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No. 2, 2005
The cross hails from
Mexico and is a
symbol for ending
oppression and
violence against women
Editorial Team:
Ms. Necta Montes Rocas
Ms. Wong Yock Leng
Mr. Carlo M. Bacwaden


Issue No. 2, May–August 2005




Editorial  •  Perspective  •  Theological Reflection  •  Regional News  •  RWP  •  Announcements


In the last Women’s Pre-Meeting of the Regional Committee Meeting, some of us highlighted an increasing trend amongst the general social movements on the inclination to shift the “Women’s Question” to the “Gender Question”. It was felt that the focus on women’s issues and concerns are no longer a priority, instead there is always a call to include the concept and framework of “gender” and “women & men partnership” as both women and men are equally affected in our androcentrically structured society. Even within our very own SCM, we detected such an inclination—women’s programmes are being merged into gender programmes. In some SCMs, women’s committees/officers became gender committees/officers.

Perhaps we have been too eager to make a quantum leap in our journey to find freedom, peace, justice and equality that we will jump into whichever ship that gives us a hint to these destinations. But as easy as it is to include the framework of gender in the struggle of ending androcentrism and patriarchal oppression, an in-depth understanding of what is “gender construction” and power relations, to a mindful seeking of alternatives such as using a “feminist perspective” in our daily practical and spiritual life, to a genuine but not as a token involvement in women’s struggles, is seen to be lacking in the ardent call for “partnership” and getting everyone up in the bandwagon. Understanding ‘gender’ therefore involves more than just indiscriminately getting all on board, a lot of prior work has to be done indeed!

Involving men is as important as involving women in these struggles, but we may also want to question on which footing has men started with and from which, the women? And within the many different interactions between women, do we empower each other or do we still work under the intense programming of the androcentric “logic”? Should we then achieve a level of understanding and clarity on our own footing before we blindly take a leap? Are we (both women and men), after all these years of consciousness-building, automatically using feminist perspectives in our daily practices?

In this issue of Praxis, the Regional Women’s Committee wanted to look into the implications of Gender Mainstreaming, hence, we include a thought provoking article to address this issue. There is also a theological reflection from Mother Mary John Mananzan, one of our resource persons in the WSCF Women’s Programme, the announcement on the coming events related to the 6th Ministerial Meeting of the WTO in Hong Kong in December, and our usual columns on regional and movement news. Enjoy the read!

Yock Leng
Regional Women’s Coordinator


Editorial  •  Perspective  •  Theological Reflection  •  Regional News  •  RWP  •  Announcements


Gender Mainstreaming:

Can It Work for Women’s Rights?

This article is taken from the Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID)’s journal, Spotlight, No. 3 - November 2004, addressing on the essential issue of gender mainstreaming by four dynamic AWID members, all engaged with gender mainstreaming (and its effects) on a daily basis but in very different ways and places, to write their honest opinions about what has gone wrong. We then shared their candid views amongst them and had them respond to what their colleagues wrote. Mariama Williams, Everjoice Win, Gerd Johnsson-Latham and Joanne Sandler offer insightful analysis and share eerily similar opinions.

Gender mainstreaming is a strategy which aims to bring about gender equality and advance women’s rights by infusing gender analysis, gender-sensitive research, women’s perspectives and gender equality goals into mainstream policies, projects and institutions. Instead of having segregated activities for women, or in addition to targeted interventions to promote women’s empowerment, it brings the focus on women’s issues and gender equality into all policy development, research, advocacy, legislation, resource allocation, planning, implementation and monitoring of programs and projects. Gender mainstreaming is intended to be transformative, changing the very definition and discourse of development to include gender equality as a means and an end. With gender fully integrated, therefore, “the stream” itself will change direction. Gender mainstreaming has been espoused and promoted by the United Nations, the World Bank, and by many bilateral aid agencies, government departments, and human rights and development organizations. Results have been mixed. Many gender equality advocates consider it the only strategy that will keep women’s issues from being swept off to the margins. They see it as the only strategy that will lead to the integration of gender equality and women’s rights objectives into the so-called “hard issues” of macroeconomics and poverty eradication. For others however, the promise of gender mainstreaming is long gone. In their experience, it has resulted in the disappearance of attention to women’s specific needs and the gender-differentiated impacts of policies and programs. Has gender mainstreaming worked in some institutions, sectors or regions? What is its potential? Where has it met pitfalls? Can it be used effectively to bring about meaningful institutional and policy changes that protect women’s economic rights? There is no single, definitive answer to these questions, but much to learn from practical experiences and critical analyses.

A Reflection from Mariama Williams, IGTN and DAWN
The Vision and intentionality of gender mainstreaming

A key problem with current approaches to gender mainstreaming is the loss of the primary imperative and the driving force underlying gender mainstreaming. Gender mainstreaming is not simply a point to get to; it is a process. It is a process for ensuring equity, equality, and gender justice in all of the critical areas of the lives of girls and boys, women and men. As such, it is a moral and ethical imperative as well as fundamental to human rights in all its forms. It must therefore become ingrained to all of the institutions and operations of the vital organs of power and decision-making that promote and work toward the development of just and prosperous societies nationally, regionally and internationally. Gender mainstreaming must be a cornerstone of the process of development, poverty eradication, environmental protection policies, good governance and democracy. There is an urgent need to revisit the concepts and frameworks of gender mainstreaming. We seemingly have lost touch with gender as a category of analysis that focuses on the relationship of power between women and men in terms of access to and ownership of resources and power dynamics. Gender mainstreaming, and the problems it now faces, is not simply an empirical phenomenon but an issue of deep value conflict, power politics, analytical tensions, contradictions and dilemmas bound up in different interpretations and expectations at the institutional, policymaking and operational levels. Ultimately, some of these as yet unresolved tensions and the lack of clarity about objectives and goals have contributed to a return to a more instrumentalist focus on gender/women as a means to an end. However, growth and/or successful project implementation should not be the main purpose of gender mainstreaming.

There are at least two major reasons contributing to this situation. First, there is under-investment in keeping abreast of on-going analytical and policy-oriented initiatives that aim at developing and strengthening categories critical to gender mainstreaming in areas such as feminist economics. The second reason is the persistent and growing gap between macroeconomics and gender mainstreaming. There is little interaction between macro level planning/macro phenomena (i.e., fiscal policy, trade policy, financial liberalization and privatization) and gender mainstreaming at the policy analysis and applications levels in governmental, international and inter-governmental organizations. This results in a piecemeal approach to development and gender equality work.

Macro deficits of contemporary approaches to gender mainstreaming

It is undeniable that financial and trade considerations set the agenda and condition the environment in which gender mainstreaming takes place. These macro level events impact both the substantive content and the operational reach of gender mainstreaming and therefore contribute—in no small way—to the weaknesses of gender mainstreaming. For example, macroeconomic policy predetermines an over-emphasis on growth that reinforces an integrationist approach to gender mainstreaming, constantly shifting that process back into the WID stream instead of the more transformative GAD stream. Globalization, trade liberalization and the emerging coherence between international financial and trade institutions greatly impinge on the policy space at the national level. But there is no policy interaction at the institutional level with regard to gender mainstreaming. In addition, current approaches to macro-economic targets tend to result in regressive income and asset distribution. This has direct implications for reinforcing not only a false choice between efficiency and equity, but also engenders commitment to a limiting anti-poverty framework, which in turn, muddies the water for gender equality objectives.

Within the context of the macro framework there is the sense that these are “hard areas” that have nothing to do with gender. Gender equality and gender mainstreaming are therefore relegated to “softer” areas that must work to complement and offset the necessary adjustment costs of macro planning decisions and outcomes. So, for example, it is perfectly acceptable to examine areas of food distribution between men and women but gender has no place in discussions about agricultural liberalization or tariff reductions. Yet both of these have significant implications for food security, self-sufficiency, and sustainable livelihoods. Likewise, the intellectual property framework is often seen as a “hard area” with no gender dimensions; yet knowledge, and technology transfers are impacted by intellectual property rights regimes. Present approaches to macroeconomics have tended to enforce and reinforce a simplistic antipoverty agenda that, though important and necessary, is not sufficient as a goal of gender mainstreaming. We have to move the discussion beyond poverty reduction to look at structural issues of inequality and economic injustices that reinforce old forms of poverty as well as create new forms of poverty and inequalities. Gender equality must be reaffirmed as an end in itself and not simply a means to an end when convenient. This requires attention to structural policies and changes of paradigms including specific attention to institutional factors such as how the so-called “hard areas” and “soft areas” interrelate at the meta, meso, micro and macro levels of the economy.

Towards a transformative approach to gender mainstreaming

This means coming to grips with the challenging issues of redistribution of power, both at the institutional level and also in national level policy making as well as in the global political economy.

These issues point toward a need for a shift from the current drift back to integrationist approaches to gender, which simply try to fit women and gender concerns into existing strategies and priorities, towards a more transformative approach. Therefore, there is great scope for retuning models and rethinking the rules, priorities, goals and the distribution of resources.

A Reflection from Joanne Sandler, UNIFEM
Whither Gender Mainstreaming?

