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Regional Programme

Report on Women Doing Theology 2003

February 28 to March 9, 2003
Philippines

WDT 2003Women Doing Theology (WDT) 2003 was held in Philippines on 28 February - 9 March 2003, in the Women and Ecology Wholeness Organic Farm in Cavite, 3 hours away from busy Manila. 18 young women leaders from all National Movements of India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Philippines, Hong Kong, Korea, Australia, Taiwan, Singapore and Aotearoa New Zealand, including 2 representatives from the International Movement of Catholic Students (IMCS) and Christian Conference of Asia (CCA) as part of an ecumenical partnership, participated in this programme.

As defined as a need to take stock and evaluate the new and present needs and experiences of our SCM women as well as understanding the importance of how are these women coping with these new developments and how are they relating and inter-connecting these to the Theology from a woman’s perspective, it is vital to be equipped as women being involved in these developments, while relating to the numerous women in their society who are still experiencing physical, emotional, economical, political, social marginalisation and injustices. Therefore, there is a need to address the developing trend of Women Doing Theology in the face of emerging issues, needs and experiences of women in the SCM as well as in the Asian Pacific society.

Hence, the programme consists of sessions on Bible Studies from Women’s Perspectives, History of Feminist Theology, Asian Feminist Theology and Impact/Relevance of Asian Feminist Theology in SCM/WSCF. Besides these major sessions, 2 other important sessions to start off the programme were the Exposure Programme and Her-Story, a sharing of each participant on her journey as a woman in her life in the midst of her own socio-economic and political backdrop. Below is a short report on WDT2003.

Women and Ecology Wholeness Farm

The venue, Women and Ecology Wholeness Organic Farm, a humble settling with a tranquil atmosphere, was selected as a place to accommodate the participants because it is believed that Eco-Feminism is a very important aspect in the whole understanding of Feminism. Creation, peace and care were very strongly demonstrated in this farm, from the little flowers displayed in the dining room to the nutritious food prepared by the unassuming staff of the farm. It was a very peaceful setting and it facilitated the participants to learn and enjoy God’s creation abundantly. The participants were also treated to a half-day orientation on the farm from the farm’s supervisor, Shirley. They learned about the organic vegetables and herbs, planting mushrooms and a lesson on non-biodegradable daily necessities which could be replaced if we take extra care to understand about the things that would harm the environment.

Opening Worship, Orientation & Community Building

The opening worship was prepared by the Student Christian Movement of the Philippines which involved all the participants to give a small sharing and reflection on the women’s issues in the context of our Christian faith. This short but meaningful worship helped the participants to gather in solidarity towards the common goal of the Women Doing Theology workshop.

An orientation on the country, Philippines, was given by the participants from SCM Philippines (SCMP), Zula, Rawi and Liezl. Using the Philippines’ socio-economic-political background, they helped created an environment for the participants to begin a journey of understanding the issues affecting the people of the Philippines, a place where they would be staying for the next 10 days.

There was a brief session on the history and development of the World Student Christian Federation and also the Women Doing Theology (WDT) programme to help the participants to understand the contexts and aims of WDT which has often helped developed many women leaders and activists in the ecumenical field.

The following activity was Community Building where some community exercises were done together to develop a better understanding of each other as they have to interact with each other for the coming days. This led on to an activity where the participants were asked to share their expectations and worries about taking part in this programme. While the participants shared about their expectations and worries, they were also asked to think of one thing which they could offer to each other as an encouragement. Some of the things the participants thought about offering to each other was a smile, sharing a joke or song, or chocolates.

Sharing of Her-story

Before embarking on any work on women’s/gender issues, it would be an important turning point for any feminist to start reflecting on her own journey as a woman, as this inner reflection would crystalise her thoughts and socialisation, oppression and discrimination, strengths and weaknesses. This would help the person to understand better on the many oppressions that are inflicted to other women either in her own context or in a broader context. The sharing of Her-story was thus to let the participants shared their reflections on their life journey as a woman in their own context. Many issues of gender discrimination and oppression experienced by the participants whether they are apparent or subtle, surfaced during this sharing session. This session was very powerful and empowering that enabled all participants to articulate their personal issues relating to their own socio-econ-political socialisation. With these shared experiences, the participants have a better understanding of each other and it helped everyone to support and care for each other during the programme.

Exposure

The exposure programme was to facilitate the participants to understand the real and concrete situations of the marginalised people in the Philippines, especially the women who often need to bear multiple burdens of looking for and maintaining their jobs as well as family care. The participants were divided into 3 groups for the 2-day exposure programme as a smaller group would facilitate an in-depth learning of the situations in the exposure sites. The 3 exposure issues the groups studied were the urban poor communities, trade unions and internal refugees.

