Based on notes by Marini de Livera,
The morning session commenced with a liturgy portraying the creation of woman and thanking God for our bodies. Subsequently, with Christine Burke, Continuity Committee Member and conference facilitator, the participants in groups were invited to share their views on the theme of the conference.
Notes on group reactions to the theme:
Rosalyn Costa (Bangladesh) articulated her group’s view that as women we ought to be proud of our bodies because God the Mother created a body that could create another human being. Virginia Saldanha (India) reported that the younger ones in her table were uncomfortable about sexuality but the married ones did not feel that way. She added that this relates to a number of concerns rooted in our body and sexuality. Sharon Bong (Malaysia) said her group felt that the Catholic Church views body and exuality in a very negative way therefore, a new interpretation is needed. Metti A. (India) said that it is the month of the dead (November) when we are expected to focus on the other world, but here we are speaking of the body and sexuality.
According to Shienta Aswin (Indonesia), woman’s body consciousness is usually excluded. Violence Against Women is common in Indonesia; the body is not usually celebrated. But women need to be able to celebrate our being women. This is a topic people are too shy to talk about, said Anne Mary Clement (Pakistan). Ann Mary pointed out that there should have been male participants at this conference as well..
The next group queried: ‘What is a soul without a body?’ How do nuns look at their body? Nuns’ bodies are constructed as asexual space. Many of us have been taught to look at women’s bodies as evil.
After the eye-opening presentation by Dr. Gudorf, a few minutes were available for an open forum. Rosalyn asked about prostitution. To answer, Christine pointed out how St Thomas Aquinas justified the need for prostitution. He argued that prostitution should not be eliminated because men lack self-control, therefore prostitutes are necessary so that men won’t rape good women.
Sr Pushpa Joseph (India) commented that in the Asian and Indian context women take upon themselves to remain chaste because they want to do it. It is bodily discipline that is facilitated by prayer.
Christine stated that the cultural message for women should be ‘be powerful’. At present the cultural message is that women should never develop themselves but be extensions of other people. Speaking about Medieval Women mystics Christine stated that life already brings us enough suffering. (e.g. Looking after elders and children.) All this involves pain and sacrifice. We don’t have to make further sacrifice.
Anne Meuthrath (Germany) asked if as Theologians, should we or could we listen and learn from other religions? Said Christine, with regard to Mysticism there is a similarity among different religions. It is amazing how women satis and Christian mystics speak the same language. Christine also stressed that she won’t say that you have to look at other religions but it would be very helpful to do so and learn from them. A growing number of people are involved in inter-religious dialogue especially since Buddhists and Muslims in the US and other parts of the world are increasing. Inter-religious dialogue is vital not only for dialogue but also for the maintenance of peace.
Sr Cecilia Claparols (Philipines) asked about orgasm outside marriage. Christine replied that orgasm depends on what we understand. Sexual pleasure may begin as just physical pleasure-recreational sex. But it can grow into marital love. There can be horrible sex in marriage; and there can also be commitment in non-marital sex. But it’s marital sex that gives security.
Evangeline Raikumar (India) spoke of Diversity of Religion and culture and whether it had an impact on the way we mate. Christine responded by saying that although she did not speak of culture very much, culture is of vital importance. Christianity became embedded in Asia because it adapted to culture. It is difficult to speak of an Asian culture as a whole; the individual countries are so mixed and varied. We have to decide what aspects of culture we need to preserve and what aspects we need to change.
Metti spoke of a research on body that she was carrying out in South India. After collecting responses to questionnaires from 200 Catholics, 200 Hindus and 200 Muslims, she discovered that Indian women’s understanding of body is very negative and low.
Christine concluded that women’s experience towards sexuality should be equivalent to a pleasurable marriage. Marriage should be an intimate partnership, she said.
In the afternoon, the participants divided into workshop groups of their choice.
Goup 1. a. Em-body-ing Theology: Theological Reflections on the Experience of Filpino Domestic Workers in Hongkong by Gemma Tulud Cruz, Philippines; b. Body and Sexuality in Pakistan, Theological-Pastoral Perspective by Zakia Tariq, Pakistan
Group 2. a. Reflections on the Spirituality of Ageing Korean Women: The Empowerment of the Sacred in Their Body-image and Inner Life, by Han Soon Hee, Korea b.. Queer Revisions of Christianity, by Sharon Bong, Malaysia
Group 3. a. The Role of Myanmar Women in Society and in Religion Sr. Ann Shwe, Myanmar b. Ecological Approach towards Re-defying Sexuality of Women in the Context of Building Bridges East and West. Dzintra Ilisko, Latvia
The paper presenters for the afternoon talked about their experience with their workshop groups. Sharon thanked everyone for being so attentive. Dzintra (Latvia) shared with all the dire warnings from her countrymen about the danger in visiting countries such as Indonesia. Women outnumber men in her country and so the women have all the important positions but need to take care of the household, as well so as not to lose their men. Because of the shortage of men, men are the ones who are being bought and sold. Gemma Cruz expressed the common frustration with the limited time given for presentation and discussion. Zakia thanked everyone for giving her the opportunity to present her paper. Sr Rosalyn of Bangladesh stated that her dream was to come to a forum such as this. She said whatever she was thinking during the past 18 years was the same whether you buy men or are sold to men. Describing herself as a person of much experience, she suggested that all 51 of us should go back and create this new culture.
Dr. Pushpa’s Presentation Adding a presentation of Dr. Pushpa Joseph’s paper, “Re-Visioning Eros for Asian Feminist Theologizing: Some Pointers from Tantric Philosophy” may have been too much for some, who were ready to call it a day. But who would not be intrigued by a paper with such a title? Pushpa spoke of Sakti and Tantrism with fire in her eyes and a passion that made at least one person say, “Pushpa, I do not believe you have never experienced an orgasm..” (Link to a summary of Dr. Pushpa’s Paper)
Book Launch. After dinner of the first day of the conference, the much awaited publication of the EWA I papers was officially launched with a program that included a formal presentation of the book to distinguished Indonesian woman theologian, Nunuk Murniati, EWA 2 conference host.
Evelyn Monteiro, a member of the organizing committee for the first EWA and one of the editors for the publication of the first volume, introduced the publication and recognized the authors who, as participants for the second conference, were present for the book launch: Agnes Brazal, Pushpa Joseph, Sr. Han Soon Hee, Sr. Christine Burke, Andrea L. Si, Gemma Cruz, Intan Darmawati Supeno, Nunuk Murniati, and Mai Thanh (Bui Thi Nhu Kha), For those who had been part of EWA 1, the authors of the papers, the members of the Continuity Committee, and of course the editors Evelyn and Nonie Gutzler, seeing the publication was a dream come true. With good reason for celebrating, there was Indonesian rice wine, a few cans of beer that were hardly touched, and spiked punch to go with the Krupuck and other Indonesian snacks. (In picture, left to right, Evelyn Monteiro, Nunuk Murniati, Agnes Brazal, Pushpa Joseph)