There are many women in the Bible who had to struggle against the patriarchal ideologies and systems existing in the depicted eras then. Instances such as Hagar who was first used as an instrument of reproduction and was further oppressed by the social status between the women of privilege and the women of ‘lower social class or caste’; Ruth or Judith who needed so badly to get out of widowhood as widows or widows without a male child were all considered to be suffering from some form of sin as being the wives left behind by their husbands; Miriam who had to be given a punishment as she challenged Moses; the nameless concubine who was sexually assaulted and murdered to protect the men’s interests in the Book of Judges; Queen Vashti who was harshly removed from her crown because she said no to the king. These are only some of the many instances where women were ill and unjustly treated, discriminated and oppressed because they were born women.
Patriarchy has taught women to be meek and patient, to be virtuous and plain, to keep silent and to keep questions to themselves, to conform and be subordinated to what they feel is incorrect. When confronted with crisis and contradictions, the best way is to wait, to be passive and not shake the status quo. This would not only ensure their safety but would also guard the interests of those who oppressed them.
The stories of the many women in the Bible then, are the stories of many women of today. Women today are still confronted with many instances of domestic violence, sexual assaults, sexual harassment, being bypassed for leadership positions in workplace or in the church, being silenced in meetings, being denied of their rights to equal pay, bearing multiple burdens not of their choice.
However, there is also an equal amount of women we could detect in the Bible who were courageous to resist the patriarchal ideologies and systems, to be filled with hope of achieving what they perceived as justly theirs, to reverse the status quo of an established social or political order, to play the important role of life-givers and to even challenged and taught Jesus a lesson or two! We could see examples of the nameless woman who broke away from ceremonial rules to express her faith in Jesus with anointing his feet with a jar of perfume; the Canaanite woman who despite being rejected by Jesus’ disciples and even Jesus himself in seeking help to cure her daughter, with perseverance, sincerity and intelligence, taught Jesus to change his attitude and perception towards people of different ethnicity but of the same faith; the haemorrhaging woman who despite social discrimination and condemnation, went to do find a cure for herself; Mary who pursued her quest for knowledge despite patriarchal conditioning that women should not put so much effort in this quest.
These are the very women that broke down all the barriers that oppress their advancement. By seeking and pursuing what is justly theirs, the women got out and participated for the cause that truly counts and for the justice that will be served. The most important work is how do we as women of today, critically use these examples to empower ourselves and other women to reflect on the effects of patriarchal ideologies and systems in the theology that have been so deeply ingrained in most women. How do we critique and reject these effects and how do we multiply the inspirations of courage, hope and determination as reflected by so many women in the Bible, not only to ourselves but to as many women as possible? When empowered, how do women confidently and concretely make their voices heard?
This theme, “Women in the Bible: Women of Struggle, Courage, Hope and Action”, aptly reflects on the many difficult situations experienced by many women especially in the context of South Asia, which the programme will be held, who are struggling courageously in their bid to have a life of justice, peace and equality. Many women in South Asia are experiencing the traumas of wars, the oppression of being in a different caste, class and ethnicity, the limitation of free mobility among many other repressions. But many others, especially those from SCMs whom WSCF AP often consulted with, want to empower themselves to overcome all these difficulties.
WSCF AP Regional Women’s Programme since 1986, it has always make a conscious focus on empowering young women to acquire an alternative set of knowledge rather than following the conventions of doing theology. Our regular programme, Women Doing Theology, has enabled many young women to acquire extensive knowledge in understanding the essence of women in the Bible and the various Feminist Theories and Theologies. Hence empowering them to reflect on the pertinent women’s issues/concerns that are so closed to them and to many other women. This enables them to learn the true meaning of a faith that is inclusive and to see with new eyes of the Bible and the society as young Christian women. Many of the former participants have become actively involved in this movement, organising similar programmes for their SCMs or as academics, as theologians, as NGO workers or as activists in various levels, articulating and contributing back all that they have learned from Women Doing Theology. This is where we hope Women Doing Theology would continue to impart and impact on the many young women students in the SCMs.
The aim of Women Doing Theology 2004 is to empower women students in the South Asian Student Christian Movements to draw examples from the many women in the Bible who had not only struggled with courage, hope and determination but had acted in resolution to resist the ideologies and systems that had oppressed them. Thereby enabling a continuous flow of young women empowered to reflect and take action to transform their life to a courageous, hopeful and better one.