Urban Poor Areas

This group of participants visited 3 urban poor communities in Dasmariñas Cavite. The families (about1850 families in total) that were forced to leave their homes in Metro Manila in 1994 when the government wanted the lands back to the private property developers. The communities have to stay in make-shift homes in abandoned markets and factories. There was a very apparent lack of hygiene, running water and electricity. Most of the residents were generally daily workers or vendors who had to make ends meet with whatever income they could get. The children had no chance to go to school due to the expensive school fees. However, some NGOs in Cavite such as GABRIELA and BAYAN were facilitating the communities to be aware of their rights of housing and security; they had already developed their own working groups and working together to advocate their rights and concerns. The participants were inspired by the communities’ togetherness and sense of solidarity as they worked together to achieve their rights. It was also inspiring that the communities had selected women to be chairpersons of the working groups and the participants had learned valuable lessons from these women chairpersons on organising and advocacy work.

Trade Unions

This group of participants went to the picket lines at Cabuyao, Laguna where the unions were fighting for their workers’ rights in the factories of Yarn Ventures Resources Incorporation, Republic Flour Mills and Nestle. Most of the workers are women (80% of them) and the working conditions were bad and wages were very much below the necessity standards. Moreover, the managements wanted to implement the ISO (International Standards of Organisation) which means workers must upgrade their skills in order to complete in the worldwide market globalisation. This implementation subjects workers to many vulnerabilities of job termination or increased the managements’ bargain of wage reduction. The workers have been struggling with the managements for over 1 year and they have experienced many violent hassles by the police who were on the side of the managements. The participants were encouraged and inspired by the courage and persistence of the workers to achieve their rights to decent wage, working conditions and wrongful dismissals.

Internal Refugees

This group of participants went to the internal refugee settlement community. There were about 20 families, all indigenous people (the Mangyans), who have fled from Mindoro and Dumagats of Rizal due to the widespread terrorism such as killing, unjustified arrests, forced disappearances and forced evacuation, from the military and police in those areas where they were living. The Mangyans were living in lands rich in many natural resources, thus attracted much interests from external sources to occupy the lands. Hence they were accused of being on friendly terms with the rebel army and for creating a rebellion. Some of the Mangyans were still living in Mindoro but most of them fled, and for those who have fled, all of them had experienced a shooting or killing incident by the military or police. Most of the residents in this community were women and children as the men were mostly the victims of the actions taken by the military or police. Many of the residents are on the hit-list of the military and police which means they are subjected to be killed once they are spotted by the military or police. Hence, the residents could go out of the community even if they need to purchase some essential things, they need some outsiders or some residents who are not in the hit-list, to help with these errands. To safeguard the community’s safety, the residents drew up a roster where there would be all-night patrols within the compound when night falls. At this moment, some of the churches and NGOs are helping in terms of finding a place to settle in, food, water and school lessons for the children. But they are still living in uncertainty and insecurity.

Exposure Sharing

The participants shared about their experiences and reflections on their exposure visits creatively, using dramas, freeze acts and oral presentations. This sharing session helped one group of participants to share and understand the other’s exposure experience, and to also sum up the reflections and feelings of their interaction with the people they have met during the exposure.

Bible Study

2 Bible Studies were conducted in this programme. One was facilitated by Darlene Marquez-Caramanzana, Executive Secretary, Board of Women’s Work in the United Methodist Church and the other one was by Norma P. Dollaga, Executive Director at KASIMBAYAN Women’s Collective.

Bible Study I: Women as Ushers of Life – by Darlene Marquez-Caramanzana

The Biblical text that Darlene used was Exodus 1:8-22 on the 2 midwives, Puah and Shiprah who disobeyed the Egyptian king to kill every Hebrew boy at birth. What Puah and Shiprah did was a complete subversion of the king’s decree that would have cost their lives as well as their families’ lives but out of a deep respect of life and compassion, they creatively diverted the king’s order and helped saved many lives including that one of Moses. The whole event of Israel’s history was changed because of this courageous act of the midwives.

Relating to this biblical reflection, Darlene pointed out that women must always be at the forefront of struggles, of the struggling masses in their quest for an abundant life. Women as seen in history of many Asian nations played important roles in helping bring about meaningful change in the society. In short, women have been engaged in reversing status quos that are meant not only as life-enhancing but also life-giving. And their courage, creativity, wisdom and patience often help shake the status quo of an established social or political order.

