The first issue saw a discourse on the current challenges in feminist theories and practices. This theme was chosen in light of the need that feminism has to go beyond raising awareness, analysis and transformation of gender and social inequality in the private and public spheres. Not only does it need to explain the cultural and social constructs and differences between women and men, it has an urgent need to examine the power differences between women and women, men and men, women and men in different or similar angles, situations, circumstances, identities and locations. In addition, there are many current challenges such as the stratification of inequality between women and men, the dualism of femininity and masculinity, state and global politics that define the androcentric structures and systems of humankind, the ideals of post-feminist discourse and the connection between feminism and spirituality.
Susanna George, one of the writers in the issue, commented that the focus on gender mainstreaming and gender analysis has distracted many feminists away from the heart of the feminist project which had started out to ”irrevocably change, ultimately shake and dismantle the powers that be, expose, shame and ultimately withdraw the credibility and license of power mongers and patriarchs in all their manifestation”. Instead, all these have been taken over by those very institutions that the feminists tried to transform, who use them in pushing through their patriarchal and androcentric agendas while maintaining their power base in the institutions and structures. Moreover, as powerful as gender analysis has been in exposing patriarchy, it has also powerfully locked many feminists into the mode of gender dualism. All these happen because there was no attention paid to the power differences that stratify both women and men in the social structures, as well as the androcentric development and encouragement of binary oppositions brought on by societal and political institutions.
In fact, one of the divides that the androcentric institutions cause is the issue on sexuality. Another writer, Hope Antone, challenged that the much used biblical texts that ‘condemn’ homosexuality are misunderstood or perhaps, purposeful used to justify gender dualism of femininity and masculinity, and the binary oppositions. In her conclusion, biblical research shows that same-sex acts that are the focus of biblical concern were not what is meant in the current context of homosexuality. The bible is basically indifferent to homosexuality in itself, and is concerned as with heterosexuality when practices violate other moral and humane requirements of human kind.
The following articles address the presumed superiority of the market-oriented economies. Sayun from Taiwan critiqued on her country’s push for membership with the World Trade Organisation (WTO) when Taiwan is already a full-fledged capitalistic economy that emphasizes on the price tag but not human concerns. Membership with the WTO would definitely create a wider income gap between the rich and poor in the country as well as social oppressions on the foreign workers or residents there. In a faith reflection, Davy from Hong Kong lamented that the present Church favours the market-oriented values and would choose to see that these are better than supporting the poor and marginalised in making a living in the society.
This theme on Empire-Building was chosen just at the time when the US-backed Israel military began its bombing attacks on the Southern Lebanon and Beirut, and aptly reflected on the reality of living in the style of modern day Empire.
The main writer of this issue, Carmencita Karagdag, stressed that the economic globalisation is clearly linked with political power and largely determined by those in global political power. Globalisation is not a value-neutral, technology-driven, historical process nor it is simply propelled by blind market forces or Adam Smith's “invisible hand”. It is a political project based on the ideology of neo-liberalism and serving to further strengthen the historical subordination of the South to the North. It is driven by an ideological construct in which the market becomes all-powerful while social control or government intervention is substantially diminished. Hence, while the economic base is arguably central to the understanding of globalisation, the latter cannot be fully comprehended when divorced from the political and ideological superstructure. Empire building needs ideological justification and claims to cultural superiority for its project of domination. Freedom, democracy and humanitarian intervention (or regime-change) have been invoked to justify the hegemonic drive. Hence, resistance to the Empire is an imperative of the faith and the spirituality of resistance is by its very nature, political. It addresses the crucial issue of power and powerless, providing the inner force and impetus to challenge powers and principalities, empower the voiceless and disenfranchised, transform an iniquitous social order and create life-enhancing alternatives. The challenge is then, for the ecumenical movement to cultivate this spirituality of resistance and also for interfaith solidarity in the face of the Empire.