Ah, the question of gender mainstreaming. Whether one is for or against, few would debate the following: a) There is conceptual confusion about what gender mainstreaming means and how it should be applied; and b) It only works when there is unswerving commitment of leadership, accountability mechanisms are in place, and the right gender expertise is available at the right time to align policies and practices with commitments to achieving gender equality.

If gender mainstreaming was applied and understood as a strategy to address gender inequality at a structural level and achieve fundamental transformation by eliminating gender biases and power imbalances between men and women, it would certainly merit further investment. But one must look long and hard to find examples of gender mainstreaming being implemented—or even conceptualized—in this way. Gender mainstreaming, as practiced, is more often used as a strategy for obscuring and under-valuing the significance of gender inequality. Examples abound. The classic situation goes something like this. A plan is being formulated: it can be a Poverty Reduction Strategy, the budget for the reconstruction of Afghanistan, or a civil society strategy for influencing a World Conference. Five task forces are formed (e.g. poverty, water, health, etc.), but gender equality does not need a task force because it is mainstreamed. Budgets are assigned to each of the task forces, but gender equality doesn’t need a budget because it’s mainstreamed. Then a paper is written on the work of the task forces with chapters for each issue, but gender equality does not have a chapter because it is mainstreamed. And then there’s a high level meeting with the leaders of the five task forces present, but no one presents on gender equality because… you guessed it. What is going on behind the scenes is even more ludicrous. Those concerned with gender equality and women’s rights do not have a task force so they form a “working group.” The group now becomes the mainstreamers. They divide up to “influence” the task forces. They dutifully prepare background papers on the gender dimensions of each of the task force issues. They undertake “evidence-based advocacy.” They lobby. They have the double job of influencing the task forces at the same time that they are coordinating with their counterparts in the “working group.” Sometimes they are very successful; they often succeed in getting a paragraph or two included. If they miss a particularly critical meeting however, their successes can be wiped out in a nanosecond.

Women’s double and triple day, which has been well documented in the reproductive sphere, is being replicated in gender equality work. While the hunger or water task force focuses on strategies to address hunger or water, those working on gender equality run madly between everyone else’s task force at the same time as having their own. Aruna Rao, David Kelleher and Rieky Stuart have written about the deep structures in organizations that inhibit or prohibit gender mainstreaming from being an effective strategy for transformation toward gender justice. We can have solid gender analysis, high quality gender training and a superb gender policy, yet when it comes to getting the work done—convening the task forces, assigning the budgets, distributing medicines for HIV or the food in a refugee camp—women and girls still have diminished access and influence as compared to men, resulting in greater threats to their lives, their security and their future potential. Using gender mainstreaming as a lead strategy has had valuable spin-off effects, generating new tools precisely because those advocating for gender equality and women’s rights have come to understand that accountability and implementation of agreements are critical to making progress. Gender-responsive budgeting (GRB), for instance, is a promising area of work receiving increasing support and interest worldwide. GRB is being used as a transformative tool in Tanzania and Uganda to bring greater transparency, participation and accountability to local and national level budget processes, and in Ecuador, as a mechanism for re-examining the budget with popular participation and re-allocating municipal resources in response to the results of the analysis. A greater interest in the gender-differentiated impacts of macroeconomic policies and improved capacity to gather and use sex-disaggregated data have also resulted from reliance on gender mainstreaming. These tools and analyses are raising awareness, generating evidence, and even resulting in significant policy changes. In almost every instance, however, women’s rights and gender equality advocates are at the forefront of developing, lobbying for the use of, and monitoring these tools. If support wanes for their work because of commitments to “gender mainstreaming,” how far will these tools take us?

Beyond asking whether gender mainstreaming is effective in bringing about institutional and policy change, there are three additional questions that merit further exploration: a) Is it an effective strategy compared to other options? b) Is it a strategy at all? and c) Even if the answers to (a) and (b) are positive, has gender mainstreaming now been saddled with so much baggage that we need to change the language? What are the other options? The Beijing Platform for Action and countless gender equality policies point to two strategies for achieving gender equality: gender mainstreaming and women’s empowerment (or a focus on women). My personal opinion is that we have done the issue of gender equality and women’s rights a disservice by presenting these as choices rather than interlinked strategies. Nevertheless, of the two, empirical evidence indicates that ensuring women’s empowerment is often more effective at having a direct and transformative impact than the slow and confusing process of gender mainstreaming.

I am beginning to wonder, however, if part of the problem is that gender mainstreaming is not a strategy at all. If we understand it as a theory without much practical application, it is an interesting construct for academics, philosophers and others to ponder. If we stop talking about it as a strategy, we can move on to more practical approaches. Of one thing I am sure. The conceptual confusion around gender and gender mainstreaming is a disadvantage in work to promote and protect women’s rights and gender equality. “Sex” vs. “gender” vs. “women” causes great exasperation. A male colleague in the UN—who has been in the organization for over 25 years—once asked me, in complete seriousness, “why can’t we just talk about working for women anymore?” We want to find approaches that work and to transfer knowledge about what works to other institutions. This requires serious reflection. Gender mainstreaming is not the problem, but it may also be that continuing reliance on it as a lead strategy is not the solution. In the run-up to the 10-year review of the Beijing Platform for Action, there is probably no more important conversation to have than one that helps us to develop new alternatives and more effective strategies toward making visionary commitments about women’s human rights and gender equality a reality.

A Reflection from Gerd Johnsson-Latham
Gender Mainstreaming: The Second-Best Option

The Beijing Platform for Action (PfA), adopted at the United Nations 4th World Conference on Women in 1995, established gender mainstreaming as a strategy to address inequalities and unequal access to resources in areas of concern in the Platform for Action. Many considered this a remarkable achievement that could transform overall developments. The PfA stressed that before decisions are taken, gender analysis has to be done along with a visible policy on gender equality in all areas. The before part of this commitment, however, seems to have been forgotten.

To my mind, this has put the whole strategy into jeopardy and reduced mainstreaming to an afterthought and an “add-on.” And while in 1997 high hopes for mainstreaming as a way forward led to an ECOSOC resolution, the text stressed something which—again—seems to have been forgotten in the discussions: that a prerequisite for gender mainstreaming is commitment from senior management as well as the provision of adequate financial and other resources. So ten years after Beijing, where do we stand, and what success stories of gender mainstreaming, if any, can be brought forward? Has gender mainstreaming been helpful or not in reaching the overall goals of the PfA and to combat female subordination, etc.? The evidence does not appear to be positive. Quite a few studies and evaluations of the effects of the strategy have been presented. In 2002, for example, a Swedish International Development Agency study was published indicating that so far, it had not been pursued on a regular basis and achievements were still scattered. The same year, Norway organized a donor meeting, providing proof that while gender often implied high rhetorics, it was seldom followed by adequate funding and high level commitment or an understanding of the transformatory implications of the process. Overall, experiences with gender mainstreaming suggest the following problems:

  1. The concept itself is unclear and misunderstood:
    Gender mainstreaming is still difficult for the development community because “gender” is still not understood as a construction of roles but primarily as attention to biological women. Furthermore, “mainstreaming” has—at best—been a reminder of the need to add “women’s interests” to “refine” already established settings.
  2. Mainstreaming has been reduced to a technique:
    Because gender mainstreaming seldom contains the necessary funding, staffing or commitment, it is often reduced to a question of technique and “tool-kits”. And far too often the technique is criticized for any failures in gender mainstreaming, whereas the real problems are lack of commitment and resources and a true acceptance of the equal worth of women and men.
  3. Mainstreaming as a pretext for saving overall resources:
    Often agencies claim to have applied gender mainstreaming and use this to justify the lack of staff, resources, and program planning allocated to specifically address gender and women’s issues, thus falsely “mainstreaming” gender to invisibility. Thus, gender work today may actually be less equipped in terms of staff and resources than it was in 1995. What we need today is a yardstick or some kind of minimum criteria for what should be labelled as gender mainstreamed.
  4. Gender mainstreaming has not been transformative:
    Gender mainstreaming, as it is applied today, basically accepts the status quo and development “business as usual”—and then adds gender. Much more far-reaching methods for transforming the agenda are required to put gender into the driver’s seat of development, and reorganize and redefine the structure and focus of current work.

Current efforts appear to be insufficient and possibly not heading into the right direction. Mainstreaming often means that gender experts “run after already running trains” to at least get a minimum of attention to gender (or women) into processes such as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers, etc. This is unsustainable, and reminiscent of poor overburdened Sisyphus in Greek mythology, who had to start over again every morning, pushing a boulder up a mountain. While gender mainstreaming might still be a useful strategy if adequate funding and high-level commitment were assured, it seems necessary to also explore new ways of more effectively reaching the targets of human development and gender equality. Gender mainstreaming may be a “second-best option,” which at this difficult time in global politics, when the gender agenda has been threatened by fundamentalisms from all sides, requires more far-reaching venues of thought to not only ensure some thoughts on gender but to promote transformation and change. To this end, we may need to go “upstream” in the process and challenge current understandings and focuses in terms of what development, poverty, deprivation and human security are all about. Thus, to my mind, much more attention should be given to male hegemonic structures, male dominance and male privileges, which when threatened are defended by force (including violence at all levels) both within families and societies, often at the expense of the well-being of women and children—and many men. Thus, we need to move from attention primarily to “women’s interests” and “women’s needs”—to rather investigate and expose features which actually dominate analysis, strategies and allocation of current resources: men’s interests and men’s needs—which leads to the fact that most development undertakings today are “men’s projects,” whether we speak about poverty reduction (in PRSPs which lack attention to unpaid work), health, HIV (which often omits focus on the Cairo agenda), security (which avoids attention to violence against women—even as it is the single biggest threat to human security today and though male violence is a major obstacle to development and estimated to the equivalent of some 3% of the GDP in the U.S. and possibly 8% in countries in Latin America).