Using this biblical reflection as a backdrop of the current situations experienced by the participants, Darlene presented some questions for discussion:

Bible Study II: Two women of struggle, courage and hope – by Norma Dollaga

Norma first asked the participants to do a small exercise with questions:

Norma drew her biblical reflection 2 Bible verses of Luke 18:2-5 and Matthew 15: 21-28. It was incident where a widow asked Jesus to help cure her daughter but was met with resistance, first by Jesus’ disciples and even by Jesus himself. But the widow’s persistency, sincerity, humility and intelligent response moved Jesus to change his attitude towards her. The widow in this story subverted the tradition and the roles assigned to women. Patriarchy has taught women to be meek and patient, to be virtuous and plain. When confronted with crisis and contradictions, the best way is to wait and be passive. But by seeking and pursuing what is justly hers, the widow went out and participated for the cause that truly counts.

This is the story of many women today. As the women workers have been agonising because they are denied of their right to a living wage, equal pay for equal work, and as urban poor women are suffering from violence of demolition and denial of social services and as peasant women along with their husbands and children are lamenting because of militarisation amidst struggle for land and life, and as women who are experiencing horrible stories of forced work in a strange land finding themselves victims of sex trafficking and as women who are experiencing painful and deliberate economic peripherrzation even among professionals, employees, self-employed, businesswomen as the political and economic situation worsens. Women need to know what we want to establish and to break down all the barriers that oppress us so that justice to women will be served.

Session I:
Asian Feminist Theology

Archie Ligo, professor at Institute of Women’s Studies, St. Scholastica’s College facilitated 2 sessions on Feminist Theology and Asian Feminist Theology.

Archie commented that in theology, it is often defined as the systematic and organised expression of a set of beliefs and practices based on the religious experiences and thoughts of a founder or groups of founders of a religious organisation or movement. And as systematic and organised expression of faith and practices, most theologies are male-streamed, highly technical, traditional and hierarchical. It is not until the Second Vatican Council in 1965 that new theological expressions have emerged. Today, there are theologies of liberation, third world theologies, black theology, quantum theology, creation-centred theology and feminist theology/spirituality.

It is in feminist theology that feminism and its vision has entered into an alternative formulation of beliefs and practices based on women’s experiences and perspectives. Some of the women’s/gender issues in theology are:

  1. Religious roots of patriarchy – legitimising a social system of domination as the only or best way of social organisation and interaction
  2. Male-centred perspective – primacy given to male experience and perspective
  3. Sexism – regarding women’s sex as weaker, of lesser value thus instrumental and marginal
  4. Misogynist thinking and attitude – looking at women as occasion of sin, source of evil and cause of pollution
  5. Gynophobia – fear of women’s gender as emasculating men

Thus the Feminist Theological Alternative brings us to understand:

  1. Women’s experience as the starting point of theological reflection vis-à-vis doctrine, dogma of truth
  2. The mandate of feminist theology is to restore an inclusive full-humanity approach vis-à-vis male-centred one
  3. Feminist theology emphasizes mutual relationship vis-à-vis hierarchy and domination
  4. Feminist theology seeks relevant contextualised theology
  5. Offer alternative reflection about God, Jesus Christ, Church, morals and liturgy – inclusive language, symbols and rituals
  6. Evolve emerging theologies/spiritualities that are life-giving

Archie went on to present the Asian context which gave rise to the Asian women theologians working on the Asian aspect of Feminist Theology. Asia is a multi-cultural and multi-religious continent with totally different socio-econ political realities. With multiple histories of colonisation by the Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch, French, British, American and Japanese, it is in a continual search of national and cultural identities. With the increased global linkages, there is also constant changing of cultural values, consumption patterns, life-styles and social expectations—familial patterns, status of women, reproduction and traditional gender roles: on one hand, Asian women’s access to education and growing participation in the labour market often lower fertility rate, leading to the transformation of extended to nuclear families and increased participation of women in decision-making process of the family. On the other hand, however, traditional cultural values of female subordination and domesticity still influence the social ethos, creating barriers to women’s social advancement. There is also always a need to guard against a generalised, monolithic and a historical image of the “Asian woman”.

For Asian Feminist Theologies to take place, there are some Asian Feminist Theological agendas that we need to address. These are:

  1. They must claim back the authority to be theological subjects, reflecting God’s liberating activity in Asia, and articulating their own theology viz male-oriented and Eurocentric theology, Western feminist theologies;
  2. Critique patriarchy in the churches and society;
  3. Embodied theology (not merely intellectual discipline), reflection and action must be integrally linked together;
  4. Asian feminist theologies must work closely with other secular feminists and civic and revolutionary movements in order to account for their Christian faith;
  5. Engage in new myth-making, symbol-creating and story-telling to be responsive to the multi-layered and polyphonic voices of Asian women and Asian peoples.

