We will soon be approaching a new year. It is definitely a new year and not another year. A new year brings new hope in our lives. Perhaps 2004 has not been altogether a fantastic year for many of us or the world. We witnessed more conflicts, wars, people’s struggles and we ask ourselves when are all these stopping? Have human beings lost or forgotten our wisdom—the wisdom to discern the close connection that human beings have with each other, with the eco-system, and with the whole cosmic universe?
WSCF AP closes the old year with 2 important programmes, Student Empowerment for Transformation and the Asian Student and Youth Gathering. Both of these programmes studied on the issues of peace and justpeace education as an alternative form of higher education for the SCMers. It is hoped that the studies on peace and justpeace would herald a sense of wisdom—the wisdom that human beings need to recall to restore the abundance and dignity of Life. But definitely these 2 programmes will not be a closure as the year ends, the seeds of wisdom that have been planted into the students and youth will find a way to bloom in the coming years, and that is why we start a new year with new hopes.
WSCF AP wishes all our friends of Praxis a meaningful year in 2005, a year where we would work hard to harvest our new hopes.
Wong Yock Leng
Regional Women’s Coordinator
by Max Ediger
Max is a long-time activist in Asia working with several communities who are struggling for justice and peace. He helped developed the Centre for Justpeace in Asia based in the Documentation for Action Groups in Asia (DAGA) in Hong Kong. This paper was presented in the Student Empowerment for Transformation (SET) held on 1-7 December 2004 in Jakarta, Indonesia. For more information on the Center for Justpeace, please contact http://daga.dhs.org/justpeace
As the theme of this session suggests, we will be focusing on alternative education as a means of addressing conflicts that plague our societies. To effectively discuss this theme we need to take a brief look at how we understand and define what education is. First, perhaps, we can agree on what education is not. Education is not simply about going to classrooms, listening to lectures, taking notes, reading some books and being tested. These are activities that may assist in the process of receiving education, but they do not truly constitute education.
Education is a process that involves, among other things, the following:
How effectively we utilises these processes is influenced by several things.
In reality, education is a life-long process of gathering information and experiences, reflecting deeply on what we have learned and seen, and then seeking the most productive way of using that knowledge and experience to benefit ourselves and the world in which we live. This process is important as we seek a deeper understanding of the conflicts swirling around us and develop strategies that can bring about the kind of structural transformation that can result in a true and lasting peace.
Many conflicts exist in Asia today. They range from border wars between neighboring nations to internal civil conflicts. Large or small, they bring great suffering on the people, especially the marginalized. Some of these conflicts include:
These are just some of the conflicts we live with that cry out for our attention. Without striving to identify the root causes of these conflicts as well as the outside forces that have a strong influence on them, we cannot hope to effectively address them and move toward a time of harmony and cooperation.
Let us look briefly at some of the global factors that have a significant influence on the
Since the end of the Cold War, US military planners have increasingly been talking about establishing a semi-permanent or permanent US military presence along an “arc of instability” that runs from the Caribbean Basin through Africa to South and Central Asia and across to North Korea. This arc of instability corresponds very closely to regions of great oil, gas and mineral wealth. Further momentum was given to this policy following the attacks of 9/11 and the resulting “War on Terror.”
Presently the United States has a military presence in about 135 out of the world’s 192 independent countries. In some cases this is a small presence with military personnel active in US embassies or maintaining small intelligence units. In almost 60 countries, there are military bases, some of which are huge in size. To ensure that these bases can continue to operate without interference, the US often offers protection to repressive regimes despite opposition from local democratic movements. This will obviously result in growing resistance from these democratic movements to both their own repressive regime as well as the US presence which hinders their movement toward democracy and freedom.
To counter this growing resistance, the US places much emphasis on expanding its military power and in helping sympathetic regimes also build up their own militaries. Presently the world is spending over US$2.1 billion every day on defense. More than 50% of that is spend solely by the US. This is money taken away from budgets needed to solve global problems of hunger, poor health, poor education, lack of clean water and sanitation, poor housing, etc. Security issues could perhaps be better dealt with by funneling a large percent of this money into helping people lead healthier lives.
According to statistics provided by the United Nations, the amount of money used by the world for defense in six days would be enough to provide for global sanitation and food needs for one year. Global education needs could be met by only spending the amount of money the world spends on defense in three days. In other words, there is sufficient resources to solve global problems, but a large portion of these resources are being diverted to militarising our globe. Ironically, the more money put into defense, the more insecure the world becomes, and the great the conflicts we must all live with.
