It is with a very heavy heart that I am writing this editorial as the news on missiles and bombs raided on Iraq just yesterday (20 March 2003). We are now witnessing a war that will bring many deaths, sufferings, pain, hunger and widespread diseases. This is a time of great disillusionment, sadness, fear, bitterness and anger felt by millions of women, men and children. In a time like this, women are usually the ones who would suffer most: suffering the consequences of a war that is not of their choice. While men would become soldiers, women would become war refugees, bearing multiple tasks for the sake of the family. Women need to endure the long periods of war with a mental strength that has to be steadfast.
However in these times of hardship, women often demonstrate that they are pillars of strength, playing their new roles with endurance, brilliance and vigour. For example in the reports of the Balkan War and the Civil War in Sri Lanka, it was found that the women who were the first to adapt quickly to the chaotic situations, the first to take any kind of job and the first to have a strong will power for a new start, to return to their lives and the lives of their families to a kind of normality. This great inner strength of women is to be remembered.
Remembering a woman’s strength comes in many ways and this year, the participants of Women Doing Theology remembered it as they joined other women in the March 8 International Women’s Day rally in the Philippines.
Lastly, as a gesture of our strong opposition to this war and to pay our respects to all those who have suffered and will suffer, the front cover of Praxis is in black. Also we dedicate this issue to all those women and children in Iraq who have and will become the most vulnerable victims in this tragedy.
In this issue, you will find articles on the struggles experienced by women and their strength in overcoming these struggles, you will also find reflections and liturgies on peace which is what is needed most at this moment. Through these, we hope you will find a light in the midst of these chaotic times now.
Wong Yock Leng
Regional Women’s Coordinator
WSCF AP strongly opposes and condemns this war on Iraq led by the United States and its allies. The United States has clearly violated the UN Charter and International Law by launching this attack, it has arrogantly dismissed an overwhelming international sentiment on peaceful and diplomatic solutions, it shows no concern on the lives of the millions of people who will perish, it does not care about the consequential effects and traumas of the war. We strongly believe this war is totally unjustified and we demand that it has to be stopped immediately!
As a Student Christian Movement, we reiterate that as Christian students, we strongly believe that war will not solve the problems currently faced by the world. Nor will war dissolve any feelings of hatred that have already been deeply sown. War will only bring massive destruction, torn lives and families and widen the gulf between nations. We want peace that will bring justice, mutual respect for peaceful co-existence and understanding to all creation of God.
WSCF AP will actively participate in all Stop The War campaigns and rallies led by the No War Coalition organised by NGO groups in Hong Kong in which WSCF AP is one of the organisers. We urge all Student Christian Movements in the Asia-Pacific region to participate in all forms of solidarity actions organised in their own countries, to demand that the war has to stop immediately and to pray for the millions who have and will suffer.
A Reflection by Kim Sung Ran
Human being’s history is filled with war. We could say that the human history is the history of war. In any war, women and children have always inevitably become the most serious victims. As we remember the cruel massacres and wars in the 20th century, stories of what happened to women during war: torture, prison camps, the Holocaust, rape as an ethnic cleansing and sexual slavery, it is again sad to know that the new millennium of the 21st century began with terror and war behind promises of peace and reconciliation for the atrocities happened in the last century. I can still clearly remember a Korean Comfort Woman, Jung Hack Soon’s testimony.
Next day, a soldier came and took us one by one. I was taken to an officer’s room. Standing next to his bed, he tried to embrace me. When I resisted, he slapped me on my cheeks. I rubbed my palms in pleading, asking him to show mercy. He said I should do what he ordered me to do, and when I said I couldn’t do it even if I was killed, he tore my skirt. I was wearing a black skirt and a white blouse, and my hair was braided. My underwear showed, but I kneeled and said I couldn’t do it. He pulled me up by my braid, and cut open my underwear with his sword. I fainted. A soldier came and took me back. I followed him crying, wrapping myself with my skirt and holding my underwear. I couldn’t walk well because it hurt so much. The woman who had been there before us said, “See? We can’t get out of here alive.”
One day when I couldn’t work because my uterus was swollen and bleeding, an officer came to me and ordered me to suck his penis. I said, “I can eat your shit, I can’t do this.” He shouted, “I’ll kill this bitch” and beat me and threw me around. I fainted, and when I woke up, I was told I was unconscious for three days. Some officers bound me and did whatever pleased them saying I was defiant. I grind my teeth with indignation as they satisfied their physical desire by all means. I was beaten many times for my resistance. If I fainted, the owner doused cold water on me. Then, he confined me in a room and didn’t give me food.
