one of us will come forward or express ourselves in our own way. But please do come forward please give full expression to your talents and thus give hope and courage to others; make sure this contagious effect of healing spreads. Whatever hesitation or obstacles you face in fully expressing and offering your best service, or finally doing that service you’ve secretly cherished doing for Srila Prabhupada, please overcome that, for yourself but also for others. For the movement all around the world. As we continue to gain strength in North America the rest of the world will gain conviction and the healing process successfully underway here will spread to women on other continents and give them strength to begin their journey.
It’s important to understand that while we’re continuing our journey, some have not yet begun theirs. There are women in some countries who are still facing the Bhagavatam classes condemning women; women and children are being abandoned for book distribution and many other social ills that we saw in the 70s and 80s are repeating themselves elsewhere in our movement. Indeed it doesn’t take a psychic to foretell of child abuse to come in those areas due to de-empowering the women. Therefore, I ask you not to forget these Godsisters, these children. Move forward yourself and this will help them; it will make it impossible for the misogyny that drives this mistreatment to flourish.
The more we continue to break through our fears and obstacles to offer what we are best qualified to do, individually and collectively–taking courage, strength and hope from each other–then the more the Krsna consciousness movement will be benefited, we will be benefited, and the world will be benefited.