Globalisation is simply the ability for goods, services, information etc. to flow around the world more freely and cheaply. It can have both good and bad results, depending on who controls it. Presently the World Trade Organization (WTO) is setting the rules for global trade and that means that those countries with the most political and economic power can set rules which help them benefit the most. Taking down trade barriers does not mean that there is a level playing field for all participants. In truth, since the establishment of the WTO, the gap between the rich and the poor has increased. A UN Human Development Report states that the richest 20% of the world’s population consume at least 86% of all goods and services while the poorest 20% consume just 1.3%. This gap has been growing despite the WTO.
Again, the problem is not about a lack of resources, but rather there is a serious problem of distribution. While a budget of US$6 billion is needed to insure that every child in the world could have access to a good education, the people of Europe spend US$11 billion on ice cream. Basic health and nutrition for everyone in the world would cost only US$13 billion while people in the United States and Europe spend US$17 billion on pet foods.
This unequal distribution and use of the world’s finite resources plays a significant role in regional and global conflicts. Until and unless this issue is address courageously and creatively, conflicts will continue to erupt throughout the region.
Fundamentalism is generally defined as conservative religious authoritarianism in all faiths. It is marked by a literal interpretation of scriptures and favors a strict adherence to traditional doctrines and practices.
Fundamentalism results in a very polarized view of the world—either you are with me or you are against me. Religious fundamentalism becomes a seriously divisive issue as those who are most out-spoken claim to have the final work on what is right in God’s sight and what is wrong. They claim to have the right to judge others and to demand that their view be accepted and followed. Anyone of a different faith is wrong, and anyone of the same faith who holds a different view is considered suspect.
Christian fundamentalism is on the rise, especially in the United States. Christian fundamentalists are narrowly defining what represents true Christian moral values and how those values must be lived out. While this is perhaps a local American issue, it has serious implications for those of us in other parts of the world. As the world’s only super power, and as a “Christian” nation, the United States is the face of Christianity to much of the world. They will influence the way others view both the Christian faith and Christian communities. Misunderstandings are bound to develop and this could well result in growing religious tensions and conflicts in Asia.
To develop an alternative education system that will equip youth with the skills and knowledge needed to confront the growing violence in our region, it may be necessary to do some work outside the normal education institutions. That does not mean that these institutions should be avoided, or that they are not effective and useful. It does, however, suggest that presently these institutions tend to work more to protect and preserve the status quo rather than push for social, economic, political and ideological transformation within our societies.
We can develop alternatives to the present education systems while still studying within those systems. This can be done by organising study groups which meet outside the classrooms and which provide more information to help understand the root causes of conflicts and the global factors that influence those conflicts. Such an alternative education process should have:
by Dr. Roger Gaikwad
Roger has just been elected as chairperson of WSCF AP for 2004-2006. Also the current chairperson of SCM India, Roger hails from Kolkata and has been active in the SCM since the age of 10! This paper was written in the form of a manual to encourage a participatory approach in the bible study process.
An A4 size sheet of blank paper to be given to each person, also a sketch-pen or ball-pen or any other suitable writing/drawing instrument may need to be given. Each person must also have his/her own bible.
There should be a chief coordinator for this study. Each person must be asked to draw a picture of peace. It is ideal that the Coordinator does not give any clue to the people. The Coordinator should tell them, “Simply draw whatever idea or picture which comes to your mind when you think of the word ‘peace’.” The participants should be encouraged to be original and creative in their thinking. The emphasis should not be on the artistic skill of the people. Rather it should be on the thought or idea of peace which each person seeks to communicate through his/her picture or symbol, etc. A fixed period of time must be given to the participants for drawing their idea or picture of peace.
There are different ways by which the Coordinator could begin the bible study. If the number of participants is small, then he/she could subdivide them into groups according to the similarity of the pictures drawn. If the number of participants is large, then it might take too much time in making them sit in groups according to the similarity of their drawings. The Coordinator could then go round making a quick survey of the different subjects featured in the drawings, or he/she could ask, “Have any of you drawn a picture of a dove or a bird? Please raise your hands.” The persons could then be asked to stand up, hold their drawings high and show them to the other people present. Once the grouping or exhibiting of the drawings is done, then the Coordinator could start a discussion and biblical reflection on them.