The Japanese soldiers marched into the yard bringing many Chinese women bound with a rope. They disrobed the women, tied them to the board and gang-raped them in front of us. Many soldiers waited in line for their turn. They tortured the women after raping them. They enjoyed watching women suffer from the torture, throwing powdered red pepper into the lower part of women, slashing women indiscriminately with a knife. Some even doused oil on women and lit a match. Under their unimaginable torture, the women died, one after another. After witnessing such a horrible scene, we were too terrorised to disobey him. We just got through each day.
The violence against women is the most powerful weapon for men in the war. Why and how did this occur, especially in a war? What propelled soldiers to rape their friends, neighbors, and co-workers? The violence against women in the war is part of a destructive force against women, which included genocide and ethnic cleansing. This “war on women” has important implications for all humanity. Women have never been regarded as the equals of men in the patriarchal society. They are perceived as “lower” than men, and are expected to act meek and obedient in their homes and workplaces. This subtle and ingrained disrespect of women paved the way for the mass rapes that occurred in wars. Women were easy targets for male soldiers because they were perceived as defenseless. This male dominance is also evident in the way that violence was used to instill such fear in women. They did it to humiliate women and showed women their power. Sexual violence thus becomes the weapon. The violence against women as a powerful weapon during wars proves the war itself, whatever the reasons and purposes are, is the production of male-centered patriarchal culture. As the Comfort Woman’s testimony tells us, the women who were raped during a war will never forget the atrocities committed against them. There will always be intense psychological fear of men, depression, and an inherent distrust of others; these are common experiences of rape survivors. Not too far away, according to some information and news, most Afghanistan refugees are women and children. They are now dying of famine and illness.
However women are not powerless as they try to overcome their powerlessness. They try to make peace within themselves out of their own experiences. As in the cases of many Comfort Women, they begin to reflect and articulate what they had gone through and seek a redress for themselves.
Recently, I met a woman who was leaving for Iraq as a human shield. She told me that as a feminist, she could not stay at home watching women and children are dying in Iraq. She felt her body is aching and this aching and torn body is the body of Christ on the cross. Now as people’s endless greed kills and tears the body of life, how can we heal ourselves in this history of war?
by Lilith M. Usog
This reflection is extracted from “Suggested Liturgy Guide for the International Women’s Day Celebration 2003” organised by the Ecumenical Women’s Forum. This guide is prepared by the Women’s Desk, Ecumenical Education and Nurture, National Council of Churches in the Philippines
To talk about peace when we are faced with conflict situations seems to be an ambitious task. But strengthened by our Christian ideals and resources from the Oriental religion we are still convinced that PEACE will not be a remote possibility. Surely, it will not come in a silver platter but through hard-earned efforts of peace making. We are challenged to make peace our mantra (prayer word) so we can contribute in sending positive energies into our war-torn and divided world at the same time we can make peace as a way of life. What better occasion to reflect on peace when the Bush government is determined to wage war on Iraq; when bombings in Mindanao has no let-up and when we are continuously bombarded with foreign goods while our people go hungry. With fervent longing we echo the prophecy of Zechariah...”guide our feet into the way of peace”.
Where war and violence seems to be a constant in Afghanistan, Kosovo, Israel, Palestine, Philippines and many other countries let us not be calloused by its effects. While violence exudes male arrogance, the women and children suffer the most. Let me share the longings of other women and children on PEACE:
There is a dissonance between the biblical peace and the stories of women and children in war torn countries. Peace means something much more than the absence of war. There are two roads used in the original languages of the Bible that means “peace”. In the Hebrew language of the Old Testament the word is “Shalom” and in the Greek language of the New Testament, it is “Eirene”, which has the same meaning as “Shalom”. The root meaning of Shalom is completeness, wholeness; another meaning is peaceable or time of peace. True peace excludes nobody from the circle of harmony and completeness. The Bible also refers to peace as prosperity and security (which includes economic and political security referred to in I Chronicles 4:40; 22:9, Isaiah 32:18). To sum up the Bible describes peace as a state of total well-being, inner harmony and oneness between God and human beings.
Grounded on these realities we join our voices with other peace-loving individuals and groups who are clamouring for peace. With these glaring realities we need to act and not just stay complacent. What better picture can we paint but creating circles of peace in our own homes, in places where we work and in the larger community. We are again summoned by our faith, as Christians to take on Christ, the Prince of Peace. The peace that Jesus gives is a transforming and harmonising peace rooted in compassion and strong sense of justice. Here we are impelled to participate in peace-making wherever we are. It could be educating for peace; registering our protest for peace; making our voices heard for peace. Whatever the case maybe—stand and be counted! And like Zechariah we implore the liberating Spirit to guide our feet into the way of peace. Go forth and work for peace strengthened by this blessing:
Deep peace of the Running Wave to you.
Deep peace of the Flowing Air to you.
Deep peace of the Quiet Earth to you.
Deep peace of the Shining Stars to you.
