The Women Doing Theology Workshop was held from November 13-19, 2007 in Seoul, South Korea on the theme “Women & Sexuality: Transcending Boundaries & Embracing Inclusiveness.” 17 young women from Asia and the Pacific participated in the said workshop, representing the national movements of Australia, Bangladesh, Hong Kong, India, Japan, Korea, Myanmar, Pakistan, Timor Leste and Thailand. Also there were representatives from SCA (Student Christian Association), Ecumenical Youth Council of Korea and Hanshin University of Korea. The workshop was hosted by the Korean Student Christian Federation (KSCF).
The intent of the workshop were:
The content of the workshop was planned to discuss and reflect on Sharing of Her Story – Women’s Sexuality (Socio-Cultural and Political Implication) – Breaking the taboo of sexuality – ‘Church, religion, scriptures and sexuality’ – Re-reading the Bible Text towards sexuality for wholeness and Liberation and ‘Exposure programme’ All the sessions were organised by conducting a series of exercise/activities in small groups using the method of Feminist frame work and systemic analysis of oppression which was quite effective.
Yong Ting Jin – Feminist Theologian and coordinator of the Asian Women’s Resource Centre For Culture and Theology (AWRC) Malaysia, HyeRan Kim-Cragg – senior friend of KSCF and the guest professor of Hanshin University, Korea, Michal Wallace – General Secretary of WSCF-IRO, Geneva and Sunita Suna – Regional Women’s Coordinator of WSCF AP, Hong Kong, were invited to facilitate this workshop. Ting Jin was the key facilitator at the workshop.
Sharing of Her Story was a motivating exercise, which helped the group to discuss their own experiences more confidently. Questions like “how I feel as a woman?”, “How do I experience my own body, my own sexuality?” were raised to motivate participants to reflect and share their experiences, since every day women live with “his” story. This process also helped them to name the taboo of sexuality from their own context.
Ting Jin’s exercise on breaking the taboo of sexuality, helped the group to understand how our body & sexuality belong to someone else—to family, to husband, to the church, to male pastors, to the Bible, to the institutions. And in these institutions and men have sanctions on women’s bodies, making them conform to certain stereotypical ideas about beauty and how women should behave.
Church, religion, scriptures and sexuality—this group exercise, led them to critically analyse the question “What does the church/temple, religion/Christianity, Bible/scriptures say to women about sexuality? What are our positive and negative experiences?” Ting Jin explained the relationship between “my sexuality” and “myself” based on the stories, which is very important to our identity. She said that there is a link between social-personal liberation on the one hand and cultural liberation and transformation on the other. This means that I’m not totally liberated if you’re not—women need to be liberated together.
Women’s Sexuality (Socio-cultural and political implications) paper presented by HyeRan Kim-Cragg, covered a range of female sexuality. This also covered the Judeo-Christian and Biblical understandings of sexuality, the place of homosexuality and other sexual minorities in Asian cultures and other faith traditions. At the end of her session the group tried to affirm and appreciate women’s bodies and sexuality, by reading together a poem by Hope S Antone, “I am Wonderfully Made”.
Re-reading the Bible using the text Judges 19, was a shocking and an eye opening experience for the group. What Ting Jin explained was a critical feminist reading of the Bible which goes beyond a woman’s perspective on the text. She made the participants realised that the verses (24-25) is an act of terror and violence. Her body and her whole being are violated even in the text. The power clash between men makes woman object/victim of power struggle. woman had been violated, denied/rejected and silenced/controlled in these power struggle. However the group recognized that there are other texts that affirm the body and sexuality of persons.
Exposure was a significant experience for the group. They visited two different places, the Durebang – “My Sister’s Place” and House of Sharing for Comfort Women. Durebang is a non-government organisation working to assist and support women living within camp towns [the towns which surround the US military camp in Seoul]—hiring women for prostitution in clubs, harms caused by militarism, and especially the trafficking of foreign women for the sex industry. The House of Sharing (Comfort Women), The Korean women were used as sex slaves (Comfort Women) during and after World War II, which was occupied by the Japanese Military at that time. The objective of these exposures was to make the participants realize how women’s body/sexuality is abused and violated as an object of pleasure, and also violated for the political reasons. The group also visited the Hein Church, where they shared about their campaign against domestic violence.
Bible study was led by Michael Wallace on partnership between women and men, by discussing on the texts from the model of women and men in partnership (Genesis 16:1-6, Matthew 28:10-10, 1 Samuel 1:1-8, Acts 18:1-26, especially vv 24-26)
Affirmation – Ting Jin led us in a process to conclude our reflections for the week and to find a way forward. She said that we had looked at our stories, the construction of our sexuality from people and forces outside our bodies and how they want to control our sexuality. So we need to define—what is sexuality for you? She said, we need to recover and find ourselves—no one can do it for us. This is a process of deconstruction—breaking taboos—and must be followed by reconstruction, not just throwing away the old, like the parable of the new & old wineskins. What is the new wineskin? My ‘subject’ ‘self’ which has to come first. Our vision and hope is becoming a new subject self. Reclaiming and affirming my body and sexuality.
Some excerpts from the reflection of the participants:
“This workshop has helped me to construct my sexuality”.
“I want to love myself as a woman.”
“I love my personality, no matter how it is in people’s eyes.”
“I feel free by sharing my/our taboos... I realised a lot of things while sharing our experiences as woman.”
“I am perfect the way I am, and no one else has the right to tell me what I should look like.”
“I Love my body and embrace my sexuality the way it is.”