The Coordinator should ask the persons concerned, “What message does your drawing seek to convey?” The Coordinator should be prepared to receive different answers. He/She should then say, “Let us see what meaning the symbolism of the dove with the twig has in the bible.”
“Let us turn to Genesis 8:6-12. This passage narrates the episode of Noah sending out a raven and then a dove from his ark after the flood. In its first flight the dove flies around and returns to the ark. In its second flight the dove comes back with a freshly plucked olive leaf in its mouth.
“The symbolism of the dove in the bible gives us significant insights. The moaning of the dove is compared to the moaning of those who suffer from calamities, injustice, etc. Let us turn to Isaiah 38:14[Somebody may be asked to read it] ‘Like a swallow or a crane I clamor, I moan like a dove. My eyes are weary with looking upward. O Lord, I am oppressed; be thou my security!’ So also let us look at Isaiah 59:11[Expect somebody to read it] ‘We all growl like bears, we moan and moan like doves; we look for justice, but there is none; for salvation, but it is far from us.’
“The dove is not only a symbol of human suffering; it is also associated with hope, especially when it is pictured with an olive leaf in its mouth. In early Mesopotamian art, the olive is occasionally depicted as the ‘Tree of Life’. We are all aware of the symbolism of the tree of life in Gen. 2:9; 3:22, 24. The tree of life belongs to that category of objects which have the power of bestowing eternal life, such as life-giving plants, water and fruits. The importance of the olive tree to the whole Mediterranean area from very early times is witnessed by numerous references to it in ancient literature. Use of the tree and its fruit for food, fuel, light, carpentry, ointments, medicines, etc., touched almost every phase of daily life. Therefore the symbolism of the dove with the olive leaf in its mouth is very significant. It indicates the hope of reconstruction in the midst of destruction. It stands for the joyful promise of life when one is grieved by death. In Rev. 22:1-2 while there is no mention of a dove, we do find mention of the tree of life. This tree of life bears twelve kinds of fruit and its leaves are meant for the healing of the nations.
“So then what is the peace which the dove, or any other bird, with a twig in its mouth signifies? It is neither some romantic ideal of serenity nor some proposal of compromise or of temporary truce, but the vision of healing, reconstruction and growth.”
Once again the Coordinator should ask the persons concerned, “What message does your drawing seek to convey?” In general however people might say that shaking hands, greeting, or embracing signifies forgiveness, reconciliation, and goodwill. The Coordinator should then say, “The practice of shaking hands may not be found in the bible, but one comes across instances of embracing and kissing as a mark of forgiveness and reconciliation. Let us look at Genesis 32:6-8; 33:1-4. [Expect someone to read the verses]
“Why was Jacob afraid of meeting Esau? [Some person might give an answer] Yes, there are two important reasons. The first is that Jacob had cheated Esau of his birth-right (Gen.25:29-34). The second is that Jacob had cheated Esau of the paternal blessing (Gen.27:32-36). Esau was therefore determined to kill him (Gen.27:41).Jacob had then fled from Esau, and now after several years they were going to meet face to face. Jacob was restless. Would his brother ever forgive him or would Esau take just revenge for all the injustice Jacob had done to him? Even at this moment there was no spirit of repentance on Jacob’s part. He still selfishly planned to escape. [Somebody may be expected to read Gen. 32:7-8].
“But see the gracious forgiving spirit of Esau. He runs to meet Jacob, embraces him, falls on his neck and kisses him. Overcome by all that was happening, they both wept. Did Esau forgive Jacob for all the wrongs done to him by his brother? Yes, Esau forgave him. Not only forgiveness, but the memories of the bitter experiences of the past were forgotten. Furthermore, Esau was willing to grant all manner of help to Jacob on the journey ahead. It is like you not only forgive a thief (who has already stolen your goods) but also offer him some money as the thief goes on his way home. Did Jacob really repent? One hopes that he did so.