We do not need to expend a lot of effort on reformulating the vision put forth at Beijing. The important thing is to develop strategies and concepts that would facilitate change and achievements in attaining the goals of Beijing, not limited to techniques but which go to the heart of equal rights and worth of all humans, and enable us to break down and replace current structures of power and privileges, instead promoting gender equality and sustainable human development.

A Reflection from Everjoice Win, ActionAid
Gender Equality: Mainstreamed into Oblivion?

Locating myself

Before I began to work with the international NGO ActionAid, I was part of the autonomous women’s movement in Zimbabwe, the Africa region and internationally. The autonomous aspect is important as it distinguishes that movement from parts of the movement that are located within mainstream development NGOs, the broad civil society movement or various bureaucracies. I entered this movement in the late 1980s when it was working towards the empowerment of women and the realization of women’s rights. We challenged power relations between women and men, and between rich and poor; we saw as one of our goals the changing of those power relations at every level. We used gender analysis and the Gender and Development frameworks developed by feminists (yes, it is important to underline that they were developed by feminists). Our activities included educating women/girls about their rights, economic development activities, research, and using the media. Some parts of the movement worked with women directly, while others worked with men, others with decision makers, and some with mixed groups. In the mid-1990s, particularly as we moved towards the Beijing conference of 1995, a new “movement” emerged, that is the “gender movement” with its “gender-speak” and “gender mainstreaming.” This gender work, which has become the rule rather than the exception, is quite distinct from my days in the autonomous women’s movement.

How I understand gender mainstreaming

Gender mainstreaming has a double meaning: it is a strategy and a process of agenda setting and change at different levels within organizations and institutions.

  1. It is both a technical and a political process, which requires shifts in organizational cultures and ways of thinking, as well as in the goals, structures and resource allocations of organizations. It requires as well as implies changes at different levels within institutions and organizations, paying attention to equality between women and men in agenda setting, policy-making, planning, budgeting, implementation, evaluation and in all decision-making procedures. Gender mainstreaming is not an objective or an end in itself. It is a means to achieve gender equality. The required end remains equality, human rights and justice, as well as fundamental change in power relations between women and men. Unfortunately, gender mainstreaming is too often seen as an end in itself. In practice, the transformatory aspects of mainstreaming have been sidelined. Many institutions that have adopted gender mainstreaming approach it from a very technical perspective. Mainstream institutions, such as the World Bank and state institutions, have added “gender mainstreaming” to their rhetoric but have not changed their practices or their policies. Making gender a “cross-cutting issue” tends to diminish the focus on the real issues. In some instances, gender has been mainstreamed into oblivion. In many development organizations, gender departments or programmes have been whittled down and in some cases completely abolished. Since the Beijing Conference of 1995, women’s organizations and gender equality departments in larger institutions such as governments and development agencies have struggled to survive. Resources have been slashed, with the argument that their presence and expertise were no longer required given the efforts of gender mainstreaming. Pressed for indicators of change or progress, the stock answer is that gender is now cross-cutting and mainstreamed therefore it can no longer be “measured”. Linked to the above trends are the prevailing misconceptions about gender. Many development organizations now argue that using a “gender approach” implies a need to focus on men and bring them in as beneficiaries. Many women’s rights organizations are finding it increasingly difficult to access resources if their programmes do not include men. During the period 2000-2002, CIDA in Zimbabwe specifically turned down funding proposals on the basis that men were excluded.
  2. At the same time, disproportionately large amounts of resources are going to projects such as work with men and boys around HIV/AIDS and men’s marches against violence. The lack of conceptual clarity of gender as an analytical concept—rather than a strategy—lies behind some of these trends. What started out as a positive attempt to build on the successes and challenges of the last 20 years in advancing women’s rights has, like the concept of gender, been distorted to mean something else. Based on the understanding that separate projects/programmes for marginalized groups tended to be marginal and to make little impact, mainstreaming was seen as a strategy to widen the gains. The choice to mainstream was also based on the understanding that gender issues are everywhere and in everything—they are not found in one or a few arenas.

Mainstreaming is about ensuring that gender equality goals are embedded at every level and in all parts of an institution—rather than ghettoized. It’s also about making sure resources are mobilized to move what is often a huge agenda. Most importantly, gender mainstreaming is not the same as “integration” or adding on gender—something that many of us are already familiar with from the old days of Women in Development—the “add women and stir” approach.

Today, gender mainstreaming threatens the realization of the goal of gender equality. Many development organizations have abolished gender desks/programmes and specific funding. Gender experts are only invited to “add gender” to existing frameworks, thus mainstreaming is not about challenging the existing analysis of situations, nor is there an assumption that there is something wrong with the mainstream in the first place. Gender mainstreaming is often stated as an end in itself. Gender has become so mainstreamed that it is no longer visible. After we have mainstreamed gender, it is no longer clear what our programmes or policies should look like. Was the idea to mainstream gender so much so that it is no longer visible at the end of the stream?

In my work in ActionAid, I have strategically chosen to use the terms “gender and women’s rights” to indicate what this work is about—women’s empowerment, women’s equal enjoyment of their rights, and a change in power relations.

Mariama Responded

In thinking about the reflections on gender mainstreaming by my other colleagues, I come to the conclusion that gender mainstreaming as a strategy with specific sets of tactics and tools can be used effectively to bring about meaningful institutional policy changes in women’s economic rights. Arguably, it has very real, even structural limitations, but nonetheless it can still be a vehicle for shaping and operationalizing national and international commitments to women’s economic rights and improving women’s access to social and economic resources. In its current form, it is the common practical and operational framework for the cohering and actualization of overall agendas which can impact all the various dimensions of governmental apparatus for impacting the daily lives of women and men: social policy, economic policy, trade policy and industrial policy.

To me the latent and still possible potentials of gender mainstreaming are fourfold: 1) the possibility of conscientizing citizens, technocrats and economic decision-makers about the critical dimensions of women’s and men’s lives; 2) the possibility of devising local, national, regional and international approaches to dealing with the problem of gender discrimination and inequality; 3) the possibility of enlivening interlocking policy approaches for more targeted, long-lasting and sustainable impacts of taxation, budgeting, lending, borrowing and interest rate policies on the caring, entrepreneurial, and labor market activities of men and women as they carry out their multiple roles and functions in society. Ultimately, gender mainstreaming can also be a powerful tool for grounding the cultural, economic and social rights of girls, boys, women and men and as such can provide the solid foundation for advancing the economic empowerment of women.

But the sad reality is that these wonderful potentialities of gender mainstreaming have been severely attenuated, distorted and thwarted. Instead, gender mainstreaming has succumbed to the pitfalls of a technocratic fix and has lost its philosophical and moral underpinnings in most cases. In far too many cases, “gender” has been misused and abused by those who refuse to recognize and take action on women’s subordination and the various forms of social and economic injustices in the economy and society. These gender equality subversives, who tend to have strong influence in any of the phases of gender mainstreaming, have tended to devote their energy to sidelining the issue of women’s oppression and systematic inequalities. This is often done in the name of protecting men’s interest, as if gender mainstreaming is intent on leaving men at an institutional or structural disadvantage. Unfortunately, this kind of rearguard action is more pervasive than we would like to think, even in rich countries. Even more importantly some of its architects and orchestrators are women. These men and their female collaborators will persist in denying that there is a problem of women’s subordination and pervasive gender discrimination that is unfavorable to women. Or, even if they acknowledge the problem, they refuse to accept that it is serious or to see where, why and how it persists and how present attitudes, behavior and policy may be generating new dimensions to the age-old problem. Though they would deny it vociferously, the underlying compass that regulates such behaviors and actions, as noted by Gerd Johnsson-Latham, is that there is “no true acceptance of the equal worth of women and men.” Gender injustice—the pervasive and differential treatment of men and women that results in unfavorable burden sharing, maldistribution of resources and imbalances in rights and entitlements to one gender at the disadvantage of the other gender—is endemic to all present cultures.