Deep peace of Jesus of Peace to you. (Celtic Benediction)
Contributed by Jane Ella Montenegro and Lydia Niguidula
This is extracted from “Suggested Liturgy Guide for the International Women’s Day Celebration 2003” organised by the Ecumenical Women’s Forum. This guide is prepared by the Women’s Desk, Ecumenical Education and Nurture, National Council of Churches in the Philippines.
Pray not for Christians
Pray not for Arabs
Pray not for Saddam Hussein
Or George Bush.
But pray rather
That we might not
Divide them in our prayers
But keep them both together
In our hearts in the name of peace.
(adapted from a prayer of a Palestinian Christian)
O God of Peace, we pray for
Peace in the midst of violence in all forms and the impending war in the Middle East.
O God of Peace, we pray for
Equal treatment between and among women and men, old and young, weak and strong nations, Christians and non-Christians.
O God of Peace, we pray to
Assuage hatred and greed in the human heart and change them to compassion for all beings and all creation.
O God of Peace, we pray for
Calmness in the midst of mounting anxiety, escalating prices, and worsening conflicts in human relationships.
In the name of Christ, the Prince of Peace. Amen.
Leader 1: O God of Creation, when stomachs are famished and throats are parched with thirst, when bones are broken and bodies are bleeding to death because of war and violence...
People: How can we praise and thank you, God?
Leader 2: O God of Peace and Justice, when truth is twisted to serve evil interests and human rights are not respected by the leaders of the land. When the mighty design advanced technology and the weak can hardly defend their dignity...
People: how can we rejoice and be glad, O God?
Leader 1: As you heard your people cry in Goshen, they cry still today. Please hear them now.
People: Be merciful to us, O God. Wash away our evils ways and wicked thoughts.
Leader 2: We have been selfish by not sharing the giftedness and resources you have given us. We look down on others whom you have made in your own image.
People: Forgive us, O God, we pray.
Leader 1: We oppress others by denying them the chance to be free—to love and be happy, and to seek their identities.
People: Forgive us, O God, we pray.
Leader 2: We have sinned at all levels as individuals, as families, as a church, as a government—hardening our hearts to the needs of the least of our sisters and brothers.
People: Forgive us, O God, we pray.
Leader 1: We have sinned against your creation, O God, disrespecting other beings, making extinct gentle and rare life-forms all in the name of amusement and armaments.
People: Forgive us, O God, we pray.
Leader 2: How shall we answer our children’s children when they asked, “Why didn’t you save the forests, the clean water and air for us?”
Leader 1 & 2: How shall we answer you, O God, when you ask?
“Why didn’t you treat each other as equals?”
“Why did you choose war to peace, oppression instead of justice, and sorrow instead of joy?”
The region of North East India comprises of eight States—Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim and Tripura. This region is one of the homelands of many heterogeneous people. In this region, 442 languages and dialects are spoken. There are so many different communities and each have their own distinct culture and historical context. No two tribes have the same culture and history. In such a mixed community, the situation and status of women in North East India is very much complicated. In spite of these diversities, there is also communality among the tribes. In North East India, there exist both patriarchal and matrilineal system. Patriarchy is a culture, which the tribes have been practicing for centuries and this system will continue to exist in the present society. Discrimination, subordination and oppression of women are products of patriarchal culture, in which men exercise control over women, restrict women’s freedom of choice, behaviour, action, and even thought. Even in the context of matrilineal society, example, Khasi-Jaintia and Garo societies, whose matrilineal practice is still very strong but yet practically it is the patriarchy that dominates. In this paper I would like to bring out the status of women in the society and role of women in the Church in North East India.
The introduction of Christian faith by the foreign missionaries in the region of North East India brought about radical changes in the tribal society. In spite of the deferred opinions, most of the scholars acknowledge the contribution of Christianity towards the uplifting of women. However, this does not mean that the position and status of the women took a complete different shape. Today, in most of the tribal societies in North East India, women are considered to have equal status with men. It is because there is a free and liberal society, where mixing with the opposite sex is open and free. In other words, they are free and have better opportunities in the community in comparison with the women of other societies. But traditionally, they are regarded to be submissive and are kept away from active participation in both socio-political and religious activities. They are made to submit to and depend upon man and to confine themselves mainly to domestic duties. As what Renthy Keitzer, a prominent Naga theologian says, their freedom is limited; strictly speaking, they are not free in the modern sense of the term.
Today women are the most oppressed section of the society. They are struggling for full humanhood, for equal rights and justice in all spheres of life. The worldwide patriarchal culture considers women as inferior and dependent beings to men. For many centuries, both men and women have been educated and domesticated by the thought and notion of patriarchal biasness. Our stories and traditions have been largely integrated and transmitted in the light of this domesticated culture. Before the patriarchal society was well organised and shifted to a rigid and hierarchical structure, women had enjoyed active participation in various social activities and had almost equal rights as men. However, in the course of time women’s role and status were diminished gradually due to the dominant ideology of patriarchy. Thus, while women are seen as inferior and subordinate, men are regarded as superior, having power to dominate women.