“What is the meaning of peace in this episode? [Expect people to respond] Yes, peace involves reconciliation among human beings. It is the breaking down of walls or barriers that have separated people. It expresses the spirit of forgiving the wrong done and forgetting all the bitterness associated with it. In some cases, if possible, the person who has committed the wrong will make appropriate restitution. Furthermore peace implies the cultivation of a bond of goodwill among persons as they together face the present and the future. However if the Jacobs do not sincerely repent, will the peace offered by the gracious Esaus really be effective? [Expect differing views. Be prepared to give responsible comments]
“The Cross of Jesus Christ is a very special symbol of forgiveness and reconciliation. Through the cross, God reconciles all creation—which had been separated from God because of human sinfulness—to God’s own self. This is how Paul interprets the cross in Colossians 1:19-20. [The passage should be read] Rom. 5:6-11 offers an elaborate commentary on the significance of the reconciling cross. [This passage should then be read]. Unrighteous human beings can be reconciled to the righteous God only when the barrier of human unrighteousness is removed. This is what the cross signifies. Moreover the cross of Christ also facilitates reconciliation among estranged human beings. Paul once again provides an elaborate interpretation in Ephesians 2:13-16. [Expect somebody to read the text].How do you look at the significance of the cross of Jesus Christ?[Encourage the participants to share their perspectives/experiences]. Yes the cross is a special symbol for most of us of forgiveness, reconciliation, and a new communitarian way of living as the Ephesians passage emphasizes. We should not limit the cross to only individual peace with God.
Once again the Coordinator should ask the persons concerned, “What message does your drawing seek to convey?” The Coordinator should be prepared to receive different answers. In general, participants may say that the picture depicts harmony in nature or in the universe. All of creation shares in the joy of being inter-related or integrated with one another. The bliss of this co-related togetherness is called peace.
Pictures of such natural harmony are also found in the bible. For example, let us look at Gen. 2:8-10, 15. [Ask somebody to read it]. Here, as we all are aware, mention is made of the Garden of Eden. The name Eden seems to be connected to the ancient Akkadian word “edinu” meaning a flat green place, an alluvial plain, etc. Its Persian parallel is Paradise.
In the Old Testament, Eden, the garden of God is proverbial as a place of fertility and beauty. Look at Is. 51:3 and Joel 2:3. It is a place of pleasure. One Hebrew connotation of the word Eden makes it a garden of delight. Eden symbolises the state of unbroken fellowship between God, human beings and the rest of creation. The joy of the Edenic life depends very much on the principle of conformity of all creation, including human beings, to the laws or principles of the creator. Wherever such integrated harmony exists, there is peace.
This is precisely what is implied in God’s assessment of the creative process in Genesis Chapter One where it is repeatedly mentioned, “And God saw that it was good”. [See verses 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31]. Peace involves order and harmony in the cosmos. But then what sort of an order and harmony is the bible talking about? Within such a framework, each creature is given the space and opportunity to express its essential characteristics or uniqueness. It is a harmony of diversity. It is a harmony which preserves and facilitates life. However when human beings fail to fulfill their responsibility of stewardship of creation then there is chaos, and so no peace. What are some of the examples or instances of human irresponsibility in relation to nature? [Encourage people to share information and experiences]. It is because of our failure in attending to nature responsibly that Paul writes something about the longing of all creation in Rom. 8: 19-21 [Expect somebody to read it].
Among the images of the ideal future, in the bible, we have a picture of all nature living in harmony. Would somebody read Isaiah 11:6-9? Here the spirit of harmony is heightened to the extent that what is considered impossible in the normal course of nature is now presented as a reality. Earthly opposites are now posited together: the wolf dwelling with the lamb, the leopard lying with the kid, the calf resting beside the lion, and so on. If you are familiar with Phantom comic stories, then you would recall the picturisation of Eden as being exactly such a place. What do you think Is. 11:6-9 is trying to say? [Encourage people to share their views]. To me this passage totally eradicates the thought and practice of violence from nature’s view and way of life. One expression of this we find in Isaiah 65:25 [Let the passage be read]. It is the height of peace on earth.
