World Student Christian Federation - Asia-Pacific Region (WSCF-AP)
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Partnership

by Kaythi Min Din, SCM Myanmar

In Asian countries, including Myanmar, the patriarchy system has been firmly rooted in the society which causes various kinds of unnecessary things such as gender discrimination, oppressions, domestic violence and conflicts between women and men. In Myanmar, gender discrimination is not very prominent but it is still going on. But in some cases which is very serious, for example: women ordination. All the gender discrimination in Myanmar is derived from oral traditions and man-made cultures, but not from real essence of Religions.

There is no doubt that gender discriminations cause exploitation upon women’s dignity and opportunities, and injustice. The consequence of injustice is violence that could appear in many forms. If we want to build a new peace and just society on earth, firstly we have to eliminate Gender Discrimination and give new meaning to “Partnership”.

As for me, Partnership means, women and men work together with hand in hand for the people. By means of Partnership, we can promote mutual respects, mutual understandings and reciprocal obligations between women and men. We should not forget that our Partnership is not only with women and men but also with God. Women are co-workers of men’s projects, men are co-workers of women’s projects, and all human being are co-workers of God’s creation.

The real essence of Partnership is equal share of resources, power, knowledge and opportunity, and working together with solidarity spirit to fulfill the will of God on earth.

Partnership

by Lasma Tobing
SCM Indonesia

During the RWC in Jakarta, 12-13 January 2002, one of the issues and concerns we raised for this year was “partnership between women and men”. But how could WSCF AP help build up the concept of “Partnership” between women and men, and inculcate working together as genuine partners involved in WSCF AP’s programmes? We have talked much about it and conduct programmes of such nature, but in real life, we do not practice it and did not pay much attention on making this issue more urgent and visible. Hence, we hope that through dialogues, discussions or sharing, the concept of “partnership between women and men” could be initiated.

Here, I would just like to share my understanding on the concept of “partnership between women and men”. To me, this concept means a relationship between women and men and they are equal partners and co-workers to achieve a goal. They would have equal participation in matters in a community, family and work place etc. There should be mutual agreement to share responsibilities for the welfare and development of ourselves, our society and family. A partnership begins when each partner could contribute according to hers/his competence and capabilities so that there is equality without the undesired attitude of one being more superior than the other. Instead it should be working together with love and peace. Love and peace are bases of a good relationship amongst people. There is also the mutual interdependence of each other and to accept that each one of us is a part of the whole.

I hope we could start with the first step and taking one step at a time and that we could make it work in WSCF AP.

Partnership: More Questions than Answers

by Sophia Wooldridge
Australia SCM

I’ve been putting off writing this article for some time, because even as I write it I don’t really understand the topic. For some time I have been asking people in WSCF AP to define ‘partnership’ for me, and to tell me a little of the history of the concept. I’m hoping that this edition of Praxis will contain articles that answer some of my queries. My first impulse in preparing for this article was to retreat to the library, and trowel through the books to find some mention of ‘partnership’ in the theology or the religious studies section. I tried to do this, but I met with 2 obstacles. Firstly, I couldn’t find any readings on ‘partnership’ in relation to men and women. Secondly, I find that the language used in theological discourse is difficult to grapple with, and I lacked the motivation to break the code. (How accessible is feminist discourse? How does it reflect on feminist ethics to write in such a way that the text is difficult for many women to understand? What good is feminist debate if it works as another avenue where some women are excluded and disempowered?)

If I’m honest with myself, I wasn’t turning to the books to learn. I was looking for texts to voice my views for me, and to wrap my opinions up in jargon so that my writing might be taken more seriously. But no! It’s time to practice what I preach! I’ve therefore written this article as an expression of my concerns and my questions, because questions and concerns are almost all I have in relation to the term ‘partnership’.

What are the base assumptions?

There seems to me to be several assumptions people might have when they want to move towards a partnership model. What follows are three possible reasons for moving towards partnership, and my arguments against each assumption:

  1. Most of the hard work has been done: Many national WSCF groups now have bylaws stipulating that there must women in leadership positions. Also, the women’s project in WSCF has now been active for over 20 years. Some people might assume that after so much hard work the AP of WSCF has now addressed and rectified most gender inequalities. However, inequality between genders still exists. And really how could this not be? In the WSCF AP region, the work that’s been done on gender issues has at times been nothing short of revolutionary, and we should be proud of our organisation’s work to address gender issues. However, being a university student organisation, we have a high turnover of members so there is constantly WSCF AP members who are new to the concepts of gender equality and feminism. Also, we do not exist in a vacuum. The societies, cultures, and market forces around us do not share our commitment to gender equality, so of course there is always more work to be done. The struggle continues. Let’s all be absolutely clear from the outset that women continue to be oppressed and disadvantaged by a patriarchal system on many levels, throughout our region, and indeed throughout the world.
  2. Women need men’s help to end the oppression of women: Some people might believe that after decades of struggle, women must now admit that we cannot advance the cause of women without the help of men, and that our aim of “sisters are doing it for themselves” has not worked. I disagree with this. Women’s movements have made slow but steady progress for over 100 years. It’s dangerous for women to adopt a position where they are relying on men to enable their freedom from oppression. While dialogue is important in ending oppression, it is never a good idea for the oppressed to rely on the oppressors to create change. How could this process be made safe for women? Perhaps there have been examples of women and men working together in such a way, but I have not read about them.
  3. Partnership work will motivate men to address their own issues: It seems to me that for several years now, women in AP WSCF have been hoping for men in the movements to take initiatives to form their own response to issues of gender. This might take the form of a regional men’s project, or some other action. There would have several advantages of this for women in the AP WSCF. Firstly, it would give us a group to be in dialogue with about issues of gender. Secondly, women would learn more about how patriarchy effects men by hearing from men’s experience. Thirdly, the views of women will be challenged and debated in a respectful way (no organisation should be beyond questioning). Fourthly, men could offer new perspectives and strategies for addressing gender-related problems, strategies that women’s groups may not have considered before. However, if our aim in working in a partnership model is to get men to debate gender issues amongst themselves, then we should be honest about that. If we are working together primarily in order to get men working, then that is even more reason for women to be mindful of how much time and energy they spend on this interaction.