Women in matrilineal societies like the Khasi-Jaintias and Garos enjoy a better position. The youngest daughter inherits ancestral property and female lineage is maintained. Yet, this does not contribute to the equality with men.
When we look at the socio-political sphere, men certainly have shown respect to women than before, but the fundamental concept of womanhood as inferior to manhood is not changed by Christianity though they could mingle freely with men and take part in social activities, one would see a male above. This is clearly reflected in the structure of the Church in which women are given low position. In the tribal traditional societies, the village council which consisted only of men held the highest administrative power. In many villages, this tradition still continues. At the State level the situation is somewhat different but the fact still remains that the male leadership is dominating all parties.
In the socio-economic spheres, a large majority of tribal female workers are engaged in agriculture. They are seldom employed in industries and other business activities. Women who work outside the home still remain responsible for the domestic work of the household. Thus, bearing a double work burden which is a serious obstacle both to better employment opportunities and to socio, economic and political participation. According to economists, household works are non-productive because they do not add to the national income. Household works are described by these economists as un-organised, unpaid or invisible. This means that 99 per cent of the women are engaged in non-productive works, they are deprived of taking up leadership roles in the society. According to S. Shimray, the overall status of women is undoubtedly lower than of their male counterparts. In the process of history, women have been systematically conquered and deprived of their own history. They are blindfolded from the truth of their own historical privileges. Among the poor and the marginalised, the most unprivileged and poorest are women.
In North East India, women constitute about half of the population and half of the membership of the Church. In spite of the fact that they are important to both Church and society, women are not acknowledged and are not given an important role to play and this hinders them from a full participation in the ministry.
Thanzauva, a Mizo theologian has the view that in the early formative stage of tribal Christian Church, there was no discrimination against women, who could participate actively in the Church as evangelists, teachers and deacons. One reason he gives for this is the lack of able male leaders. This should have certainly contributed much towards the uplifting of women in tribal Christian society. But the equal partnership was still far from realisation. Certain traditional practices could not be avoided even after the community had embraced Christianity.
The role of women in the Church ministry has always been defined by the traditional role of women in tribal society and this determines their status in the Church. R.L. Hununi says that the new theological awareness coupled with the changing world in which new models for women began to be available, made it difficult for the most educated women to accept the traditional roles assigned to them in both society and the Church. In the Church more women are feeling that they are called by God into the ministry and more and more women are seeking theological education. The ministry of the church remains incomplete without the full and equal participation of women. For if men and women are both created in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27 and 5:1-3), they are inseparable and their equal status as well as dual ministry is assumed. Women have special gift to offer to theology. In Christian ministry both men and women must work together in multiple ways with the goal to establish the Reign of God in Christ had initiated.
Alice Walking too says, discrimination is more common in the Church than in the secular circles. High ranking women officers and even women ministers are found in the secular sector. It is in the Church circles that leadership of women is not fully accepted. The structure of the Church hinders equal participation of men and women in the ministry. Though women contribute a lion’s share for the betterment of the Church, they are debarred and marginalised in ecclesial employment. Fully qualified and trained women are often denied their ordination, leadership, administration, policy-making etc. Women are expected to play assisting roles only.
In North East India, the issue of women ordination was raised only a few years ago. A landmark was achieved when Ao Baptist Arogo Mungdang (ABAM) ordained two Ao-Naga women, Noksangchila in 1992, ad Senangshila in 1993. Later in 1996, D. Bongshot was ordained in Thamlakhuren Baptist Church under the Lamkang Naga Association and Kim Vaiphei in February 1977, under the Kuki Baptist Association.
This is indeed a great step towards equal participation of men and women in ministry. In this regard, R.L. Hnuni rightly pointed out that it is time to give up the traditional that always expect only women to be the ones who would adjust to the situation, but to treat them equally as men. She also calls for re-examining and restating the unjust traditional view by restructuring the Church to be accommodative and do away with evils of inequality, injustice and discrimination.
In conclusion, the above following discussions demonstrate the condition and status of women in North East India and called for the need to be liberated in all areas of life. The women’s role and status was low traditionally and remain so at the present. In spite of significant contribution of women to the life of society, women and womanhood have been subjected to sufferings and exploitation even in the Church of North East India, there is a wide gap between men and women. It is therefore necessary for the church to re-examine and change the traditional attitudes towards women and bring them back to a fuller humanhood, so that the purpose of God will be fulfilled, by sharing the partnership in God’s mission.
by Dayanthi Samaranayake
SCM Sri Lanka
Firstly I would start with the limitations as they are many.
Sri Lanka to a great extent, is still a country where the patriarchal ideology and system rule. Therefore the thinking of many are influenced and conditioned in this manner and thus it poses many limitations on being a woman. Limitations are mainly posed on the Sri Lankan women through Socio-Cultural, Political, Economical and Religious factors.
