by Wong Yock Leng
In 1984, WSCF AP’s Regional Women’s Committee (RWC) was formed and this led to the subsequent creation of the Regional Women’s Programme (RWP) in 1985. The framework that helped to develop the RWC and RWP was based on the real experiences of the many women in Asia and the Pacific who faced and lived the multiple oppressions that patriarchy, as a system and an ideology, imposes on them. As a system, these multiple forms of oppression and discrimination appear in all shapes and shades in the homes, culture, society, economics, politics, and even religion. As an ideology, patriarchy constructs a cruel socialization within a woman—that she in every inch, an inferior being in varied conditioned systems of gender, class, caste, race, and knowledge.
Through the years of journey, the RWP’s focus on critiquing the oppressions of patriarchy and the strengthening and building up the leadership and participation of women in all levels were met with enthusiasm. However, as the RWP journeyed along in its experience, the need to contemplate on the issue of Women and Men in Partnership was found to be of relevance in addressing the importance of women’s liberation from the claws of patriarchy. Patriarchy does not only inhibit women, it also cruelly inhibits men. As much as it constructs a socialization within women, it also constructs a socialization within men. Patriarchy deters humankind from seeking total freedom from the many oppressions that de-value love, compassion, kindness, equality and responsibility. Hence, the liberation of women has to go hand in hand with the liberation of men, and vice-versa. To start the process of this liberation, one of the works includes the un-conditioning of women and men in their patriarchal socialization and to create an awareness of gender discrimination, injustices, and oppressions. The next step would be a joint effort between the women and men then, working together to stop the oppressive forces. In the context of SCM and WSCF, the vision has been to realize and understand the importance of a living theology—that of women and men both created as equal partners, working towards realizing God’s reign on earth.
The process of women and men in partnership was initiated as early as 1990. Some works were developed and laid down as a foundation, but it never got on to become a more permanent feature in WSCF as well as in the AP region. There are perhaps many factors that contributed to this transience: change in leadership, shift in concerns, lack of support from the movements, or the un-readiness to commit to this process. But for many of those who are involved in women’s issues and the elimination of patriarchy, this issue of women and men in partnership will inevitably be brought up again and again.
Why are we raising this issue of women and men in partnership again at this time? The process of women and men in partnership differs in each generation of SCMers, bringing a different voice, response and approach. The concern was again brought up and concretized in the regional women’s programme: “From Gender Sensitivity to Genuine Partnership: the WSCF AP Journey” held in Hong Kong, 2001. In this programme, there were 13 participants of whom 6 were men. This number of male participants in a regional women’s programme was a significant breakthrough and these 6 men came with a sense of humility, openness, and a sincere heart to learn. Is this an indication that the groundwork that has been laid to such that movements now have the readiness and openness to seriously think about the issue of women and men in partnership? The present RWC members have made an indication in the recent RWC Meeting that this issue would be reviewed in the next biennial, but there are still many mixed feelings.
This short article thus aims to reflect on the history of WSCF AP’s journey in building up the process of women and men in partnership, and honestly share the general feelings and apprehension of many women SCMers on this issue. It hopes to find a way that would ensure a sense of trust between our women and men SCMers and how we could work together in raising the consciousness of women and men in partnership in the Federation.
The discussion of women and men in partnership was initiated in the early years of WSCF and RWP. In the 1990, the WSCF Journal published by the Inter-Regional Office (IRO), shared on a vision of realizing the consciousness of a women and men in partnership in the Federation. In its editorial, it said:
“It has been acknowledged time and again that an important task of the feminist movement is the remolding into one that treats both sexes as equal. This is not an easy task for women in the WSCF but one that we should never give up. The dialogue on Women-Men partnership is a step toward this direction but this dialogue should be a continuous one and not on that takes place only during formal meetings or assemblies. Nor must it remain a dialogue. This dialogue must give birth to a new consciousness—a “counter-consciousness”—as a prominent Filipino historian puts it. Partnership, if it is to be a reality, must become a way of life, challenging our basic values, an openness to new meanings and perspectives. This is perhaps one of the greatest challenges facing women and men in the Federation and it is a challenge that we cannot afford to evade if we believe that we are all co-builders of God’s reign on earth”.