Undeniably, for the better part of most of the last millennium, it is women who have been at the short end of the stick. Some cultures and societies have managed to eliminate or reduce the most obvious and negative aspects, while others try to neutralize it through laws and rhetoric such that we think the problem only exists in other people’s culture or religions. But the fundamental design, the hardwire, is still there in our cultural practices, sayings and religious beliefs and dogmas. And, they undergird all that we say and do, no matter how much we try to anesthetize it. What is the natural, automatic reaction in time of crises: underemployment, war, etc.? There can be no other explanation for the persistence and tenacity of such an obvious affront to human evolution and technology. In such an environment, gender mainstreaming was bound to meet a halfhearted, lukewarm reception and its implementation at best undertaken on an instrumental level. There is a pervasive problem of lack of real commitment and accountability to the prime directive: gender equality and gender justice. Certainly in some areas more resources have been leveraged for programs that benefit women. But in the critical areas of conscientization and embedding deeply into the psyche of policy-makers as well as into the structural design of policies success has been elusive. The reality is that gender mainstreaming initiatives, mechanisms and instruments have been under-funded and under-resourced. There is therefore much work that needs to be done at these different levels. The question can be raised: is it worth it to continue to expend much energy, or any energy, on gender mainstreaming? Should we not just move on to new frameworks, concepts and programs? I believe these are valid questions. But I am also sure that unless we are seriously able to change hearts and minds, whatever success we may achieve in new frameworks will be ephemeral. Even these new frameworks, however attractive and rewarding they may appear now, will ultimately come up against the same stumbling blocks that met gender mainstreaming. The work of conscientization and embedding gender equality and gender justice concerns into all aspects of social and economic life that influence the policy-making stream will need to continue.

Joanne Responded

It seems that there is a great deal of agreement in the four submissions. There is consensus that: a) Work on gender mainstreaming has been reduced to a technique or an end in itself, thereby losing its connection to the purposes it originally sought to achieve (e.g., as a means or strategy to highlight, through analysis, the power and privilege differentials between men and women and support improved strategies toward transformation that leads to social justice); and b) There is a rampant conceptual confusion about gender mainstreaming, leading to its use as a means of making women’s rights and gender equality invisible. I agree with all of these points raised by my colleagues, but none of us have really articulated a way forward. We are all expressing the need for approaches and strategies that address structural inequality and transformation of existing power relationships. Gender mainstreaming was supposed to do that, but this is not happening in practice. I agree with Gerd Johnsson-Latham that we do not need to expend effort reformulating the vision put forth at Beijing. But we certainly need proven approaches that transform the rhetoric of gender equality and women’s rights into reality. We need to recognize that change toward transforming gender power relations is happening haphazardly and irregularly in different places and at different times. Wangari Maathai just became the first African woman Nobel Peace Prize Winner. Women voted in Afghanistan. These, and countless other actions taken every day by courageous men and women whose stories never reach the public domain, are all important steps. I think of Nita Barrow, the convenor of the NGO Forum for the 3rd World Conference on Women in Nairobi, who talked about how effective leaders did not always necessarily have a master plan… they just knew what the three most important next steps were. My dream is that we have a riveting, watertight, compelling set of approaches that illuminate an irrevocable path toward gender equality, and that everyone would see the wisdom of this and join in. I’ll settle, however, for three key steps forward. My initial thoughts:

  1. Generate greater support for women’s human rights: We have CEDAW, we have regional women’s rights conventions in Latin America and Africa. We need to generate greater attention, support, accountability and capacity to redress discrimination and stigma in women’s lives.
  2. End impunity for distorting gender mainstreaming: After at least 10 years of intensive training and development of countless gender equality policies, there need to be systems of accountability in place at all levels.
  3. Build strong and sustainable organizations and networks advocating for women’s rights: We would not have come this far if it weren’t for so many women (and some men) who struggled to build an agenda for gender equality and women’s rights. We need to be supporting and attracting new generations of women and men with new ideas and new issues to keep this work moving forward.

Gerd Responded

Firstly, the concept of gender mainstreaming is problematic, not only because of the mainstreaming part (the strategy), but also because of an additional problem in terms of misunderstandings regarding the meaning of “gender” (the starting point/concept). Replacing “mainstreaming”, therefore, may still leave us with the problem raised here by Everjoice Win (and notably shared by NGOs that I have spoken with in Sweden): “gender” tends to be misinterpreted and project proposals which focus on women can be rejected if men are not also included as beneficiaries. Apparently, there is still a gigantic task ahead in terms of explaining that gender means considering conditions for both women and men, and then giving particular attention to women to make up for centuries of gender inequalities in almost all areas.

Secondly, “mainstreaming” requires that somebody actually mainstreams. Indicating ownership and responsibility for mainstreaming is vital in every process. In addition, it appears crucial to establish a minimum requirement for what should be labelled “mainstreamed.” We also need means for accountability and control, in terms of gender budgeting and gender auditing, for example.

Thirdly, it should be acknowledged that gender mainstreaming was not the only strategy adopted at the Beijing conference in 1995. Mainstreaming was highlighted along with the “empowerment of women.” The concept of empowerment is actually much clearer and much less likely to be misunderstood. Thus it appears worthwhile to pick up “the empowerment of women” again and bring it back to the forefront. We still have much work to do to understand how the empowerment of women can be realised, both for women as different collectives and for women individually (e.g. through legislation, education, allocation of funds, establishing new posts for gender equality work within governments and elsewhere, etc.) Work is also needed to understand how existing primarily male or patriarchal power structures are connected to male privileges—and at the other side of the coin, the costs and disadvantages for women. Similarly, we need to develop our knowledge about how power and privileges are decisive for decision-making, agenda-setting, access to resources and control over means of violence to punish opponents (including women) and over rewards to co-opt adversaries (and marginalise feminists).

To conclude: while gender mainstreaming and empowerment are means and strategies, we should not forget that the overall goal is gender equality. Gender equality can be interpreted to have the same meaning as the emerging concept of gender justice. So at this stage, in the pursuit of gender equality and gender justice, we need to focus on effective methods of change and put more efforts on the following: the empowerment of women to achieve gender justice.

Everjoice Responded

We all seem to agree that gender mainstreaming has been, in a nutshell, “so much promise, so little delivery.” With the right conceptual clarity, in the right hands and with serious commitment, gender mainstreaming can and does work. To this one must add—with the right political foundation. Gender mainstreaming is simply a tool. Any tool in the right hands will achieve positive results. With the right political underpinnings it can work wonders. But put a good tool in the wrong hands, it becomes a weapon with which massive damage can be done. A key missing piece in the analysis we have done thus far is recognizing that gender discourse and tools have been systematically wrenched from the hands of feminists. There have also been serious efforts by many to distance “gender” and all it entails from feminism. So it is not uncommon to hear the refrain, “We don’t want to be feminists. We want to do good gender work.” What exactly does that mean…I ask rhetorically? This is the biggest challenge that underlies attempts to reclaim gender and gender mainstreaming. So while I do agree with Aruna Rao et al. that so many positive things have been achieved because of gender mainstreaming, for some of us, the pollution of the struggle by gender apologist language and strategies makes reclamation an unattractive option.

Analyzing the mainstream itself:

Indeed we must also question what the state of the mainstream itself is. Is it what we want? Where is the stream going? Do we want to go there? Can it be turned around to where we want? That is the big challenge. The mainstream in terms of development approaches, anti-poverty, or even human rights is not exactly the kind of stream many a feminist wants to find herself floating in. So before we even talk of “streaming” anything in there, we need a sharper understanding of what lies beneath (to quote that famous film). This has been one of the challenges for women’s rights activists and feminists, particularly those working in that mainstream itself. Trying to understand the ideological mindsets, and the power dynamics at stake, is in itself a major task. With its seemingly non-threatening and non-political approaches, “gender” tends to be very much welcomed into the mainstream—with smiles and open arms. But no sooner is this veneer of welcome displayed than the activist finds herself wondering therefore why the stream keeps shifting and running in different directions at every turn! A good example of this is the current excitement around gender in HIV & AIDS. The simple question to be asked then is if things are so clear, and gender can be easily dealt with, why has so little changed for women and girls? Again our feminist activism tells us, the power issues and ideological battles are what is never openly declared. Therefore gender mainstreaming, which is often presented as a non-political act, flounders as it hits the rocks of patriarchy and power. I agree with Joanne’s colleague… let’s just go back women working for women!


Editorial  •  Perspective  •  Theological Reflection  •  Regional News  •  RWP  •  Announcements

Theological Reflection:

Woman and Christianity

by Mother Mary John Mananzan, OSB

The roots of women’s oppression in religions were recognized in an ecumenical consultation of Church women held in Manila in November 1985 and attended by participants from seven Asian countries. They wrote in their composite statement:

As Church people, we have come to realize that the highly patriarchal churches have definitely contributed to the subjugation and marginalization of women. Thus we see an urgent need to reexamine our Church structures, traditions, and practices in order to remedy injustice and to correct misinterpretations and interpretations and distortions that have crippled us. We saw how theology itself has added to these distortions. We unearthed theological premises, traditions, and beliefs that have prevented us from becoming fully human and have blurred the image of God that we are.[1]

This is corroborated by Denise Lardner Carmody, who writes:

Beyond doubt, major religions of the world have a dubious record with regard to women... For example, Buddhist women could not head the religious community. Hinduism usually held women ineligible for salvation. Islam made a woman’s witness only half that of a man. Christianity called a woman the weaker vessel, the more blurred image of the Image. Jewish men blessed God for not having made them women.[2]

There was, however, an equal conviction that there are liberating forces in religion. Whether oppression or liberation, there is no doubt about the tremendous effect of religion on women. Much of women’s self and social image is derived from religious values. Thus a study of religions is of the utmost importance for women’s self-understanding of their situation. There is a need “to winnow the wheat of authentic religion... from the religious sexist chaff.”[3] This paper will confine itself to the reflection on women and the Christian religion.