As on previous occasions the Coordinator will ask the participants, “What message do your drawings seek to convey?” The answers of the people will emphasize the following points: violence cannot be justified as the proper means to achieve an end; violence smacks of the contemptible principle, ‘Might is right’; violence spells destruction, breeds hatred and counter-violence; violence disrespects the sanctity of life; God has called us to practice love and cultivate peace in society. The Coordinator should commend the participants for their insights. He/She should then go on to say, “Can we recall any verses from the Bible that do not approve of violence?” [The Coordinator should be ready to receive different verses from the participants]
The Coordinator goes on to say, “Yes, there are several verses which denounce violence such as Exodus 20: 13 or Deut. 5:17 [In case the verse has not been quoted by the participants, then get it read]. Paul encourages people to live peaceably with others in Rom. 12:14-21 [The passage may be read out if it was done so before]. Jesus also repudiates violence in Matt. 26:51-53 [If necessary, the passage may be read out]. We need to remind ourselves that violence is not merely the exertion of physical harm on the body of a person. Violence can also have verbal and mental expressions. Let us see what Jesus says in Matt. 5:21-22,27-28 [The passage may be read out]. A system or a structure can also be violent. For instance, let us try to understand the reason of Jesus’ action of the cleansing of the Temple in Matt. 21:12-13 or of Jesus’ criticism of the Jewish law of divorce in Matt.19:3-9. Here we find indications of the violence of the patriarchal system and of religious structures and practices [Discuss the issues]
However is there anything such as ‘justified violence’ or a ‘just war’? [Here the Coordinator may expect differences in opinion] Here one must be clear about what we mean by violence. Violence as the deliberate use of any kind of force to attain selfish ends at the cost of the dignity and well-being of others cannot be justified. So also a distinction needs to be made between the use of violence and the use of disciplinary methods or acts of self-defense. It is the violence which arises out of selfishness, jealousy, hatred, pride, communalism, and unjust socio-economic, scientific-technological, religio-cultural and political systems that the bible condemns.
“Therefore the bible presents us images of people doing away with weapons of destruction and transforming them into instruments of constructive use. Let us look [Add if necessary, “As was mentioned earlier by one of our friends”] at Isaiah 2:4 [The passage may be read out]. We have a similar passage in Micah 4:3. In fact Micah goes on to give a beautiful image of consequent peaceful living in the society in verse 4. [Expect the passage to be read] What implications do such verses have for us in the context of the manufacturing of nuclear, chemical and other weapons? [Encourage people to share]
Once again the Coordinator should ask the persons concerned, “What message does your drawing seek to convey?” In general the participants may say: Peace is the absence of fear; Peace is the provision of basic necessities of food, clothing and shelter to all people; Peace is the enjoyment of good health by all; Peace is the enjoyment of good health by all; Peace is the availability of dignified employment for all; Peace is the operation of an economic system of justice and holistic growth. The Coordinator should then ask, “Can you quote any biblical references which give us such messages of peace?” [Note down what the participants say and then systematically outline them adding passages which others might not have mentioned]
The Coordinator then says, “Let us begin by reading Psalm 128 [After the whole psalm is read].Though this psalm is written from a patriarchal perspective, it gives us a beautiful picture of peace in the family and indirectly in the society. God-fearing people enjoy a sense of security in life. There seems to be law, order and justice in the society. People enjoy the fruit of their labour. Their family lives are also blessed. Yet another picture of peaceful bliss we find in Psalm 144: 12-15 [Somebody may be asked to read the verses] The blessings of children who grow up to be healthy, beautiful and useful youth in society, of abundant harvest, of healthy and plentiful cattle, and of no sign of distress in the streets implies not simply miraculous blessings from above, but also a good, wise and just system of administration in the society. We need to note that peace is not some inner emotion of happiness of an individual; rather it is a corporate experience which arises from a structure of justice and wholesome growth which operates in a God-respecting community. Jesus very clearly understood peace (as symbolised by the Jubilee Year tradition in Leviticus 25) as the fruit of liberative movements and reforms in society. Let us read Luke 4:18-19 [The passage must be read].
The vision of justice, liberation, growth, and all-round happiness as constitutive of peace we also find in Isaiah 65:17-23 [Somebody reads]. It is also found in a shorter form in Rev.21:1-4 [The passage be read]. Another related visionary passage is Ezekiel 34:25-31 [Expect somebody to read]. In the light of these three passages what would be our vision of peace in the context of our contemporary challenges? [Encourage people to share].