The next writer, Wati Longchar, responded with a Theological Reflection on the Empire, urging students and youth to become the signs of God’s Reign. Wati chose 2 texts Genesis 47:13-22 and Mark 8:27-9:50 to reflect on how people of God could contribute in the construction and deconstruction, legitimization and de-legitimization of the Empire. The 2 texts show that by choosing the power and mammon, one can become an agent for expansion of the Empire, or demonstrates that one can denounce and de-legitimize the Empire by choosing the way of love, peace and justice. The value of God’s reign is the power that de-legitimizes the Empire. Wati stressed that we live in a world of grave contradictions, poverty, disease, violence and injustice. We live in a world where religion legitimizes Empire and in the name of religion, and religious identity, some of the most heinous acts of violence are committed. When we do not uphold the values of journeying together, cooperate, respect and reconcile with one another in the spirit of serving, healing, working and sharing together with love and forgiveness, we will lose the 'saltiness' as symbolised in the text of Mark as the emblem of fidelity and friendship due to its healing and sustaining qualities.
Delia d’Aguilar contributed the following article on Third World Women and Gloablisation that discusses on the political economy in capitalism impact on women, especially their struggles in the formal and informal sector of labour. Delia argued that many feminists have decried the fact writers on the globalised capitalist system have ignored the centrality of women to the economic restructuring of the period since the mid-70s. The diaspora of women in the Third World today is the direct result of women in a globalised capitalism where they are ‘driven’ out to of their own countries to earn a living mainly in service industries, in clerical, technical/manufacturing work, all in the realm of production. This also relates to the feminisation of labour in globalisation. Theorisation of the so-called separate spheres, the productive and reproductive, enabled women to realise that their lower wages, as directly connected to their assignment to childcare and household duties. While feminists in the 70s fought very hard to demonstrate that housework was not to be viewed as an act of love, women in the “Developing Countries” now have available the cheap labour of immigrant Third World women to clean and care for their children and household. Hence, it is important to take into full account of the political economy of capitalism that we comprehend current globalisation process, the unprecedented disapora of women and their struggles in the formal and informal sector of labour.
There is also a sharing from 2 Hong Kong SCMers who went to China under the sponsorship of Amity Foundation. The visit was an opportunity for an initial assessment on WSCF’s future work with churches in China and the possibility of forming a SCM. The Hong Kongers made an indepth assessment and were excited that WSCF’s efforts into China may prove to be a turning point in the life of the federation as well as for Hong Kong SCM who will be a possible bridge between China and WSCF. Lastly, an SCMer from SCM Aotearoa shared on his reflection on the debates of the Civil Union Bill in Aotearoa/New Zealand in which nuptial laws could be passed to recognise the union between people of the community of Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Intersex Queer (LGBTIQ).
The first article was contributed by Tony Waworuntu, a senior friend of the federation, who also shared this reflection “Geo-Political Situation in Asia-Pacific: Escalating the Conflict and Impact of the US War on Terror”, in the WSCF AP Human Rights Workshop in Indonesia. Tony stressed that Justice is the key word in this world full of human rights violation. We do not build peace, but rather we build justice and once justice exists in all our economic, political and social relationships, peace can and will emerge Justice primarily has to do with conduct in relation to others, especially with regards to the rights of others. In a larger sense, justice is not only giving to others their rights but involves the active duty of establishing their rights. Justpeace is therefore, a peace that emerges as the injustices of the world are transformed and rights are restored for all people. Justpeace recognises the history, culture and the complexity of a conflict and it tries to address each of those in creative and courage approaches to find a solution. Justpeace takes into consideration of all forms of conflict and injustice including economic violence, political violence, social violence, cultural violence, gender violence and ethnic violence. Each of these violence needs to be transformed. Hence, it is necessary to have movements that are deeply rooted in the marginalised communities and to address not only the issues of these communities, but also provide means of participation suited to these communities, empower them to reflect and aspirations to the rest of the world. Thus, it is not a movement of protest but a movement of transformation. Tony challenged the SCMers to participate actively in achieving Justpeace in their own societies as he concluded his sharing.