The Goddess Cult

One of the problematic issues in religion that affects women is the prevailing male notion of God. It is interesting to go into the roots of the formation of this male God’s image because before patriarchal monotheism, religions existed with a Goddess as dominant divine image or together with a male God. It must be a surprise to Christians of today to find out that the most ancient human image of God was, as archaeology shows, female.

Rosemary Radford Ruether, in her book Sexism and God Talk, describes one of the different forms of these goddesses, the Goddess of fertility:

Their figures typically emphasize the breasts, buttocks, and enlarged abdomen of the female; hands and legs are given little attention. This suggests that the Goddess is not a focus of personhood, but rather an impersonalized image of the mysterious power of fecundity.[4]

There is also the Primal Matrix form, the great womb which generates all other forms of creation. In Sumer and Babylon, the Goddess is paired with male gods. A corresponding sacerdotal class of both male and female members presides over the cultic sacrifices. But there is no complementarity involved in this pairing of male and female forms of God. Rather there was an equality.

There is also the famous Goddess Isis in Egyptian religion whose cult encompassed the ancient Mediterranean world. This Goddess incorporated in herself the characteristics of other goddesses. She could cure the sick, raise the dead; she gifted nations with language and astronomy, the art of weaving, painting, etc. She is also full of mercy and compassion and is sometimes considered the precursor of the Mary-cult of Christianity.[5]

The great oriental religions also had female forms of God. Hinduism has a tradition of the Great Goddess religion which worshipped a female divinity under many names and forms.

In Philippine history there are no traditions of women goddesses. However, it is significant to note that the word for God, Bathala, does not have a sexist connotation. In the primitive Tagalog script, the word “god” is made up of three consonants Ba-Tha-La. The first consonant is the first syllable of word babae (woman) which symbolizes generation. The third consonant is the first syllable of lalaki (man) which symbolizes potency. They are joined by the middle consonant, an aspirated H which means light or spirit. The word “god,” therefore, means the union of man and woman in light. And when one reads the word backwards, it reads LaHatBa, meaning total generation, total creator (“to do,” or creador). In other words, the concept of god among the ancient Tagalogs was more closely linked with woman; and, when linked with both the concepts of man and woman, there is nuance of union and mutuality, not subordination. (See “The Filipino Woman: Before and After the Spanish Era” in Part 3.)

There are also Filipino legends concerning diwata, such as Maria Makiling, who was supposed to inhabit a mountain and who brought peace, calm, order, and well-being in the community.

The point of this discussion is to establish the fact that the male god image, which is taken for granted in Judaeo-Christian culture, evolved in a certain period of history during the establishment of patriarchal monotheism. It is therefore not true of all times and of all cultures, but is actually “a sharp departure from all previous human consciousness.”[7]

Women and the Christian Bible

Throughout the history of the Church until now the Bible has been used to justify the subordination and discrimination of women, and yet women, not men, are the most constant believers in the Bible or God’s word.

First it has to be noted that the Bible was written in a patriarchal society. Although its authors are unknown, the books of the Bible have been attributed to men writers, have been interpreted by men, and have been taught for the last two thousand years by men.

In the monotheistic patriarchalism of the Hebrews, God was considered a patriarch. There was a pronounced male domination over women. It had a double standard of morality favorable to men. Women were considered properties of their fathers or husbands. The women’s main contribution was bearing children. That was why to be barren was a curse. Needless to say, they were excluded from cultic participation except as spectators. They had to observe ritual purification for menstruation and childbirth.

However, in spite of these limitations, prominent women emerged in the Old Testament. There were such women as Deborah, the mighty prophetess; Esther, who saved her people; Ruth, a symbol of fidelity; Judith, who was considered an honor of her people and the glory of Israel; Delilah, Thamar, and others.

The movement that Jesus of Nazareth initiated was a movement critical to the then prevailing Jewish society. Elizabeth Fiorenza writes:

As a renewal movement the Jesus movement stands in conflict with its Jewish society and is “heretical” with respect to the Jewish religious community. The earliest Jesus traditions expect a reversal of all social conditions through the eschatological intervention of God: this is initially realized in the ministry of Jesus. Therefore the Jesus movement can accept all those who according to contemporary social standards are marginal people and who are, according to the Torah, “unclean”: the poor, the exploited, the public sinners, the publicans, the maimed and the sick, and last but not the least, the women.[8]

Therefore, it is not surprising that Jesus’ treatment of women went against the accustomed attitude of the Jews. Jesus took women seriously and chose them as disciples and primary witnesses: for example, Mary Magdalene and three women who witnessed the empty tomb. He not only talked publicly with the Samaritan woman, he even engaged her in a theological discussion and revealed his mission to her. He was forgiving of the woman taken in adultery and put up the Syro-Phoenician woman as a model of faith. He gave his Mother, Mary, a significant role in his mission.

In the early Christian communities, the character of the Jesus movement found expression in the abolition of social distinction of class, religion, race, and gender. (Gal. 3:28) Gentiles, slaves, and women assumed leadership functions in the missionary activities. Prisca, for example, together with her husband Aquilles played an important role equal to St. Paul’s. So did Thecla and Lydia, and other women who played prominent roles in the development of the early Christian communities.

Unfortunately, the egalitarian elements in the Jesus movement gradually got eliminated in what Fiorenza calls “ecclesiastical patriarchalization.” This was a part of the “apologetic development of cultural adaptation that was necessary because the early Christian missionary movement, like the Jesus movement in Palestine, was a countercultural conflict movement that undermined the patriarchal structure of the Graeco-Roman politeia.”[9]

This ecclesiastical patriarchalization led to the exclusion of women from church offices; women had to conform to their stereotyped role in patriarchal culture. It was no longer woman’s call to discipleship that wrought out her salvation but her prescribed role as wife and mother.

Women in Church History

The ecclesiastical patriarchalization went on relentlessly throughout Church history. The Fathers of the Church reacting against Gnosticism, which allowed the female principle in its concept of the godhead, became increasing misogynistic in their writings. Tertullian, for example, lashed out against Gnostic women as “heretical, bold, and immodest because they presumed to prophesy, teach, exercise, and baptize.”[10] To him is attributed the harsh words addressing women:

Women, you ought to dress in mourning and rags, representing yourself as patients bathed in tears, redeeming thus the fault of having ruined the human race. You are the door of hell: you, finally, are the cause why Jesus Christ had to die.[11]

Origen castrated himself because he believed marital relations lessened the efficacy of prayer. St. John Chrysostom blamed women for the sins of David and Solomon, and described women as a storehouse of spittle and phlegm. Augustine avowed: “I know nothing which brings the manly mind down from the height more than a woman’s caresses and that joining of bodies without which one cannot have a wife.”[12]

The doctors of the Church were no better. Thomas Aquinas considered women as “misbegotten males.” Gracian propounded:

Different kinds of temptations make war on man in his various ages, some when he is young and others when he is old: but woman threatens him perpetually. Neither the youth, nor the adult, nor the old man, nor the wise, nor the brave, nor even the saint is ever safe from woman.[13]

Because of this there was a significant stress on vowed celibacy both for men and women. With the establishment of monasteries, a communal life of celibates with the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience took form. In time, convent life became circumscribed by the rules imposed by clerical authorities who are, of course, male. In the sixth century they prescribed the cloister of all nuns which was to be kept strictly.

In the Middle Ages there emerged a systematic persecution of charismatic women who were condemned as witches. In 1484 a tract was published entitled “Malleus Maleficarum” (The Hammer Against Witches), which was an anthology of the product of fevered imaginations regarding the alleged habits, characteristics, and evil techniques of females given over to Satan. Between the 13th and 18th centuries, about a million women including Joan of Arc were burned to death as witches.

In spite of this, some women of the Middle Ages broke through the repressive situation into the limelight, like Juliana of Norwich, a famous mystic; St. Gertrude, St. Mechtilde, and St. Therese of Avila, who were famous for their scholarship; and St. Catherine of Siena, who had tremendous influence on popes and bishops in important ecclesiastical matters.

The Protestant Revolution that did a lot to promote the role of the laity failed to do the same for women. In fact by restraining devotion to Mary and by suppressing the convents, the Reformation removed several of women’s safety valves. Even Martin Luther was ambivalent about women. He failed to see the sexism in biblical patriarchalism. He still preached that the role of women was procreation and nurturing. However, the emerging Lutheran and Calvinist Churches did recognize the social and theological role of women. They accepted women preachers in the 17th century. The Quakers recognized sexual equality and produced great women preachers like Elizabeth Houton, Mary Dyer, and Elizabeth Fry.

In the 19th century Mary Baker Eddy founded Christian Science and renewed the Father-Mother image of God. Likewise Catholic women of the counter-reformation, such as Angela Merici and Louise de Marillac, broke through the restrictions to engage in social services.

In the 20th century, in the advent of the feminist movement, the emancipation of women in the Church sees its first real glimmer of hope.