The Coordinator may expect the participants to give some of the following interpretations: Peace is the courage to stand for what is true and just even in the context of hostile opposition; Peace is a life-long commitment, with no regrets, to be of helpful service to others even though one is constantly pricked by aggressive elements; Peace is the power to face martyrdom for the sake of a noble cause. Having received the interpretations of their drawings, the Coordinator then asks, “What bible verses or passages can we recall which fit in with our interpretations?” [After noting down what the participants say, the Coordinator may go on to highlight some of the important passages]
“Let us begin by looking at Psalm 4. [Somebody may be asked to read it] This is a psalm of confidence expressed by a person who is facing hostile circumstances. Since it is ascribed to David and since it follows Psalm 3 which is captioned ‘A Psalm of David, when he fled from Absalom his son’, Psalm 4 could be said to express David’s confidence in God as he suffered opposition and humiliation. Even if it is not connected to the previous psalm, Psalm 4 could well be understood as the defense of a high official (king or high priest) against charges that he had abused his office. Others consider this psalm to be a God-trusting person’s reproof of those who have been led to apostasy because of a succession of bad harvests. In general we may say that Psalm 4 is an exhortation of a person of faith to those who have been disheartened by hard times.
Notice how God is described in the first verse. God is said to be ‘God of my right’ or ‘my just God’. What does this mean? [Expect some responses] Yes, God is declared to be the vindicator of the cause of those who are suffering unjust opposition and oppression. In the first verse itself, the psalmist describes God as “creating room” for him (the psalmist is most probably male). This is a beautiful expression for God’s salvation: giving space and freedom to those who are bound. The psalmist has experienced God’s saving intervention in the past, and so this is the basis of his confidence as faces new challenges. In verse 6, the psalmist observes that his enemies or oppressors do not trust God and therefore fret and whine whenever things do not go the way they want them to be. But the fellowship which the psalmist has with God gives him greater joy than what his enemies would derive from the worldly things they covet. This is what he says in verse 7. Moreover, in verse 8 he says that even though he is surrounded by trials and tribulations he will lie down and sleep in peace. He trusts in God’s protection. Note carefully here that peace is not merely an emotional feeling. It arises out of a relationship with God; it gives a person the conviction of the justness of his/her cause. Also note that peace does not mean the absence of problems; rather peace is the maturity with which you face your problems.
Let us look at Psalm 23:4-5[Expect somebody to read].What is the basis of one’s peace as he/she walks through the valley of the shadow of death or if he/she is besieged by the enemy? [Expect people to answer] Yes, it is one’s relationship with God whom the psalmist describes as Shepherd in verse 4 and as Host in verse 5. Here again let me reiterate that a person facing certain challenges of life may experience excruciating pain and he/she may find it difficult to bear it, yet the suffering does not lead one to compromise one’s stand nor does one lose one’s trust in God. Can you recall a person in the gospels in whose life we see this happening? Yes, in the experience of Jesus, particularly on the cross. Somebody read Matt. 27:45-50. Somebody else read John 19:28-30. Where does Paul in his writings give expression to this kind of peace? Let us read Rom.8:28, 31-39. [If time permits and if the participants are enthusiastic, then the Coordinator may encourage people to share some thoughts or comments at this point]
The Coordinator has to be ready to bring in biblical insights from other drawings not discussed in this study. For example, the picture of hands raised in benediction. [For this image refer to Numbers 6:22-26, John 14:27 and Luke 24:50-53]. It is not that one can always come up with related scripture verses for all the drawings. So also it does not mean that the Coordinator should have encyclopaedic knowledge of the bible. He/She can always draw out biblical insights from the participants themselves.
Well, we have looked at the drawings and tried to see biblical messages on the meaning of peace. In the light of all that we have seen and discussed, what would you say is peace? [Encourage the people to have a comprehensive yet contextually relevant understanding of peace]
In August 2004, there was a statement issued by the Vatican in Rome that expressed its definition on the role of women in the society. Subtlely, it was also expressing some sort of weariness on the term Feminism has created in the society that the Vatican perceived as ‘divisive’. Perhaps the Vatican has been misinformed on the meaning of Feminism or perhaps there is more need to truefully reflect on the structures of domination and the imbalance of power relations that are still surrounding us?
A group of young women from different Christian NGOs in Hong Kong came together, in light of the statement issued by the Vatican, for a discussion on the role of a woman as defined in the statement. Some women came with frustrations as they questioned whose authority it is to defined the role of a woman, some women came with an enquiring mind hoping to have a deeper understanding on what is the role of a woman, and some women came with a short write-up on how they feel being a woman in this society.
Here is one of the short write-ups by Teresa who works for a catholic organisation in Hong Kong (the simplified version of the write-up was first published in Chinese in Kung Kao Pao, the newsletter of the Catholic Church in Hong Kong. Translation into English was done by Teresa and the Editorial Team of Praxis).