Women are still considered as persons who are required to manage the household affairs and stay at home. If they were very active and out-going, they would be looked down upon by the society. They need to be soft spoken and gentle. Aggressive or outspoken women are condemned. The full freedom to express their views or to challenge decisions is not given and even if it is, women who have been brought up in this set up do not and cannot make use of the opportunity. If a woman is known for moving freely about with male friends, she is considered to be a person who is of loose character. These are mainly due to the cultural and social norms set by our society, and mainly by men so that they could have control on the actions of women.
Though more than half of the population of Sri Lanka is women, there is not even a 5% representation of women in the Parliament, and though there are many women actively working in political parties or on political campaigning, they are limited to the internal activities of the political parties. Furthermore, participating in politics too is a difficult task, as one needs a lot of money and also the strength to work with male candidates who usually use violence to promote their cause. Hence even as the women who are already participating in the political sphere, so too are the patriarchal ideology and system. There is limited freedom to use a different mode or style of carrying out one’s functions as a woman politician.
I would like to stress on the point on the exhaustive laws that are found in the Statutes in Sri Lanka. There are very few women who actually have knowledge on these laws. Furthermore, women are reluctant to come forward and place their cases before court for fear of being ridiculed and of damaging their family prestige or honour. This is mainly because the majority of the judges and practicing lawyers are men and when one goes to the police station to file one’s case, the police would resort to considering the case a minor incident and would force one to take other measures without going to court. Even if a case is brought forward in a court, attempts are always made to put the blame on the woman. So justice is not very often met.
Stemming from the Socio-Cultural aspects, women to a great extent, are still limited in job opportunities of their own choice. Many factors will need to be considered by and for the family, and many arrangements have to be made in relation to one’s family responsibilities. Even in the job market, many companies or employers would consider factors such as pregnancy and inability to work late and that women are often faced with certain difficulties in a job. Promotions do not happen easily and even if they do, there will be many malicious gossips or rumours that the woman has been promoted.
Religion continues to restrict and limit women. In Sri Lanka there are four main religions of Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and Christianity. In the first three religions, women are not given recognition at all and all the religious teachings and laws seem to focus on restricting women. In Christianity, though some denominations have recognised women priesthood, the teachings and understanding of the congregations and their attitudes remain the same. Some of the main denominations are still reluctant to ordain women and while some women when ordained, are not given full powers to lead the service or share the Eucharist. Women are still considered as impure and as a person who causes men to sin.
Women in Sri Lanka have much strength which are unfortunately not recognised or most often recognised for the wrong reasons. This resulted women having to suffer more than getting anything positive and good out of these strengths.
Sri Lanka being a country in which there has been a Civil War going on for nearly over 20 years, there are many women who are victimised by this war. In this context, there are many widows and women who lost their children in the war, but somehow they have the strength within themselves to forgive and most importantly, live their life bearing all these grievances in their stride. In times of any displacement, they are the ones who pick up the pieces and continue to start all over again not once but, many times. The women in Sri Lanka have a great power to endure, and a will power to continue despite any painful circumstances. Many women run a family through their own efforts in situations where either the husband is dead or that he is addicted to both alcohol and drugs. The women are the breadwinner as well as the caretaker of the family. Most often, many women find comfort in each other and this is a great strength of solidarity. Many women are able to express and articulate their difficulties and problems with another group of women who are there to support.
Many young women or women student are frequently faced with the trial of doing well in their studies while helping their mothers in taking care of the family. Most often when the mother is at work, it is the young daughters who would be doing all the household chores and at the same time juggling with the schoolwork. This is indeed a strength to be recognised.
As young adults, women have to face with many challenges from the patriarchal ideology and system as well as male-dominating experiences in society and yet they continue to pursue their dreams and hopes. The power to dream and plan against all odds is yet another strength of the women.
As a mother in Sri Lanka, we need to recognise her strength of bringing a child into the world and giving all to the child even at the expense of herself. We must affirm these strengths and qualities in most mothers when it comes to their compassion and unconditional love to their children.
It is quite a challenge to see what are the strengths women have, which is consequent to the fact that women’s strengths are not recognised and affirmed by the society. However the following need to be kept in mind when reading this reflection. I have only given a very general picture of the strengths and limitations of women in Sri Lanka. These would most certainly change when taking into consideration the different social circles in Sri Lanka and the different backgrounds where the women come from. Many a time, the same limitations may exist in different degrees, while in another situation, different limitations may exist. Then again, some women might be able to recognise their strengths and optimise them to do creative and productive things, while others might not be even aware of what their strengths are.
by Shieh Hui-Chuan
In Taiwan, women are often being put in a vague and uncertain position. On the surface, men and women are equal in welfare and power distribution as well as under the protection of laws. But it is hardly the fact.