Women in Philippine Church History

The pre-Spanish Filipino society cannot be called matriarchal, but the Filipino women did enjoy equal status with the men. The mujer indigena received equal inheritance; her training was the same as her male counterpart. The wife enjoyed the same right as the husband in marriage including the right to divorce. She participated in managing the domestic economy as well as in agricultural production. She could be a “pact holder,” which shows equality in political-leadership opportunities. She had a preeminent role in religious cult, being the priestess, babaylan, who offered sacrifices in all the important events celebrated by the community.

In the 16th century, Spain brought Christianity and Western civilization with its patriarchal society to the Philippines. The same misogynistic trend that was present in the Western Church was, of course, brought to the island, as shown in the following instruction to parish priests in the colony:

Woman is the most monstrous animal in the whole of nature, bad tempered, and worse spoken. To have this animal in the house is asking for trouble in the way of tattling, talebearing, malicious gossip, and controversies, for wherever a man is, it would seem to be impossible to have peace and quiet. However, even this might be tolerated if it were not for the danger of unchastity. Not only should the parish priest of Indians abstain from employing any woman in his house, but he should not allow them to enter it, even if they are only paying a call.[14]

The friars spared no effort to mold the Filipino women to the image and likeness of the Spanish women of the Iberian society of their time, where their lifestyle did not differ much from that of a contemplative nun of today. Schools for girls were established, and manuals for young girls were translated to the values, concept, and prescriptions of the friars ingrained in young girls. The cult of the Blessed Virgin Mary was introduced to complete their domestication. (There is of course a liberating way of honoring Mary.) The product of this friar education was later personified in the sweet, shy, docile, and pious Maria Clara, the heroine of Jose Rizal’s novel, Noli Me Tangere.

Later on, during the Propaganda movement, the ilustrados who were trying to awaken the national consciousness of the people denounced the friars’ exploitation of Filipino women and their domestication that Spanish religious education had affected. In spite of these massive efforts to subdue the Filipino women, individuals broke through the mold in different epochs of history, like Gabriela Silang, Tandang Sora, and Gregoria de Jesus. An interesting example is that of an unnamed woman during the Ilocos Revolt who dared to preach against the parish priest who made the indignant denunciation:

Last Sunday, I preached again to the people exhorting them to their obligation and vassalage to the sovereign so that those who have remained faithful until then would maintain their sentiment without prevarication. While I was preaching, a woman had the nerve to also preach, saying that they should not believe me, that everything I said were lies and that in the name of God and the Gospel, we do nothing but deceive them, so that we Spaniards could fleece them, well we (the friars) are also Spaniards like all the others.[15]

But apart from the individual women who have defied their domestication and in spite of the growth of the women’s movement even among Church women, the great majority have internalized the stereotyped roles Church and society have assigned to them.

Women in the Church Today

This section will have to treat separately the Protestant and the Catholic Churches. It will also discuss the matter taking into consideration the teachings, the practices, the structure, and the ritual of the Churches.

The Catholic Church still holds a conservative view of women. Church teachings on family life still emphasize the “obey your husband” dictum. It allows only the natural methods of family planning and has not lifted its ban on divorce.

Its moral theology still focuses on the “sins of the flesh” with a certain bias against women as “Eve the temptress.” It offers the model of Mary as Virgin-Mother, which is difficult for Catholic women to emulate.

The hierarchy refuses to take the ordination of women seriously even if progressive theologians find no fundamental reasons for the discrimination. Although women are the most active in Church service functions and activities, they are deprived of participation in the major decision-making processes. Celibate priests continue, in fact, to make the rules and prescriptions governing marriage and family life. The structure is hierarchical and clerical, and women have no part in both.

In the liturgy, there is still a sexist tone addressing the assembly as “brethren,” praying for the salvation of “mankind,” and exhorting to love one’s “fellowmen.” The women are given minor roles in the liturgy, but they shoulder the more burdensome preparations behind the scenes and the “making order” after each celebration.

In spite of the lack of legal authority, however, religious women have a vital role in the Church. In the Philippines they enjoy a credibility among the faithful which surpasses that of the priest. They are also among the conscientized and are active in groups and people’s organizations that are in solidarity with the struggle of the poor and the oppressed. Lately they have become aware of themselves as women concerned with the “woman question” and are contributing to the emancipation of their sisters toward a full development of their personhood.

The structure of Protestant Churches is less hierarchical than that of the Roman Catholic Church. Bishops are elected and pastors are petitioned by the parishioners. There is normally a national conference where the laity is represented in the decision-making. In some protestant denominations there is already ordination of women pastors. However, in actual church practice there are still many things left to be desired. I will let Protestant women speak for themselves. Ruth Kao writes:

There is a Women’s Department Secretary working in the main assembly of the Church… In the local Church we have women deaconesses and for about fifty years we have had women ministers. But there are very few women in the decision-making bodies of the Presbytery or the Assembly. But we are now educating ourselves to be more self-reliant and to encourage our women to take part in these activities.[16]

Audrey Rivera, associate general secretary of the Student Christian Movement in Sri Lanka, shares her views:

About two years ago, the Methodist Church accepted the ordination of women and right now at the Lanks Theological College they have about four or five women candidates for the ministry. They have already ordained two deaconesses into the full ministry of the Church. These two women [serve] as full-time pastors of their Churches. Since their involvement with the Church has been a long-standing one, their acceptance in the role of pastor was an easy transition. However, a great deal of new ground will have to be broken by the new candidates when they go into the pastoral role. This is in some ways an unequal expectation because there are higher expectations from the women than the people have of the male candidates.[17]

Saramma Jacob of the Syrian Orthodox Church of India pinpoints the problems of women in her Church:

Women in our Church have two urgent problems. They are: 1) to have voting rights in the Church, 2) to be admitted to theological seminaries. Though women are faithful in worship, they do not have equal rights with men in the Church. Men believe that they represent women as well. Regarding entering seminaries, there is a belief that women do not need theology.[18]

Cynthia Lam, women’s secretary of the Hong Kong Christian Council, laments:

In the Church, women play a traditional role, preparing Holy Communion. Women’s opinions are not respected. They are not taken into consideration. Women are expected to be obedient to the leaders and not to speak up. But it is the women who teach Sunday school, prepare the worship, and do home visitations. Although there are more men than women in most congregations, there are more men than women in decision-making bodies. So in practice the minority lead the majority.[19]

Efforts at Renewal: The Feminist Theology of Liberation

It is not enough to analyze the situation of women in the Churches or to pinpoint the roots of women’s oppression in religion. It is imperative that out of this analysis, efforts must be exerted to remedy the situation through participation in women’s movements. Women trained in theology must also rethink the discipline itself and bring about a transformation within the Churches. Hence, the feminist theology of liberation. Ruether delineates the critical principles of such a theology:

The critical principle of feminist theology is the promotion of the full humanity of women: whatever denies, diminishes, distorts the full humanity of women, and is, therefore, appraised as not redemptive. Theologically speaking, whatever diminishes or denies the full humanity of woman must be presumed not to reflect the divine or an authentic relation to the divine nor to reflect the authentic nature of things, nor to be the message or work of an authentic redeemer or the community of redemption. This negative principle also implies the positive principle: What does promote the full humanity of women is of the Holy, it does reflect true relation to the divine, it is the true nature of the thing, the authentic message of redemption, and the mission of redemptive community.[20]

The agenda of renewal must include all aspects of theology: from the reinterpretation of scriptures, to the historical-critical reflection of Church doctrine from the women’s point of view, to the rediscovery of the great women of Church history, to the fundamental questioning of the Church hierarchical structure, its constricting prescriptions, its discriminatory practices, and the sexist language of its liturgy.

This will lead to the stripping away of women’s false consciousness, freeing them to discover themselves and their potential and to fully blossoming. In the running over of this bliss, they, together with all peoples of God, will use their energy towards the transformation of society into “a new heaven and a new earth.”


  1. From the Proceedings of the Asian Women Consultation (Manila, 1985), p. 221.
  2. Denise Lardner Carmody, Women and World Religious (Nashville: Pantheon Press, 1979), 14.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Rosemary R. Ruether, Sexism and God Talk – Towards a Feminist Theology (Boston: Beacon Press, 1983), 48.
  5. Christa Mulah, Maria – die Geheime Gottin in Christent.
  6. Carmody, Women and World Religious, 41.
  7. Ruether, Sexism and God Talk, 53.
  8. Elizabeth Fiorenza, “You Are Not to Be Called Father: Early History in a Feminist Perspective.” Cross Currents 29/3 (1979), p. 315.
  9. Ibid., 316.
  10. Carmody, Women and World Religious, 120.
  11. Quoted in M.J. Mananzan, “The Filipino Women “ in Essays On Women (Manila: Institute of Women’s Studies, 1987), 22.
  12. Quoted in Carmody, Women and World Religious, 122.
  13. Quoted in C.R. Boxer, Mary and Misogyny (London, Duchworth, 1975), 100.
  14. Casimiro Diaz, quoted in Essays On Women, 27.
  15. Apuntes Interesantes sobre las Islas Filipinas por un Espanol de larga experiencia en el pais y amante del progreso (Madrid, 1870), 59.
  16. Ruth Kao, quoted in “Emerging Patterns in the Women’s Movement in Asia,” God’s Images, December 1985/February 1986, 15-16.
  17. Ibid., 17-18.
  18. Ibid., 22.
  19. Ibid., 24.
  20. Ruether, Sexism and God Talk, 18-19.