The following reflection came from Letirio Panjiatan who shared on the meaning of the Jubilee Year: Economic Rights and Justice in the Bible. Letirio articulated that the Sabbath and the Jubilee year are a direct and revolutionary response to social and economic problems which at times became the central issue in Israel’s life and a central concern of Israel’s God. The Jubilee was to be proclaimed on the Day of Atonement, the most sacred day of the year. The Sabbath and Jubilee year express the fundamental logic of God’s intervention in human and cosmic history. In the fulfillment of the Jubilee mandates, Jesus brought good news to the poor as the breaking in of God’s reign, as the release of those in prison, as recovery of sight to the blind and the healing of all kinds of disease, as liberation of the oppressed. Jesus taught that God’s reign would comfort those who mourn, give land back to the meek and fill the hungry with justice. Not only did he heal the sick, but broke the taboos that marginalised people, above all, the unclean, the sinners, women and children, and they were given first priority in God’s reign. Jesus had to challenge the guardians of the social, economic, political and religious systems. Having considered these important biblical teachings, Letirio challenged us in questioning our faithfulness in keeping God’s commandments as expressed in the Sabbath and Jubilee year, and bringing these mandates to our daily lives in concrete ways, remembering that Jesus through small acts of healing, caring and even by disobeying legalistic regulations, broke down the walls of oppression and bringing in God’s reign.
The following article discusses on the challenges faced by women in the New Reproductive Technologies (NRTs). The realisation of women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights, including ensuring access to appropriate reproductive technologies, has been a cornerstone in the fights for women's human rights and freedoms. Reproductive Technologies (RTs) traditionally refers to a range of devices and procedures for assisting, preventing and/or manipulating contraception, fertility and reproductive practices. What makes NRTs different is not only their increasing effectiveness and invasiveness, but the globalised system of profit seeking and control in which they are being advanced. Not only are these technologies being used to manipulate contraception, fertility and reproductive practices, they are creating new ways to have an influence characteristics of potential children. Never before have reproductive technologies been manufactured and marketed with such intensity. Vast amounts of resources are being put into these discoveries yet, the dialogue as to the ethics, potential dangers and consequences on women's bodies remains largely uncritical and unbalanced, often neglecting to examine the different experiences of NRTs depending on location, class, race and gender. The challenge is that women from rich or poor, North or South, will encounter NRTs, and the question is how, when and what NRT they will come across. Moreover, do young women have access to information about sexual and reproductive health and rights including contraceptives and reproductive technologies? NRT when used positively and when women have access to them, enhances women's reproductive freedom. But when the NRTs are used as part of population control policies and forced sterilisations, women's rights are certainly violated. Some of the issues and questions potentially impacting women’s rights and gender equality are:
- Corporations and industry seeking to market new technologies are influencing structures regulating their development
- While NRTs do give women some control, they are not necessarily the appropriate technologies for women’s needs
- NRTs are changing human reproduction—moving it from the bedroom to the laboratory
- Most NRTs are expensive, available only to the richest in the world
- There is a serious concern over the commodification of human life and the marketing of women’s bodies
- NRTs are challenging choice as the central value to reproductive rights.
Three SCMers then shared on their experiences in the WSCF-AP programmes. Hannah from Australia SCM reflected on her participation in the Human Rights Workshop. The most life-changing experience was the exposure programme in which she stayed with a community that has been environmentally and socially severely affected by a local pulp plant. The stories of hope and despair that the local community shared became a transformation process for Hannah to reflect on her role as a SCMer to act and speak on the injustices, calling for change. Anna, of Korean Student Christian Federation, shared on her 3-month women’s internship programme in the Malaysian NGO, Youth 4 Change. Anna spoke on the reservations of many young people in taking up a concern on social issues as there is always the sceptism that nothing can be changed. However, Anna felt that no change can be expected if young people sit and do nothing and hence, reflected that her experience taught her that it is possible to make changes in the society when young people start to be interested in the experience and struggles of people. Melva from SCM Indonesia shared on her internship experience in the Philippines. The context of her internship was an intense period of escalating violation of human rights in the Philippines where hundreds of cases of reported murder and abductions of people voicing out against human rights violations done by the government and military. Melva learned that one of the helpful approaches to pursue and advocate cases of human rights violation was through documentation work. It is essential to know organising case files for each case that include documents such as: Post Mortem Examination Letter from Municipal Health Office, Affidavit letters, News Clippings, Fact-Finding Mission reports, Minutes of Hearings and other documents related to the case. Hence, this helps the advocates to get a deeper and clearer understanding of the case. Her internship also brought her to many exposure sites around Philippines that left her with unforgettable experiences and reflections that human rights violations in all forms to all kinds of people, not only is a violation of rights but a grave violation of human dignity.