The Editors’ Note
In the 21st century women have scaled newer and greater heights, crashing
the many glass ceilings that formerly blocked their progress and growth. Women in fact, have moved from being mere recipients and transmitters of knowledge and tradition to becoming more active participants in the production of knowledge and shaping of tradition.
Women are coming of age in the exercise of their political agency, through leadership in government at the national, state and local levels as well as in grassroots movements that have swept across nations. Gender roles identified with women in the domestic space have changed.
However, even as women are making their voices heard in the public sphere, their silencing and exclusion have not ceased. It is paradoxical that modernity’s claims to equality has rendered the marginalization of women invisible, particularly that of women in the lower rungs of the social, economic and religious hierarchies. Though women in general enjoy more freedom and power than ever before, they are still disadvantaged when compared to men in virtually all aspects of life. A great majority of Asian women continue to be marginalized and defined by the patriarchal inscriptions of their particular cultural contexts.
For the 21st century Asian woman, the revolution unleashed by the media and information technology remains a challenge. It is a double-edged sword. While creating a platform for the realization of women’s potential it reinforces gender stereotypes, mis-reports gender based violence, facilitates online harassment and trolling of women.
The sexual revolution that began in the last century continues to challenge traditional codes of behaviour related to sexuality and interpersonal relationships. The 21st century has seen a dramatic shift in traditional values related to sex, gender and changing family structures. The gender binary has been replaced by a spectrum of gender indentities known as LGBTIQ (Lesbians, Gays, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex and Queer). Gender identity and sexuality is gradually moving towards the center of theological discourse in Asia. While the present century has given people the space to assert their sexual identity and orientation, it also continues to victimize them through trafficking and abuse.
Despite stringent laws, sexual violence is still an epidemic across the globe, spilling over into the streets, the workplaces and even institutes of learning. From time immemorial it has been and continues to be used as a tool to keep women ‘in their space’. Women’s movements, especially in Asia, have become platforms for women to create a collective identity and voice to address these concerns. Yet their voices are still straining to be heard.
Asian women still constitute a sizable portion of the new poor emerging from globalization and liberalization which have led to neo-colonization of their countries. The stronghold of religions and the grip of tradition that underpin the Asian ethos have their bearing on women who are caught between modernity and their perceived role as loyal transmitters of tradition, culture and religious norms and practices. This continues to challenge Asian feminists.
Hence, it is important to realize that the 21st century woman like her sisters before is not a monolithic identity. She is marked by plurality according to her positioning on the social hierarchy at the intersection of race, class, religion, caste and ethnicity with gender. This positioning perpetuates the dynamics of women being both victims and oppressors at the same time.
The Churches have not remained unaffected by these developments in the secular world. Even while religions continue to legitimize women’s subjugation through their hegemonic codes, and exploit women’s religious inclinations to their advantage, women are asserting their spiritual/religious agency for claiming their rightful place in the sacred space. The legitimization of Feminist Theology and its impact on the teaching and practice of the Church indisputably testify to this.
The dialogical approach of Pope Francis is an opportunity for a greater recognition of women’s role in the Church. In Evangelii Gaudium, he underlines, “I readily acknowledge that many women share pastoral responsibilities with priests, helping to guide people, families and groups and offering new contributions to theological reflection. But we need to create still broader opportunities for a more incisive female presence in the Church.” (EG 103). In view of engaging deeper into these theological conversations, the 7th Biennial Conference of the Ecclesia of Women in Asia focussed on the theme: “The 21st Century Woman Still Claiming Her Space: Asian Feminist Theological Perspectives.”
Realising the urgency to re-examine both new developments and old challenges in the light of the 21st century,thirteen authors from Asia, the UK and Africa have made an effort to look into the lives of women and groups who are struggling to create a space for themselves in their living context.
Nonando Hadebe, critically examines the theological contribution of the Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians, it’s mission, theology, writings, limitations and concludes with the challenges for the ongoing search for liberating theologies for African women, men and sexual minorities. She shows how women in ‘The Circle’ negotiate spaces in culture, Christianity and the constitution in a search to liberate their multiple identities
Pauline Chakkalakal DSP, challenges the oppressive factors responsible for pushing women to the periphery, unravels the significance of Jesus’ women disciples at the tomb and their message for women today. She challenges them to claim their rightful space despite numerous hurdles to explore ways and means to ‘roll away the stone’ of humanly erected obstacles and create space for themselves both in church and society.