Since the development of the RWP, Women Caucuses were a familiar sight in almost all regional meetings and programmes of WSCF AP. The caucuses provided an opportunity for the women to raise and discuss their concerns on women’s issues. In the 1989 Regional Committee Meeting (RCM), a Men’s Caucus was developed and as the male delegates met to share their experience as men in the society, their role and attitudes towards women. In their response to Partnership, they suggested that they should work on the following:
In this caucus’ Recommendations, some of the points raised were:
In 1992, the theme for the Student Empowerment for Transformation (SET) was “A New Partnership Towards A New Humanity and Creation”. It was a one-month workshop involving 29 participants with 1 female and 1 male delegate from each movement. This was the first regional programme that marked the topics of women and men partnership and the oppressions of patriarchy experienced by both women and men, for discussion and reflection in the SCMs. The rationale of this programme was to provide a ‘forum for men to grapple with their own attitudes, values, actions and beliefs that are oppressive to women and discuss how they can forge solidarity with women in their struggle for liberation. This is based on the conviction that men are part of the oppressive system and at the same time victimized by it. Men’s liberation is therefore integral to the liberation of women and vice-versa’.
In 1993, just before the joint consultation with the Asian Women’s Resource Centre (AWRC) and Christian Conference of Asia (CCA) on the theme, “Community of Women and Men”, the RCM held in Hong Kong developed the guidelines for Male Caucus and Male Facilitators to help facilitate the caucuses in future regional programmes. The important points raised in the guidelines were:
Although this guideline was developed, it was difficult to find male resource persons who could serve as facilitators for the men caucuses. It was realized that there were a very limited number of men who were gender conscious and sensitive to women’s issues and struggles as well as of the oppressions of patriarchy.
In the same year, the joint consultation was organized with the main underlying principle to bring “together women and men from many countries in Asia to address issues of equal sharing of power and authority in the home, the church and society”.
Some of the male delegates in the 1995 RCM volunteered to be contacts for a possible sub-regional level men’s programme, and appointed one sub-region each to come under their care. A regional workshop was even thought of with focuses such as “how men feel about being men”, “how patriarchy affects society and humanity” and “redefining relationships”. However this workshop or sub-regional contacts never materialized as the internal coordination of these male volunteers was weak and most of them became very busy with their own work back home. Soon, the urgency for further developments, waned.
Throughout the years, the past and present RWC and Regional Women’s Coordinators reiterated similar points on the need to review the process of women and men in partnership. In the 1990 RWC Meeting, it was pointed out that there is a need to “search for and redefine the meaning of men and women partnership for total human liberation”. In RWC Meeting 2000, the previous Regional Women’s Coordinator raised the concern that “programmes should give more focus between men and women, or partnership...”. In RCM 2001, the present Regional Women’s Coordinator recommended that there is a need to “envision for a gender sensitive society not only for women but also for men as well. This calls for a real and true sense of being in partnership where there is honest and sincere understanding and acceptance of women and men’s issues in the context of SCM/WSCF and in the spirituality of an inclusive Christianity”.
This issue of women and men in partnership was first raised more than a decade ago and throughout these years, though many related works was constantly thought of, developed, done and documented, the consistency of following up with this issue with more emphasis and more frequency was difficult to sustain. However difficult the momentum was, all these works that were previously developed and done serve as a building-up ground and laid the foundation for this process to continue into the future. This was seen in the programme, “From Gender Sensitivity to Genuine Partnership: the WSCF AP Journey” in 2001.
The idea of having a programme for women and men was initiated by the previous RWC members (1999-2001), and the workshop, “From Gender Sensitivity to Genuine Partnership: the WSCF AP Journey” was developed and was finally held in Hong Kong, November 2001. As mentioned earlier, the success of this programme prompted mixed feelings on the need to emphasize on programmes with the concept of partnership. And given all the groundwork that was laid, there is still a certain amount of apprehension and anguish, especially from the women in SCMs. What are some of these apprehensions and mixed feelings that many women have?
In the programme “From Gender Sensitivity to Genuine Partnership: the WSCF AP Journey”, one of the male participants aptly puts it: “Many men, including myself, do not really understand about the patriarchal system. It is only being understood in the intellectual level...... I will never forget that I am not free from the patriarchal system....”. Not many men really understand what patriarchy is and are unaware of the presence of it in our daily lives as well as the effects of gender discrimination because most of them do not see a problem in patriarchy. As long as men do not understand the true oppressive forces of patriarchy and how they have also been socialized and conditioned by these forces to unwittingly become accomplices of the patriarchal system, there will not be constructive dialogues on the issue of women and men partnership. Moreover it does not help when most only have an intellectual overview of the patriarchal system. An intellectual overview only imprints in the mind, but it does not imprint in the heart and in the daily practices, that are far more demonstrative of one’s understanding. There would be doubts on the sincerity of a dialogue if one rhetorically and cleverly talks about patriarchy when one does not perceive that the need to review the structures of one’s home, church, work place, SCM etc., nor when one pays attention to gender-insensitive languages (especially in liturgies). Lip-service cannot reflect on one’s conviction in a certain value.