Human beings have their own dignity, but most of the time, the dignity of women is another story. I will share here the ordinary experiences and myself and other women in this important human issue. I hope more people will care about the dignity of women.
Although God has created me as a female, I disliked myself for being a girl when I was young, because I saw the privileges and love that my elder brother enjoyed from my family. None of us, myself and my younger sisters, could ever enjoy them. Before his death, my maternal grandfather would only take my elder brother to the restaurant. My elder brother shared relatively little responsibility on household chores. During our younger days, he had the priority over me in everything. Till now, my brother does not need to do anything but get much more love and affection from our family and relatives. Theoretically, women should have inheritance rights but, in my father’s mind, the ‘ancestral house’ will eventually be given to my brother. As a small girl, I had thought that if I were to study hard, I would get the love and attention from my parents and to receive the privileges similar to those of my brother’s. But then I realised things were not as simple as what I thought to be, rights and privileges enjoyed by the eldest son and grandson did not come to me so easily. I was hopeless and began to realise something was wrong and had expressed my query and protest. That only brought cold shoulders and answers and I was even being criticized of being petty. I resented having been born in such a family.
I do not know if this is a great luck amidst misfortune: my mother encouraged me to acquire different skills and knowledge and participate in various extra-curricular activities because of her being the eldest daughter led to the obligation of supporting the family and excused her from completing secondary education though she was capable. Her younger brothers were sent overseas for college education. Therefore, my mother was a person who cherishes all the learning opportunities and often reads books. After getting married, she had to give up the notion of continual learning because she had to help with the family’s income and family caring responsibilities. She felt regretful and powerless over this.
When I grew up, I begin to realise that my mother’s fate concurred with the economic boom in Hong Kong in the late 1970s and early 1980s was also a reflection of many women then. Since the era of the 1990s, the sweeping economic reforms made by Mainland China brought women no job security as majority of the factories in Hong Kong began to move into Mainland China.. While factories have moved northward, many men and husbands also begin to move northward, and most of them begin the fashion of keeping lovers in Mainland China that have brought on failed marriages. No matter how many years of hard work for the society and their own families, many women have lost their jobs and marriages. Women with failed marriages have a lot of difficulties to look for other jobs for the reason that they had stopped their work to look after the family full-time, hence they are considered as lacking in work experience. Those who have no choice but to resort to social securities have been accused by the community of being lazy and useless. The society always calls for women to sacrifice for the family, to be carers of the family as it is in their ‘nature’, but when difficulties happen, the society is the first one to turn women away.
Women of my mother’s generation used to lament: “oh the fate of women is real bitter!” (a Cantonese exclamation for a hard life). But I question on the kind of life that women experience because of their gender. Is this ‘misfortune’ unchangeable or is this the weakness of the human race? If the age-old Chinese traditional saying: “Superiority in Man, Inferiority in Woman” that promotes inequality does not exist, perhaps men will not have the privilege to dump their own wives and families mercilessly, and yet experience less social pressure for doing so?
While I pointed out the unequal relations between women and men, I do not mean to portray all men to be in a negative light and all women in a positive light. There are undoubtedly men whom I know that do respect the significance of women and women who oppress other women. Women are not the only victims. I hope to highlight the inequalities between women and men that violate the very dignity of both genders. The unequal relationship has a backdrop of pain, tears and struggles of women that needs concern and understanding. The dream to achieve gender equality is not a mere empty dream but needs to be transformed into a concrete action starting from the women’s consciousness of their own experience of oppressions, to men’s consciousness of their un-questioned rights and privileges.
In fact, many women share similarities with me in acknowledging the importance of equal rights to education because it is an instrument or condition to become independent. Yet, a full realisation of equal dignity of women with men and of the capacity for independence demands for all other rights to be enjoyed by women as by men, such as right to employment, right to social participation, freedom of mobility and freedom of thought. Today, women can enjoy some basic human rights. This is to the credit of those seniors who had struggled hard for equal rights, of feminism and feminist movement which make efforts for gender justice.
Recently, the Vatican has made a statement on the role of the woman and the importance of women and men in collaboration. The statement confirms the dignity of women in line with the previous stance. In view of the current situation of gender inequality, this deserves appreciation. However, I find that the statement is full of fear towards the struggles of Feminism. The statement recognises women’s right to equal job, participation in society and uptake of leadership positions, aid to working women in fulfilling family and job burdens, the need to eliminate gender discrimination. These are the same struggles of Feminism. However, the statement fears that some Feminisms have over-emphasised on the disadvantaged or subordinate position of women which could lead to strong opposition between women and men and this eventually collapses the family system.