Looking at the reality of women in India, Metti Amirtham argues how educational and economic empowerment is not enough for women to reclaim their space. Instead, they need to be empowered from within.
Sharon A Bong presents her fascination for Talitha Kum, a global network of consecrated women who have dedicated themselves to combat trafficking in persons (TIP). She tells the story of this network in South East Asia followed by an analytical appraisal of their faith and praxis through feminist, theological and anti-trafficking discourses.
Margaret Gonsalves argues that there is a profound interconnection between women – Mother Earth – the Spirit. She asserts that to explore a woman’s theology is to appreciate the new sacred story of the universe. To conclude she deals with some of the major implications for a theology of woman and her incisive presence in the Church,
D.J. Margaret investigates the role of spirituality, religious beliefs and practices on the psychological well-being of Women Living with HIV/AIDS. She shows how it helps to create a space for expansion of self consciousness and transcendence. It could apply to anyone confronted with a serious crisis.
As a budding Asian feminist theologian, Helen C. Romero, claims a space for articulating a theology that underpins the Filipino-American devotion to Santo Niño (baby Jesus) towards realising their dreams as new Americans moving towards the Reign of God inaugurated by Jesus. She asserts we become “some-body” through the Eucharist (Santo Nino grows up); a new humanity born in Christ, which also includes women.
Mary Mee-Yin Yuen, examines the situation of migrant women from Mainland China and their relationship with native Hong Kong people. Using the biblical story of Ruth and Naomi she suggests how women in Hong Kong despite their differences can build solidarity with the migrants so that they can lift up their voices to claim their space in Hong Kong society.
Heejung Adele Cho examines the perceived reality of silence and invisibility of women within the Asian Roman Catholic Church, generated by the patriarchal structures and suggests ways to overcome such silence and invisibility. Using Bernard Lonegram’s notion of self-appropriation she shows how women can claim a space in the creation of knowledge and proposes the example of leadership of women in the SCC in the Korean Catholic Church to find a voice.
In the context of existing violence to women often caused by misinterpretation of scriptures, Kristine C. Meneses, explores Mt. 5:39-41, (a pericope from the Sermon on the Mount) and provides an alternative understanding of the passage. Using a Socio-rhetorical analysis, she re-reads the text, with minor references to the historical-cultural practices in Jesus’ time.
Sanchez and Puen discuss elements of Filipino culture that are used to exclude women from their space around the Altar, even though Canon 230 #2 allows women to be acolytes, servers, and in some cases, Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion. She highlights positive elements in Filipino culture that can be used to tap charisms of both men and women for the flourishing to the community and the church.
Dona Sanctis analyses the hymn of Magnificat by revisiting the life of Indian women, showing how it can ignite a search for new avenues for women to be empowered.
Virginia Saldanha and Lisa Isherwood take a look at the reality of LGBTQI persons in South Asia and explore the cultural and religious factors that continue to keep them as a persecuted group, especially lesbians who are invisible and silent. They raise questions that call out the need for their space and inclusion in the Catholic Church.
This compilation of theological works is rooted in the lived reality of Asia and Asians. The authors range from scholars to grassroots theologians, whose method of doing theology is contextual. It takes off from the experience and struggles of women, the marginalized and the poor, hence makes for easy reading even for Catholics unfamiliar with theological jargon. Thus the authors continue to uphold the tradition of bringing to life the vision and mission of Ecclesia of Women in Asia (EWA) as an association of Catholic women doing theology in Asia, that encourages and assists women in engaging in theologizing that 1) is inculturated and contextualized in Asian realities; 2) is built on the religious experience and praxis of the socially excluded; 3) promotes gender mutuality and the integrity of creation; and 4) fosters dialogue with other disciplines and faiths.
We assure you that the articles will touch your life and enrich your faith in deeply experiential way.
The 21st Century Woman Still Claiming Her Space: Asian Feminist Theological Perspectives edited by Virginia Saldanha and Metti Amirtham, SCC is an output from EWA 7 in Manila, 2016.