The Taiwanese family and society have long been influenced by the traditional Chinese culture: Confucianism. Under the influences of various deep-rooted concepts such as “male’s priority over female”, women are often limited into playing the role that is expected by society and family: a woman who is quiet, never expresses her own opinions, and always obeys her father, husband and sons and follows what they said. Many women are accustomed to live with these restrictions without considering the need of necessary changes.
The committee of Women Ministry of General conference in Taiwan has promoted “Gender Equality Decade 1998-2008” as a continuation and response to the “Unite Churches and Women Decade” campaign held by the World Council of Churches (WCC). From the statistics, we observe that the number of female elders and deacons is on the rise year by year in local churches (from 37% in 1992 to 42% in 1997). However, when it comes to the ministry in the general conference level, the ratio of women participation goes contrastively down. In the Presbyterian Church, female voting delegates (elder) from each congregation and ministers remain in the minority. This year the Presbyterian Church passed a law stipulating that the number of female workers must be up to 5% in all ministries and committees. Although this is a start, in practicing this, there is still a certain distance to reach the goal.
On the surface, Taiwan seems to be an equal society for both genders. But beneath it, women are still restricted by traditional ethics and culture in the society, in their families, and in the church. Therefore, women do not have many opportunities to optimise the strength and the power of female independence to the full extent.
As a female pastor, I have worked with the congregation as a pastor alone as well as with a male colleague pastor. Although I receive less discrimination from my partnership with this colleague, in the overall Church environment I am still restricted because I am a Woman. For example, women are always perceived under the opinion of being “weak”, and that women cannot be a leader and cannot make decisions. Or women could only take certain responsibilities to perform small menial tasks or could just be the leader in certain times. Unfortunately many a time, the pressure given to women does not only come from men but also from women ourselves. In the church, while female elders often listen and submit to the opinion of male elders, they would query and doubt on the opinion or decision made by female pastors. And if a married couple in the church is pastors, the wife is often limited to be the pastor’s wife, and she cannot be a leader in the church. These experiences left me feeling helpless being a female pastor. It makes me feel sad and distressed. We should do more and worker harder to reach the goal of gender equality.
by Hazel Man Hei Yan
SCM Hong Kong
It is indeed my pleasure to be given an opportunity to share my experience and reflection with you. It is very valuable to share our life experience and stories with each other to let us understand ourselves more. Also, our life stories and experience are important substances of doing theology.
Why do girls have to wear dress?
The first time I became aware of the differences between girls and boys was when I was young and was taught that a girl wears dresses and a boy wears trousers. However, I did not like wearing a dress, as it seemed to be a control over me. When I was young, my aunt taught me that I had to walk and sit very politely, or to do things gently like a lady when I was wearing a dress. Also, I could not put the back of the dress up while I was sitting. All these restrictions were too troublesome for me. I thought to myself: why was wearing a dress had so many rules? So I dislike wearing dresses or even being a girl. However, my aunt and mum would always force me to wear a dress as they thought girls wearing a dress would look prettier.
I first went to church since I was nine years old. As I was growing up to my teens, I started to realise that there are some hidden oppressions against women in the church.
Summer in Hong Kong is very hot and humid. Many women like wearing vests in summer because of the weather. However, women, especially young women in the fellowship, are not allowed to wear vests in my church. The reason given is that it would be tempting for the brothers. So does it imply that men commit sins because of women, but not because of their irresponsibility? It totally is a defence for men but at the same time discriminates women. Moreover, women are not allowed to lead a Eucharist or to be a Master of Ceremony during service time. This is because the church believes that according to the St Paul’s scripture that says men are the head. So the priority of the church’s setting is to put men in first place, women are the subordinates. The tasks of women in the church are mostly flower arranging, providing food in certain occasions or babysitting. The present Christian ethics and models of theology in churches are still made and practiced under the patriarchal system in Hong Kong especially conservative churches. Women are still obviously or not obviously being discrimination and stereotyped in the church.
However there is one thing I appreciate in the church: people usually think that sisters are morally and spiritually superior than brothers.
Talented women are lonely and unhappy?
Nowadays women’s social position in Hong Kong has gotten higher than before. One could find more women working in higher positions such as in executive or decision-making positions in big companies or in the Government. It reflects that women are more educated, intelligent and talented in Hong Kong.
However, these women still bears a great burden of oppression under the patriarchal system which is very much influenced by the traditional Chinese thought. It is harder for women who are highly educated, in a high positioned or a high salaried job, to get married. Traditionally, people think that women should be quiet, untalented and obedient. Many men are fearful that their wives would be more talented or educated than they are. Many people like to put a label on these highly educated and talented women as “single and abnormal”—without the happiness of a marriage or they lack ‘normal love’ in their life.