Some of the Asian Feminist Theological themes we could seek are:

  1. Relationship between gospel and culture, Christianity and Asian religions
  2. Making the Bible bread and not stone for women: challenge authority of the Bible
  3. Asian religious cultures and traditions: its blessings and curses
  4. God-talk: God as source of life and the creative, sustaining power of the universe, a source of hope, the power of overcoming despair and the vision that brings peace amidst strife, alienation and oppression viz abstract discussion of God, doctrine of Trinity and debate on the existence of God
  5. Sexism and Inclusive language
  6. Christology: critique of the image of Christ promulgated by missionaries especially during the colonial era
  7. Reinterpret sin and redemption: a new understanding of sin must reflect the socio-political and the religio-cultural realities of Asian women—not only are they sinners, they are also sinned against
  8. Women and Church: challenge patriarchy church, towards discipleship of women, partnership of equals
  9. Sexuality and Spirituality: search for a spirituality that integrates both body and soul, inner and outer worlds, and contemplation and social action, construct a wholistic view of sexuality and towards a spirituality for life.

Session II:
Impact and Relevance of Asian Feminist Theology on SCM/WSCF

This session was facilitated by Necta Montes, former Regional Women’s Coordinator of WSCF AP and is currently the Resource Development Officer of Isis International.

Necta summarised that her session will cover:

Necta began the session by asking the participants to briefly reflect on what is meant by Asian and Feminist. Taking on the clue of what the participants have given, she went on to present that as an ASIAN, it speaks of our common experiences and identity as people from Asia, that of coming from our own realities of being majority poor, marginalised. Our common struggle against colonialism, the diversity of our culture, all of these will form part of common term used now as the Southern Perspective. Southern, not just in terms of geographical definition, but in reality, many countries from the Southern hemisphere are poor developing countries, as oppose to the North. Asserting the Southern Perspective becomes more significant in this era of globalisation, where everything is monolithic. FEMINIST, comes from our common experience as being marginalised because of our gender as women. Hence, we are using our experiences as women in theorising and doing theology, both of these are very powerful concepts and perspective, and to use these two together as tools of analysis, it becomes even more powerful.

Asian and Feminist, are particular lenses (bi-focals) we use to study theology, and therefore look at the world around us in a different light. These tools of analysis are much too powerful coming from two experiences of marginalisation. Once we acquire and develop these lenses, it becomes a part of us, it becomes our nature and it is a framework we use in analysing things around us. In actual, how did WSCF translated this Asian Feminist Theology as a tool of analysis and perspective to its Regional Women’s Programme?

Asian Feminist Theology is different from Women Doing Theology (WDT). The former is the tool and principle, while on the hand the WDT is the vehicle where we are popularising this framework or tool. The Asian Feminist Theology is translated specifically to our WDT Programme, its content and process. What we study in our WDT is the Asian Feminist Theology, at least the core principles.

An important point is that WSCF women engaged in the Asian Feminist Theology as women coming from very secular backgrounds and experiences. We do not claim to be theologians or neither are we aiming to be theologians. We wanted to speak from our experiences as young Christian students working in the student movement, ecumenical movement and the women’s movement. Hence emphasis on the “Doing” Theology, as oppose to merely an ideological discourse. The content of the WDT has gradually changed over the years. The early workshops were mainly focused on conducting the Bible Studies, and skills in conducting the Bible Studies. In the preceding programmes, more theoretical inputs were added on theories and principles, such as history of the Church, systematic theology, etc, to balance the practical and theoretical aspect of the programme. It came to point that the programme became thematic, for example, the WDT 1997 in Myanmar focused on women and human rights, in Korea it was on Sexuality. What has not changed however is the experiential nature of the programme, the exposure and integration activity that should be central in the learning process.

Some of the influences that Asian Feminist Theology/WDT has on our life and work are:

Session III:
Programmes and Direction SCM/WSCF could embark in future

In this last session, the participants gave suggestions of the contents and direction of WDTs in their own SCM as well as WSCF AP could undertake in future.

The participants also commented that WDT has given them a good perspective on women doing theology and confidence in helping their own SCMs to strengthen women/gender awareness and involving more women in their movements to do theology. There was also an expressed need to network with secular women’s groups to understand more women’s/gender issues affecting their own society as well as others. It is also a need to open their SCMs to other women of different ethnic or racial background, hence learning closer from the different SCMs in Asia/Pacific would help in this aspect. The participants raised the concern on men as victims of patriarchy and it was expressed that SCM/WSCF could gradually and carefully implement a WDT involving male participation.

March 8 International Women’s Day

The participants spent a day with many NGOs and women’s organisations in the Philippines in the rally for the International Women’s Day. The rally this year was focused on the war that would occur in Iraq and the thousands of women and children would suffer in this war. Despite the rain, the participants joined in the march as well as rally’s protest presentations.

The programme ended with the Closing Worship with the participants affirming their solidarity with women’s/gender concerns and with women doing theology, hoping that their renewed strength and inspiration would help strengthen their movement’s women’s programmes as well as the regional women’s programmes.