Such fear seems to be a failure to understand or respond to the relationship of violations to women’s human rights and to the unequal powers between women and men. Changing the power relations between women and men would definitely question men’s privileges and rights and leads to building a new relationship, (definitely not aiming at opposition), will these pit women against men? Once I had a discussion with some women who have been in abusive relationships, their experience told them vividly the hazards of gender inequality. But the society takes lightly of what they have been through, denying them of human rights and dignity. How can these women struggle through the nightmare caused by inequality? Who would pay attention to and support these women if they do not even take up concrete actions by themselves to struggle for the rights they should be having? They reiterated the fact that the abusive relationships which they once had were hugely due to the power that the men presumed to possess over them. These women denounce the abuse of power by men in a way to build a just and healthy relationship, could the society make a reasonable response to this struggle? Hence, I believe that since women’s rights have not been fully recognised and given respect, and that the unequal relations between women and men have not been changed, those are the true reasons for unhealthy relationships in the family that cause disharmony and brokenness.
by Malini Devananda
In walked a woman
Bent in two
Though she was forbidden
To enter that space
What a curse’d woman
To suffer in this manner
And how dare she enter
A forbidden space
Shunned by the people
For her physical handicap
For no fault of hers
The people were aghast
As Jesus touched her
Making her straight
In compassionate love
How dare he desecrate
Our holy day
And disgrace himself
By touching her
“You hypocrite” cried Jesus
In anger and sadness
You do help your animals
On the Sabbath day
How much more precious
Is this daughter of Sarah
Who for eighteen long years
Has been bent in two
At this saying, ‘the men of God’
Looked at each other, amazed and puzzled,
How can she, who’s born to serve
Be more precious than our useful beasts.
Twenty-one centuries have gone and come
Still we women are bent in two
With customs and traditions, culture and practice
That keep us bound at every turn
It’s time we stepped into forbidden space
Speaking out boldly without fear
To claim our place in the reign of God
For God takes the side of the poor and the bound
We are the wounded, we are the healers
Made strong through oppression and untold suffering
We dare to dream of an inclusive community
Breaking the structures of hierarchy and patriarchy
40 years old
Married with two children
Student Christian Movement of the Philippines delegate during the 1993 National Assembly;
Former member of the Christian Youth Fellowship;
Former youth leader of the Bicol Ecumenical Youth Fellowship;
National Council Member of the Promotion of Church People’s Response (PCPR);
Lay-preacher of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP).
Place of Incident:
His residence in Barangay Lacag, Daraga
Date of Incident:
November 10, 2004
Mr. Joel Baclao, a senior friend of the SCM Philippines and a National Council member of the Promotion of Church People’s Response (PCPR), was gunned down on 10 November 2004 by two unidentified gunmen believed to be members of the military. According to Wilma Baclao, Joel’s wife, at around 8:00 pm Joel went out of his house in Lacag, Daraga, Albay to check on what their dogs are barking at. After a few seconds, his wife saw a burst of fire and a loud shot and saw Joel lying down.
Joel sustained four gunshot wounds. Two of which hit him on the chin and in between the lower lip and his nose that shattered his face. While the other two shots hit him on the stomach and in the upper part of the right rib. The assailants used an M-16 armalite that killed Joel on the spot. Two of his children, six and eight years old, were traumatised after witnessing the shocking incident.
According to his family, Joel had received several death threats before he was killed. His family has all the rights to suspect that the military is behind Joel’s death as he has been warned that his life was in danger and his name was on a list. His family believes that the list to be an Order of Battle (OB) released by the military which contains names of rebels who are wanted by the government. It is also reported that the soldiers attempted to search the Joel’s house illegally on 26 September. Secondly, there were also reports of alleged military men asking the Joel’s neighbours for his whereabouts a couple of nights before the shooting. And most importantly, he was a staunch and outspoken opposition of the militarisation campaign in the Albay province and mining in the region.
Joel now belongs to the growing list of people who were murdered under the Arroyo regime for their principled stance against anti-people government policies. The case of our brother Joel indicates a harsh reality that church-workers are not exempted from human rights violations under the Arroyo regime.
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