There are many sliming clinic advertisements in Hong Kong. The pictures of a lady with a slender figure and wearing scanty clothes are often portrayed in television, newspaper and magazine. It carries a message that only those who are slim and sexy are beautiful, and being fat is the worse fate one could ever has. This message deeply influences and affects many parents in Hong Kong. Some parents would always force their daughters to lose weight, especially for the adolescents. They fear that their daughters will be fat in adulthood and thus could not get married in the future. There is also a malicious remark for women who are over-weight; they are often being teased as “pork chops”.
Moreover, film and television programmes in Hong Kong often feature women’s body as the main content of the programme. The camera would only focus on the women’s hips, buttocks and chest. The media tends to use women’s body or their sexuality to excite and entertain audiences. Also, local magazine and newspapers in Hong Kong like using women’s body as their selling point. Flipping through the magazines or newspapers one could always find semi-naked women or women posing sexily being put on the front pages. The local newspapers in Hong Kong always sensationalise stories about domestic violence or sexual harassment of women and these stories usually appear on their front pages, focusing only on the process of rape and violence. However, these newspapers do not aim at raising public awareness or concern about women who had suffered, but just using women’s suffering as an excitement or attraction for the readers.
From the above, we can see there is lot of media violence in Hong Kong which commercialises on women’s bodies. They stereotype women as sexual objects for entertainment or propaganda. This totally distorts the image of women or devalues women’s body and as a result women are despised and mis-perceived.
As Hong Kong’s relationship with Mainland China is getting closer, many people especially the men take up jobs or shift their businesses from Hong Kong to Mainland China, leaving their wives and children in Hong Kong. Many a time, many of the men would find another woman in Mainland China. As a result, there are many cases of extra-marital affairs due to this factor. In fact, it is quite difficult for a woman to ask for a divorce even if she wants as the whole family is under the husband’s control. If the woman leaves her husband, she would lose all economic support from the husband. Therefore, these women are forced to remain silent from the unhappy marriages.
Hence, in Hong Kong, oppressions of women always occur. Although the oppressions may not be obviously or consciously identified, they are exercised on women all the time at different levels.
Featuring news on a possible HK$500 tax levy to be imposed onto the Foreign Domestic Helpers in Hong Kong. The Asian Migrants Coordinating Body (AMCB) and the Mission for Filipino Migrant Workers (Hong Kong) Society, two NGOs based in Hong Kong which are protesting against this possible levy imposition, put this information together.
The latest news we received is that the Hong Kong government plans to slash wages of the Foreign Domestic Helpers and levy their employers to generate additional revenues to curb the ballooning budget deficit of Hong Kong. Under their proposal, the employers will be taxed HK$9,600 (USD1,232) for a standard 2-year contract with the Foreign Domestic Helpers but the Helpers will practically pay this off via a HK$400 (USD52) monthly cut to their wages (monthly salary of HK$3,670 [US$471]). This means the Foreign Domestic Helpers would only receive HK$3270 (US$420) per month for a 16 to 18 hour job per day, six days a week, that involves cooking, cleaning, taking care of children or elderly that includes fletching the children to and from schools, buying groceries, washing etc.
Last year, it was for a 20% wage cut. Now, it is a levy. Since 1998, various measures by the Hong Kong government to force migrants to “share the burden” of the worldwide economic crisis were proposed and implemented. For the past three years, the annual wage reviews have increasingly become a dreaded event for the Foreign Domestic Helpers for it has always been about seeking ways to cut our wages and never for an increase.
When will these attacks cease?
The recent proposals to impose a levy on Foreign Domestic Helpers are unjust, exploitative and discriminatory. With their shortcomings to the people and workers, political parties within the Hong Kong government take cover in slandering the vulnerable migrants.
Through social conditioning and anti-migrant smear campaigns, the Hong Kong government and the political parties behind them hope to make the levy proposal acceptable. Taxing the Foreign Domestic Helpers is surely a quick way of easing the Hong Kong budget deficit without cost to big businesses and affluent sectors.
Migrant workers do not have too much of anything. What we receive that are aplenty are attacks to our rights, malicious depiction of our situation, unjust demonising of our sector, and deprivation of our livelihood.
They say that Foreign Domestic Helpers are getting rich.
What do they do not say is that Foreign Domestic Helpers are already one of the lowest paid workers in Hong Kong. The Minimum Allowable Wage that is way below the legally taxable income is not even enough to cover our needs in Hong Kong and that of our family’s back home. In fact, only 34% of our wages are sent to our families while the rest are spent for our financial needs in Hong Kong. If we are indeed getting rich, then how come we remain here to work as domestic helpers?
They say that the presence of migrants has caused the unemployment of local workers. Moreover, they say that we are job stealers.
What they do not say is that it is the massive layoff of workers of businesses in the telecommunications, airlines, restaurants, and other industries that is to blame for the ballooning of unemployment in Hong Kong. Even civil servants have been rendered jobless by the Hong Kong government itself.