Editorial  •  Perspective  •  Theological Reflection  •  Regional News  •  RWP  •  Announcements

Regional News:

Movement Building Workshop in SCM Timor Leste

9-16 June 2005

As discussed and agreed in the last Standing Committee meeting, Nina Nayoan, ExCo member of WSCF AP, and Yock Leng, Regional Women’s Coordinator, were in Timor Leste on 9-16 June 2005 to facilitate a Workshop on Movement Building for SCM Timor Leste. Yock Leng and Nina conducted the workshop on the dates mentioned and Nina will stay on for another month until 28 July 2005 to follow-up with plans and programmes that have been identified by the SCMers during the one week’s workshop.

The objectives outlined by SCM TL on this workshop are:
  1. To share the vision and mission of WSCF and SCM
  2. To develop the human resources in SCM TL through capacity building trainings
  3. To open students’ mind in critical thinking and questioning
  4. to facilitate and assist students in their various problems faced in studies as well as in the life of communities
The goal for this process of Movement Building in SCM TL:

Hence, the 15 participants to this workshop were identified as active members and heavily involved in the life of SCM TL and are perceived to be future leaders in the SCM.

The outline of the workshop is as follows:
  1. Orientation of Work Plan to SCM TL and Meeting with Staff and ExCo members of SCM TL to discuss on Work Plan
  2. Visioning of SCM TL and connecting this visioning to the following session on:
    - Mission and Vision of WSCF and SCM
    - Programme Emphasis of WSCF AP and the SCM
  3. Church and the SCM – Theology and Social Concern/Social Politics, and the Ecumenical Perspective of SCM
  4. Skills Training on Programme Planning + Direction (Needs Identifying), Programme Implementation, Programme Evaluation
  5. Skills Training on Facilitation and Holding Discussion Groups
  6. Skills on Recruitment of Students
  7. Office Administration:
    - Networking Skills
    - Fund Raising Skills
  8. Management Skills on:
    - Programme Proposal Writing and Programme Reporting
    - Programme Accounting and Budgetting
  9. Staff + Committee Members – Role and Relationship
    - Styles of Leadership and Decision Making
  10. Stimulating Critical Thinking – Using Social Analysis as a tool
  11. Evaluation of Workshop and Planning together on working with Nina
Evaluation of the Workshop

The participants found the workshop helpful particularly on the session on Programme Proposal Writing and Reporting, Skills on Networking and Fund Raising, Budgetting and Skills on Facilitating Group Discussion. These are very practical skills that they could make use of when doing programme direction and thrust for the SCM. Moreover, the participants pointed out that the majority of East Timorese have not been given many opportunities to receive management skills and training as well as making social analysis independently under the colonial rules of the Portuguese and the Indonenesian military government. Hence, sessions such as discussion on different styles of leadership and using social analysis as a tool to critical thinking and critiqueing the concerns and issues of the country, are very valuable and helpful for many SCMers in SCM Timor Leste to work towards rebuilding a just, fair and equal society.

Follow-Up Plans

On the last day of the workshop, the participants sat together with Nina to work on the follow-up programmes and plans for the next month. After identifying their strengths, weaknesses, and needs, the participants and Nina decided to:

  1. meet once a week for Bible Study where Nina will emphasize on the importance of ecumenism and the theological perspective of social analysis;
  2. using lessons in the workshop to work practically on 2 projects:
    • the EAP project on Developing the Role of the Students and Youths in the Peace Building Process of Timor Leste in the Context of Ecumenism and the Ecumenical Movement in SCM Timor Leste;
    • Women’s Programme in SCM Timor Leste

Particularly, the EAP project will be a series of discussions among the SCMers in the following months with the intention to conduct a workshop based on the EAP theme in the month of November. Initial discussions saw possibilities to include members of the Catholic Church as well as the YMCA in Timor Leste.


Human Rights and Solidarity Working Group Meeting

30 June - 2 July 2005, Bangkok, Thailand

The idea of forming a Human Rights and Solidarity Working Group was inspired by the growing need to further develop and strengthened our human rights advocacies as the Asia-Pacific region is confronted by escalating war and globalisation that has continued to widen the gap between the rich and the poor creating immeasurable injustices in our society. On the other hand, SCMs in the region have become more active in their human rights advocacy focusing on their local context. Thus, there is a need to enhance and develop the Human Rights and Solidarity Programme of the federation in order to provide a regional analysis on different issues affecting the region and to support the SCMs on-going struggles for justice, peace and human rights.

Imbued with the high aspiration of working for peace and justice for the realisation of human rights, the WSCF AP formed a working group for the Human Rights and Solidarity and held a meeting on 30 June - 2 July 2005 at the Student Christian Center in Bangkok, Thailand.

The 3-day working group meeting discussed the following agenda:

  1. Sharing of different concerns and issues of each country in Asia-Pacific.
  2. Formation of a Human Rights and Solidarity Programme Committee
  3. Plan of action against the 6th Ministerial Meeting of the WTO on December in Hong Kong.
  4. Planning of Human Rights and Solidarity Programme for the year 2006.

The meeting was attended by Saw Hay Mu Htoo (Myanmar), Paddy Noble (Cambodia), Sunita Sumati Suna (India), Pitiphan Areeyat (Thailand), John Probhudan (Standing Committee Member-at-Large), Wong Yock Leng (Regional Women’s Coordinator) and Bayani Alonzo II (Human Rights Coordinator).

The Human Rights and Solidarity Working Group is the manifestation of WSCF Asia-Pacific commitment to further advance the human rights and solidarity advocacies of the federation in the Asia-Pacific region. Most importantly, we envision that the Working Group can be a good starting venue to explore the possibility of forming a Human Rights and Solidarity Committee in the Asia-Pacific region. The Human Rights and Solidarity Committee of the WSCF AP will serve as the campaign center and shall passionately advance peace and justice with the protection of Human Rights throughout the Asia-Pacific.


WSCF Inter-Regional Women’s Programme

24-31 July 2005, Manila, Philippines

The WSCF Inter-Regional Women’s Programme on “Violence Against Women: Challenging Gender Roles and Power Relations between Women and Men” was held from 24-31 July 2005 in Manila, Philippines. Twenty-three people participated in this inter-regional programme that saw a global representation from the 6 regions of WSCF.

The 23 participants went through an 8-day process of learning, sharing and experiencing together on the pertinent issue of Violence Against Women (VAW). The learning process started with a trust-building sharing of Her-Stories where participants shared their own background influences and impacts that became their lenses on the concerns and issues of society, especially on women and gender. A one-day visit to various NGOs that worked on issue of Violence Against Women was also planned. The participants visited GABRIELA Circle of Friend—a programme with women survivors of domestic violence, Lila Filipina-House of the Women Survivors who worked with women who were forced by the Japanese military as sex slaves during World War II. And also a dialogue exchange with the Ecumenical Women Vow for Civil Liberties, a sub-department of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines.

The resource persons of Malaysia and the Philippines, respectively Dr. Cecilia Ng, Judith Koh and Mother Mary John Mananzan provided a theoretical framework on the realities experienced by the participants as a guide to understand the issues of VAW. Dr. Cecilia Ng and Judith Koh started the critical analysis by looking at the gender-based social norms reflected in the various institutions in society (household, community, state and market) and analyse how (unequal) gender relations are played out in these arenas. They then further deepen these articulations by looking at the notion of intersectionalities and women’s multiple identities—that gender inequalities are further made complex by their interconnections with other forms of inequalities/discrimination such as class, ethnicity, sexual orientation etc. Different feminist theories were examined to see how these apply to our own concrete situations and experiences, while taking a look at the historical perspective, on the struggles and issues of the women’s movement. Finally the 2 resource persons raised the issue of men’s involvement in ending violence; the processes of reward and punishment if one steps out of the box.

Mother Mary John Mananzan of the Philippines shared her experience and insights of Feminist Theology and how has the Church response to the issues of Violence Against Women. She discussed on the socio-historical context of women’s oppression, how women respond to this and the women’s movement and where is the church located in these important concerns. Mother Mary John also highlighted the need for feminist theology and women’s spirituality to be emphasized in our church teachings.

One of the important highlights in the programme was the Student Panel that opened the space for the student participants to present their country’s and regional realities of VAW. The preparations of the presentations challenged the meaning of teamwork in the SCM Spirit and the actual presentations provided many new insights and understanding on the VAW issues of each country.

A book on this Inter-Regional Women’s Programme will be published so that all SCMs in WSCF will benefit from this project that is the first in the Federation after a lapse of many years. For more details, please log onto the WSCF website at


Welcome Necta!

