Ecclesia of Women in Asia: Gathering the Voices of the Silenced. Editors, Evelyn Monteiro, Antoinette Gutzler. Published by the Rev. Ashish Amos of the Indian Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (ISPCK), Post Box. 1585. 1654 Madarsa Road, Kashmere Gate, Delhi – 110006 under its Women’s Empowerment Programs
“A conversation is a rare phenomenon…. It is not a confrontation. It is not a debate. It is not an exam. It is questioning itself It is .willingness to follow the question wherever it may go. It is dialogue” These words capture well the spirit of the first conference of ‘Ecclesia of Women in Asia: Gathering the Voices ‘Silenced’ held in Bangkok, Thailand in November 2002. It is a fitting introduction to this collection of conference papers which gather many voices of the silenced and is a window into the experience of what happens when women from varied contexts of Asia come together for conversation. Dr. Evelyn Monteiro’s keynote address chronicles the genesis of this wonderful gathering of women and sets the tone for our four days of conversation on various
Asia is a continent of diversity and difference. Yet, there is an affinity and bonding shared by its women that is reflected in their life stories. Several socio-cultural and religious factors have so invalidated Asia’s women that one would be able to recognize elements that characterize their Asian identity.
The conference provided sufficient space in the program for women to break their silence. The participants formed ‘interest groups, listened to the paper presenters and engaged in dialogue and discussion, a process that helped build meaningful relationships and bridge the little known and varied Asian women’s
The papers presented in this collection are clustered around six areas: women and violence, women and the Bible, women and church structures, women and spirituality, eco-feminism and theological method, women and world religions. They break the silence about the realities that impact women’s lives, namely family, church, societal structures, or the scriptures of various religions that coalesce to keep women silent. The papers in this collection may not be considered essays in feminist theology but they are essays bring to focus issues raised by feminist thought. The orientation of the papers range from the pastoral to the more academic and represents differences in perspective and the richness brought to the table of our conversation.
The first cluster of essays gathers voices from Myanmar,Indonesia, India, and the Philippines, and details the struggles of women in elation to the violence that dehumanizes their lives. Whether discussing wife battery, state viol,ence against women, or decriminalizing prostitution, the violence that haunts the lives of Asian women each day becomes chillingly evident.
Conversations centering around women and the Bible provide the context for the second grouping. Participants from the Philippines, China, India and Taiwan attempt to break the silence around the accepted androcentric interpretation of the Bible address the pastoral concerns and ecclesiological implications that result from such interpretation. interactions.
Another cluster of essays reflects on ecclesiology and the necessity of a feminist vision of a participatory church. Women from Malaysia, Indonesia, India, Korea and Taiwan addressed problems in the church relating to the ways in which women are silenced, valued (or not), and the need for hope.
Women’s voices from Singapore, Vietnam and the Philippines explore various dimensions of women’s spirituality and the implications that arise from unleashing their passion for justice. The papers on eco-feminism and theological method bring additional dialogue partners into the conversation as women from Australia, Singapore, Korea, the Philippines and Sri Lanka follow the questions into deeper dialogue.
The final cluster in this collection concerns issues surrounding women and other religions. Women from Malaysia, Japan and India look at these issues from the reality of religious pluralism in Asia. As they look at religion from inside and how it impacts the reality of Women’s lives, they deal with difficult issues and draw new insights.
Two ‘post-conference’reports placed at the end of the volume give a sense of the spirit of this gathering. Gemma Cruz andChristine Burke present a lucid exposition of the background, setting and process of the meeting. They also share the insights of the Conference-responder, Dr. Lieve Troch, Professor of systematic theology in Nijmegen, The Netherlands – that theology is for transformation and there is a need to evolve a distinct theological women’s voice from Asia. Judette Gallares explores the ‘dance of liberation and transformation’ that engaged the participants in expressing with freedom their own reality and experience. Gallares’ cogent conclusion “what has become clear from this conference is that the voice of Asia’s Catholic women can be silent no more”
The conference was notably enriching and challenging. The participants felt empowered and stimulated, and expressed the need to continue an Asian Catholic women’s forum for such theological interactions.
This volume is an attempt to share the experience and the papers of the gathering of the Ecclesia of Women in Asia. We hope that they will become a catalyst for an ever-extending conversation to take place in ever-widening circles throughout Asia and beyond.
(Photograph shows Evelyn Monteiro (EWA I Editor, Organizer, and EWA 2005 Coordinator), Agnes Brazal, (EWA Coordinator for 2004 to Jan. 2005) presenting the first volume of EWA I papers to Nunuk Murniati, the first Catholic female theologian in Indonesia and the chair of the local host committee for the organization of the 2nd EWA Conference. Looking on is Pushpa Joseph, EWA Coordinator from Nov. 2002-January 2004.