Having said this, it is just fair to say that many women too, do not understand the ideology of patriarchy and how it has conditioned women to perceive, feel, think, and behave in a lesser capacity. Many women too, project the image of “man in front, woman behind” and reinforce the practices of patriarchy. I could still see many SCM women are still not sensitive enough to use inclusive languages in liturgies or worships because it has become a natural habit to follow precedence. In this sense, there would be a very limited space for those who try to make some sense on women and men partnership when even women do not fully fathom the oppressions that oppress them.
Another of the apprehensions that most women have is the misuse and abuse of the concept of “partnership” by many men. Programmes or activities conducted with the concept of partnership could be used as a tool to downplay the importance of having programmes for women only. It is feared that the call for “partnership” would inevitably engineered a reduction of women’s programmes on the pretext of a re-emphasis or a support on women and men partnership. Perhaps there will be many questions on why should we conduct programmes for women only when we are calling for “partnership”? As another student so aptly puts it, “it is women who have borne the brunt of the oppression. Thus women must have their own space to be able to communicate their relations with this”. It is important to recognize that the brunt of the oppression that women bear has shaken them off their confidence, their self-believe, their leadership potential, their voices and their perception powers. Women therefore need the empowerment to regain their strengths so as to realize they too possess the voice, the leadership qualities, the confidence and the critiquing powers in the environment of humankind. If these are overlooked as men or women challenge women to go directly instead into the concept of partnership, a sense of distrust will soon develop amongst the women who are seeking a dialogue on equal terms and with sincerity.
Moreover, it could be seen as mere lip-service if men were invited to attend programmes or dialogues on “partnership” just to create the desired number of male participants. There is always the fear of a backlash if the issue and the process of women and men partnership are not thoroughly comprehended, and the groundwork is not strongly laid.
Therefore, as women go through the process of re-conscientisation on the socialization of the patriarchal system and ideology, many felt that men need this re-conscientisation as well. Although there are many men in the SCM/WSCF who are gender aware and conscious of the effects of patriarchy, there is still a great number of men in SCM/WSCF who are not. Without this re-conscientisation, there will never be sincere acknowledgment or real efforts put in the work towards partnership.
These are some of the apprehensions and anguish of many people who see the potential for use and abuse of the concept of women and men partnership. But do we want to continue indulge in these apprehensions or do we want to find out what is the true meaning of partnership so that we could go beyond the fears of misuse and abuse to help ourselves become a more complete human being?
As an SCMer, the very challenging question for us is: why are we in SCM? Our vision and mission lay in a holistic Christian faith that strives for love, peace, freedom, equality and humanity. We question the abuses of human rights that oppress the peace and freedom of humankind and challenge the mindsets, structures and traditions that burden the quest for equality and humanity. We share the vision for a new Church, a new alternative as opposed to the institutionalized church where hierarchy and politics of power pre-dominate the proclamation and praxis of the Gospel. We embrace the concept of a living Jesus Christ that gives us the meaning of New Humanity on earth where there is true peace, freedom, dignity and equality amongst all created beings of God. Therefore, would there not be something amiss in our vision and mission if we do not question the patriarchal system and ideology that deter us from working towards a destination where women and men walk can side by side as equal partners?
The spirituality of Jesus Christ teaches us that both women and men are created in the image of God, not that one is considered an inferior creation than the other. Both women and men share the similar responsibility to overturn all oppressive structures, including the patriarchy system and ideology that hinder the full potential of humanity to be realized.
The life of SCM seeks a holistic and an all encompassing Christian faith that each of us, women and men are called to work in joint efforts in building a movement of humanity and compassion. This will not materialize if no attention is paid to the struggles and oppressive forces experienced by and affecting both women and men. Equal partnership would also be but rhetorical if no efforts are made to conscientise both women and men to the social conditionings have made them accomplices of these oppressive forces. Real partnership of women and men inculcates true understanding of the oppressive forces of the patriarchal system and ideology, and encourages sincere efforts from both sides to re-evaluate the very system and ideology that otherwise hinders humankind’s desire for peace, freedom, dignity and equality. Our SCM vision and mission is to make this true partnership of women and men, a reality in our daily lives and in our daily journey with God.
It will be a challenge to all SCMs and SCMers to review once again the oppressive forces of patriarchy, to initiate an evaluation on how far we all have gone in the process of understanding the patriarchal system and ideology as well as how they have affected both women and men in our own SCM. We appeal to all SCMers to seek for a true, sincere and genuine dialogue on women and men in partnership.
Jesus Christ represents the New Humanity and the New Creation of Christians who would break away from the shackles of violence, inequality, imprisonment, sorrow and pain. Let us all, women and men, work in solidarity and in genuine sincerity to break the shackles of the patriarchal system and ideology, towards a true form of women and men in partnership in our journey towards God’s reign on earth.