It is a wonder that migrants who spend the major part of their income to patronise Hong Kong businesses that corner millions of dollars of profit are still the ones accused of job loss for the local workers.
Moreover, the Hong Kong government has admitted that 500,000 households in Hong Kong have needs for domestic helpers. What are the jobs then that we are stealing?
As in the past, this ploy is being used to drive a wedge between the migrants and local workers. Now, they are blatantly trying to get the confidence of the locals, especially of local domestic helpers, through the promise of subsidy and retraining from the income that the levy will generate.
Local and foreign domestics alike suffer from low wages. We shall not allow ourselves to be made as an excuse for the inadequacy of the Hong Kong government to comprehensively address the concerns of our local counterparts.
They say that we must share the burden of the hardships that Hong Kong is currently experiencing.
The self-righteous proponents of the levy have said that they themselves are prepared to contribute part of their income for economic recovery. For the peanuts that they give, they are now asking the Foreign Domestic Helpers to sacrifice a bowlful of rice for our families.
What they do not say is that Foreign Domestic Helpers have been burdened enough. For years, since the economic crisis that swept the Asia-Pacific region reached Hong Kong, migrant workers especially the Foreign Domestic Helpers have been at the receiving end of relentless assaults of the Hong Kong government to our rights and welfare. Much ado about our wages and our jobs has been raised in order to justify anti-migrant proposals and policies.
We have suffered enough and this has got to stop.
The Asian Migrants Coordinating Body (AMCB) demands that the levy proposals be dropped immediately. Such an unjust proposal can only come from a mind that wishes to take modern slavery to the hilt.
We demand that the Hong Kong government, for once, act on what is just and what is right. What is just is that migrant workers, as a marginalised sector, must be spared from further ordeals. What is right is for the Hong Kong government to take decisive action in protecting the rights of the local workers and seriously take its responsibility for their well being.
We call on to the local working community to be vigilant in attempts to weaken and divide our ranks. Our livelihood is a worker’s struggle.
We may not have too much of anything. What we have is the unity and will to carry on the fight for our rights and for the survival of our families.
How much is HK$3,670 (US$471)? Contrary to the rosy picture that some political parties in Hong Kong paint about the life of migrant workers, reality has proven otherwise.
In response to the threat of imposing a tax in the form of levy to Foreign Domestic Helpers (FDH) in Hong Kong, the Mission for Filipino Migrant Workers (MFMW), Hong Kong Society conducted a survey to determine the expenses of FDH vis-a-vis the wages they receive. In particular, the Mission tried to look into the remittances of FDH that are being used by the levy proponents to justify their claims that migrant workers are having the easiest time amidst the present economic crunch.
Ninety-six percent of the respondents belong to the wage group that earns HK$3,670 to HK$4,119. The data gathered have shown that remittances for the needs of their families and savings only constitute 27% and 7% respectively of their salary.
The average monthly remittance of FDH is HK$1,287.31 which translates to only HK$42.91 per day. In the case of Filipino migrant workers this is equivalent to Philippine Peso (PhP)278.92. However, the daily cost of living in the Philippines according to official government data is PhP424.67. Thus, every month, Filipino migrants have a minimum deficit of 4,670 pesos or HK$719, to ensure that their families survive.
This does not even consider the fact that the Philippine government’s data is ridiculously low compared to the estimates of independent research groups.
While the rest of wages are eaten up by the Hong Kong economy, their families, who are the main reason for their migration abroad, continue to struggle to make ends meet.
The survey conducted has also shown the following:
Clearly, the claims that migrant workers live in a bed of roses is baseless, unjust and only aim to further decimate the chance of migrant’s families to survive. The belief that HK$750 or even HK$500 off the salary of the FDH will not have an adverse impact to their livelihood goes beyond cruelty to barbarism.
In fact, it is a death sentence to migrant workers and to their families!
Proponents of the levy on migrant workers must cease from their unwarranted attacks to the livelihood of FDH. We urge them and the Hong Kong government as well, instead, to look for ways that shall ease up the situation of the Hong Kong people, including the migrant workers, without sacrificing the lot of the already marginalised sector in Hong Kong.
Migrant workers and their families are already in a dire economic situation. They must be spared from more ordeals that a wage cut, be it levy or any form of taxation, shall surely bring.
*The two tables are compiled by The Mission for Filipino Migrant Workers
Asian Migrants Coordinating Body (AMCB)
Association of Sri Lankans in Hong Kong (ASL-HK)
Asosiasi Tenaga Kerja Indonesia - Hong Kong (ATKI-HK)
(Association of Indonesian Migrant Workers)
Far-East Overseas Nepalese Association - Hong Kong (FEONA-HK)
Friends of Thai - Hong Kong (FOT-HK)
United Filipinos in Hong Kong (UNIFIL-HK)
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