We welcome Ms. Necta Montes Rocas, our new WSCF AP regional secretary, to the polluted Hong Kong. Necta is not new to WSCF having served as ExCo member of the Asia-Pacific region from 1989-1991. She was also the Regional Women’s Coordinator of WSCF AP from 1997-2001. We are sure Necta will bring new insights and challenges to the Federation with her vast amount of experience and expertise accumulated during her years with the Federation as well as in the secular NGOs she has worked with. All the best, Necta!


Editorial  •  Perspective  •  Theological Reflection  •  Regional News  •  RWP  •  Announcements

Regional Women’s Programme:

Student Christian Movement Joint Women’s Programme

RWP – Bangladesh SCM

The first RWP-SCM Joint Women’s Programme of WSCF Asia-Pacific in 2005 took place in Bangladesh on18-22 May in Meherpur. The theme of the programme was “Building an equal world both for women and men”. 35 members from 7 units of Bangladesh SCM participated in this programme that includes the unit-level women’s officers and among the men participants are the executive committee members in the unit-level. This is a strategic inclusion as these leaders are identified to motivate changes and improvement in the programme planning and implementation of Bangladesh SCM.

Ms. Wong Yock Leng and Ms. Nurgis Sultana were the resource persons and Senior Friend Ms. Keka Adhikary assisted with translation and facilitated small group discussions in the whole programme.

Yock Leng, Regional Women’s Coordinator of WSCF AP, helped to facilitate 4 sessions: Trust Building, Gender Analysis, Theological Reflection and Structural Analysis of the SCM. Her inputs highlighted on gender socialisation, power structures and relations between women and men. The theological reflections covered the parables of the Bent Woman, Comparison of Jairous and the Haemorraghing Woman, and the women who witnessed the resurrection of Jesus. In the Structural Analysis of the SCM, the participants analyze their own SCM structures in terms of leadership positions and gender distribution in these positions. The 2 nights of Women & Men Caucus discussed on the impact of patriarchy on both women and men in the Bangladesh reality.

Another resource person, Ms. Nurgis Sultana, from the Meherpur Judge Court, gave input on Women in Bangladesh from the legal point of view, and also highlighted the importance and urgency to understand Women’s Rights in the general work on Human Rights.

The discussion on Follow-Up work saw commitment from the Central Committee of Bangladesh SCM to organise another Women’s Programme for the same participants who attended this one so that they could move to a next level in women’s concerns and gender issues hence garnering the skills and knowledge to plan and implement women’s programmes in their own local units. It was suggested that more emphasis could be focused on theological reflections and understanding, especially on feminist theologies.

RWP – Myanmar SCM

The Myanmar National Women Leadership capacity-building training programme concluded successfully on 4-8 July 2005 in Yangon. 29 participants participated in this leadership workshop with the theme “Confidence”.

The first input was on the Mission and Vision of SCM facilitated by Marlar, Myanmar SCM Women’s Coordinator. The participants were divided into small groups to discuss their perceptions on attitudes of “confidence” and “leadership”. The next inputs on Gender Analysis in the Myanmar context and Capacity-Building on Using Feminist Concepts in Leadership Styles were facilitated by Hkaung Lun, the former Women’s Coordinator of Myanmar SCM and currently working at the Spirit in Education Movement (SEM) as a Trainer of Participatory Leaning (TOT), Women’s awareness and leadership training workshops. The training module on the Capacity-Building session was provided by the Regional Women’s Programme of WSCF AP to serve as a guide and aid to Hkaung Lun’s facilitation. Women’s and men’s caucuses were also developed for discussions on topics of Gender Discrimination and the Role of Women and Men in Myanmar.

The exposure trip was a visit first to the Myanmar Council of Churches to understand the work done by the women’s department where concerns were focused on Violence Against Women, Legal and Micro-Finance for women living in poverty. Then the participants were off to the industrial zone in Yangon where they understand the issues of the migrant women.

In the theological reflection, Aye New from Myanmar Institute of Theology, led the input on Reading the Bible through Women’s Perspective, and the participants discussed on the similarities of the women in the biblical texts and the women in current situations.

The programme ended with a pledge from the participants to continue the efforts of women’s concerns in the local units of the Myanmar SCM, and to use a feminist perspective in the overall movement building process.

RWP – Taiwan SCM

The RWP-Taiwan SCM Joint Women’s Programme took place from 15-19 August 2005 in Taipei. The theme was “Women’s Image in Taiwanese Society” and throughout the 5-day workshop, the 10 participants were challenged to reflecting on the roles and images of Taiwanese women from a feminist perspective. The inputs include “Women’s Image in Taiwanese Society” by feminist advocate, Ms. Chi Hui-Jung, Executive Director of the Garden of Hope Foundation, “Gender and Sexuality Issues in Taiwan” by Ms. Yeh Ta-Hua, Executive Secretary of Taiwan Youth Association, “The New Woman of Taiwan”—a panel discussion by 2 activists from the Gender Equity Commission and the Long Shan Center for Women’s Rights & Welfare, a sub-division of the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan (PCT). There was also a theological reflection from women’s perspective by Rev. HumHum, an activist on aborigine and women’s issues. The one and half day of exposure covered NGOs that work on issues on Comfort Women, Gender Equity, Single Parenthood, and Different Sexual Orientation in Taiwan.

Apart from these formal inputs, the participants also spent a lot of time sharing and exchanging experiences, thoughts and reflection with each other in the evenings. The 5-day programme has created a deep impact on their awareness and consciousness level on women’s oppression and discrimination in the Taiwanese society, hence, at the end of the programme, a concrete plan of action to continue such awareness raising workshops, was developed. The participants formed themselves into a working group to organise the thematic workshop on women and gender in the Taiwan SCM Bible Study Camp in February 2006, and to also work on the long-term plan to realise a regular TSCM Women’s Programme.


Editorial  •  Perspective  •  Theological Reflection  •  Regional News  •  RWP  •  Announcements


WSCF AP is currently engaged in the preparation for three WTO-related events which will all take place in December in Hong Kong. These events are; the Ecumenical Conference on Globalising Economic Justice and Social Sustainability (8-12 December); Ecumenical Women’s Forum in Life-Promoting Trade (12-14 December.); and the International Student and Youth Network Forum on Higher Education (14-17 December). All these events are organised by several organizations, in which WSCF is just one among a consortium of groups that have signified to co-host these events.

Conference on Globalising Economic Justice and Social Sustainability

The ecumenically-initiated conference will be held on 8-12 December 2005 in Hong Kong where the 6th Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) will be hosted (December 13-18, 2005). The Conference is a platform for faith communities to critique its role, to reflect on the economic justice aspect of the WTO and to search for alternatives towards social justice and sustainability.

For a copy of the conference brochure and other questions, please send your inquiries to WSCF AP office.

The International Student & Youth Network on WTO

The International Student & Youth Network on WTO (ISYNOW) that include Asian Students Association (ASA), Ecumenical Asia-Pacific Students and Youth Network (EASYNet), and the International League of People’s Struggle (ILPS)—Students and Youth Commission was established with an aim to organize the youth and students to take an active role to derail the WTO. With the principle that Education is a Right not a Commodity, we need to be united and critically evaluate and challenge our national education policy, while at the global level to stand firm with other sectors to resist the neo-liberal policies. Students and youth around the world need to be united to critically evaluate and challenge their national education policy, while at the global level to stand firm with others to block the profit-hungry capitalist educators. Hence, to respond to the various critical issues concerning education, the ISYNOW has decided to hold an International Student and Youth Conference on Education and Employment from 13-15 December in Hong Kong. This conference aims to gather students and youths from all over the world to share and act in solidarity against the oppressions that they experience in the current education policies and structures.

Ecumenical Women’s Forum in Life-Promoting Trade

The WTO (in conjunction with the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank) has been pushing for aggressive trade liberalisation in developing countries on the grounds of improving efficiency and strengthening economic growth. To a large extent, poor women in the South have experienced food insecurity, displacement and losses in livelihood especially in the rural sector; continuing wage inequality, informalisation and hazardous working conditions in manufacturing industries; shrinking access to basic services such as water, health and education; and increasing care-giving workloads.

Two critical WTO agreements—where the stakes for women are particularly high—will dominate the December trade talks in Hong Kong: the Agreement on Agriculture (AOA); and the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS). Women are very concerned about the negative effects of the AOA on ecological sustainability and on their capacities to nourish and feed their families and communities. On GATS, women are alarmed by rules that require governments to expand private ownership of basic services such as water provision, the liberalisation of financial services as well as rules that affect the rights of migrant workers. The latter is particularly significant since Hong Kong, the venue of the WTO ministerial meeting, receives many women migrant workers.

In order to significantly influence the trade policy agenda and transform unjust trade relations, church-based and feminist movements must join efforts. At an ecumenical women’s consultation on economic globalisation organised by the World Council of Churches in Manila in August 2004, churchwomen in solidarity with feminist economists committed to vigilantly monitor trade policies and to challenge the WTO at its forthcoming ministerial. In examining trade policies, churches and women are asking: Are they fair to all concerned? Are they friendly to the environment? Do they support just relationships and uplift the impoverished? Do they affirm life and human dignity? Together, churches and women are proposing creative and practical ways of moving towards a global trading system that prioritises caring and provisioning for life over and beyond profit.

WSCF AP Quarterly Calendar