by Gemma Tulud Cruz
In recognition of the fact that our world is increasingly marked by violence and conflict within public/private spaces twenty (28) women theologians from eleven (11) Asian countries (and two collaborators from the West) gathered in Hua Hin, Thailand from August 26-30, 2009. For these women theologians the conference, which carried the theme “Practicing Peace: Toward an Asian Feminist Theology of Liberation,” is made even more important and urgent by the fact that in Asia today there is an increasing feminization of conflict and confrontation where women and girls are differently and disproportionately impacted. In the Philippines, for example, a study made by the Center for Women’s Resources under the auspices of UNICEF revealed that 80% of persons displaced by armed conflict, particularly in the southern part of the country, are women and children. This disproportionate impact of conflicts on women could also be seen in Asian conflicts that have recently raged, especially in Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Pakistan, and Afghanistan.
The conference was organized by the Ecclesia of Women in Asia whose inception and first conference in 2002 was first reported in NCR. The papers presented ranged from the idea of peacemaking in the Bible and the role of the feminine, interculturality, everyday acts of resistance, narratives, and rituals of liberation in practicing peace. Highlights of the conference include the presentation by Sophie Lizares-Bodegon from the Christian Conference of Asia and the dialogue with world-renown Thai bhikkuni (female Buddhist monk) Venerable Dhammananda.
Interestingly but not surprisingly the role of mothers or the qualities of motherhood in peacebuilding came out significantly in the papers and discussions. More specifically a number of the participants believed that the feminine qualities of women could be instrumental in resolving conflicts. This was palpable not only in the academic paper presentations but also in the more creative ones which included a dance, a mural, and a quilt. Venerable Dhammananda echoed this belief by saying that women’s natural ability to give, nurture, care, and give life strategically puts them in a strategic position to be agents of peace.
Woven, indeed, into the whole conference from its liturgies to the presentations as well as reflections and discussions is the conviction that women bring some kind of much-needed soft power in a world defined by aggression. For the participants Asian women’s strategies for peace are, in many ways, like water on stone. It is defined by purposeful, sustained, and indomitable action in the face of hard-core or deeply embedded conflict or violence.
In a continent where patriarchy is deeply entrenched Asian women are no strangers to this approach. They themselves have been slowly but surely cracking at the rock-solid and centuries old discrimination against women in Asian cultures and religions. Moreover, they are well-aware that the work for peace is not easy. They also know that there is a vast difference between peacebuilding and peacekeeping. But whether they’re LGBTQ or Dalits, Sri Lankans or Indonesians, conservatives or progressives, academic or grassroot theologians, ecofeminists or just ordinary passionate citizens they unwaveringly work for peace. Some of the fruits of their struggle could already be seen in their own lives and in the lives of Asian women in their researches, in their movements, in their organizations, in their families, communities, and countries whose stories they have made visible throughout the conference. But, again, like water on stone these women never rest; they never become complacent. For them as long as violence plagues families, communities, and countries the struggle continues, the work goes on, the hope for peace lives on. The text from Habbakuk which was read over and over again during the conference provides them with much-needed inspiration: Write down the vision. Clearly upon the tablets so that one can read it readily. For the vision still has its time, presses on to fulfillment, and will not disappoint. It if delays, wait for it, it will surely come, it will not be late (Habakkuk 2: 2-3).