What is goal or aim of partnership?

I am also not clear on what our motives would be for engaging in partnership work.

Means to an end, or ethical process? If we engage in a partnership process, do we do so to achieve a specific ends, such as equal power and justice for men and women, or do we commit to partnership because it is a biblical imperative for men and women to work together regardless of whether our process reinforces the systemic repression of women?

What are we aiming for? If we engage in partnership work, what is the aim of that work? Do men and women work together to determine the aim of the work? I would assume they would, or else men would be working to achieve women’s objectives, and that seems to me to be more an outsourcing strategy rather than partnership. Do men and women begin the process having already formulated separate agendas before meeting together? (In our favour, many people in WSCF AP have experience in sitting down with people with radically different life experiences, and constructing a useful action plan.)

Can partnership be made safe for women?

I can see several specific areas of risk to women if AP adopts partnership strategies.

It’s still not an even playing field: Many women in the AP still need encouragement and skills development to speak up in groups composed of men and women. Women continue to be less likely to use the power available to them. This will effect how partnership work is done at all levels. Should all women involved in such work be offered training in skills for empowerment? What about male participants who also lack experience in meeting processes? Should they be offered training as well?

Who sets the agenda? As discussed above, even setting an agenda for partnership work together would involve men and women working together. How could this process be made gender fair?

Who will do the work, and who will gain from the work? As we all know, the women’s project in WSCF AP has been functioning for several decades, and in that time much knowledge has been accrued by AP office, and by national movements. There is a danger that if partnership strategies are embraced more widely in the AP women will find themselves responsible for educating men about gender issues, and also teaching them how to build considerations of gender into their action. But we have enough work to do in empowering women! Our personal and organisational resources are too limited to take on this role for men as well. To what extent would women be prepared to slow down in order to let men catch up to them? If men take it upon themselves to educate other men about gender issues (as I know has happened in many WSCF AP groups), they will develop new ways of ‘doing gender work’, with new insights and processes to contribute. But the impetus for this work should not lie with women. We as women need to be wary of our own urges to rescue men, when they are perfectly capable of doing this work themselves. What will the expectations of men be in this regard?

What happens to the Women’s Projects? There is still work to be done within our region. I am concerned that if partnership work becomes the main focus of the women’s project, pressure will be brought to bear on us to divert funding from the women’s desk to a ‘partnership desk’ and women’s issues will become lost. Is it possible for some guarantee to be given that this will not happen?

How will our work in partnership effect women in other WSCF regions? I think it’s fair to say that the WSCF AP has to a certain extent been at the forefront of WSCF work in gender. Other WSCF regions look to the AP and our work on gender, and we do have influence in this area. This may sound farfetched or arrogant, but I am concerned that if we adopt partnership strategies and partnership language, it might give legitimacy to national movements or even other regional offices who do not want to make changes to their organisation to move towards equality to women. Of course we can’t control what others do with any of the initiatives we take, but if we do move towards partnership, how can we best consult with women from other regions about how this may affect them?

My opinion

In 1996, a male ASCM member, Chris Albone, said he believed that for a men’s movement to have any worth, it is imperative that it is not merely a cheer squad for the women’s movement. Men must have their own agenda, and take action on it, rather than waiting for women to educate them about issues of gender and direct them as to what to do next. I very much agree with this view. I believe we do need the unique insights of men into this process to move forward towards gender equality. However, I am concerned that embarking on partnership strategies at this point might result in women spending time and energy on work which is not really theirs to do, and which men are perfectly capable of doing themselves. Another issue we need to consider is the very definition of gender, and how appropriate our definitions/constructions/definitions of gender are.

As you may have already gathered, I am not comfortable with the notion of partnership. I hope that some of my concerns might be addressed by other articles in this Praxis, and that by the time you finish this Praxis most of the questions I’ve listed here have been solidly answered by others. For me to feel comfortable with partnership, I would firstly need to be given a definition of partnership, as well as an aim, and some information about how the process of women and men working together will be made equitable and effective. Women’s issues are not passé, nor is the notion of women determining their own priorities and taking action without softening their stand so as not to offend the men they live, work and pray with. We have not entered a new phase of WSCF wherein gender issues have been solved.

WSCF AP has already run one partnership programme, and from reports the programme was informative, challenging, and productive for all participants. I am interested to hear from the participants how the programme has effected them after returning to their home country. I think those participants are a primary resource for us in this debate and we should make use of them. It doesn’t surprise me that WSCF AP is taking a risk and trying something different in relation to gender issues, because we have a long history of doing just that. I’m proud to be involved in this discussion, and I do trust that our region will deal with this issue with honesty, fairness, and respect for each other. I look forward to learning more about partnership in the future, and discussing the matter with you all further.