|WNT Vol. 20_2015 – Some excerpts|
The year 2015 has been a busy one for AWRC in terms of dealing with consolidating administrative mechanisms consequent to relocation and also dealing with programs, networking, “in God’s image” (IGI) and visitors to the AWRC Office. Some of the highlights of AWRC’s work in 2015 are outlined in this issue of the womenet.
India Office Staff Update
In the Chennai Office, Annapurani, a young graduate, started working with the Coordinator as Administrative Assistant from May 2015. Lavanya, our finance staff, had to leave work due to personal reasons in July 2015 so it was timely that Annapurani had already learnt routine tasks from her before she left. We are thankful to Lavanya who was the only staff assisting the Coordinator in the crucial first year of our existence in India after our relocation. She cheerfully participated in the life and programs of AWRC and we wish her well in her future. From August 2015, Rebecca Premilkumar started work as part-time Finance Administrator.
A new arrangement to expedite printing of IGI has had to be worked out. …The work to produce and send out IGI have been outsourced while the Coordinator and Editorial Advisory Committee (EAC) members continue to actively oversee the work. EAC has been taking care of the role of Publications Secretary (PS) since 2014. This practice will continue until we have more stable finances to be able to undertake a separate salary for the PS. Having good guest editors like we had for the December 2015 issue, helps the situation from time to time. Now that we have systems in place, the Coordinator will strive to see to it issues are rolled out on time.
We are happy to report that with this arrangement the backlog of IGI issues from 2014 were completed and sent out. The themes are as follows:
AWRC, in each country we make our home in, finds allies and partners in that country to network/partner with to strengthen the feminist perspective vis a vis culture and theology. Towards this end, in May 2015 this small ecumenical group meeting was convened to hear from those who are actively involved in justice concerns in various spheres (not only theological), about the lacunae or needs that an organization like AWRC can help address in India.
We do not want to duplicate work already being done by NGOs/church organizations/women’s groups, but we would like to assess what concerns we can direct our energies towards in the next 3-4 year time-frame. This think-tank meeting was to aid this collation of ideas that will inform AWRC’s program focus in the next few years.
AWRC Coordinator carried some of the suggestions for direction in India from this group to the Coordinating Team Members (CTM) of AWRC in September 2015 for us to decide on and prioritise the directions we would like to expend our energies. Some of the salient issues raised were the (a) necessity to create spaces for young women doing theology in India, (b) need for clarity on terms related to the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex and Queer (LGBTIQ) categories, (c) need to create spaces to dialogue about “privilege” and (d) need to address the gap between theological and ecclesial understanding of Christian beliefs, concepts and theology.
India Feminist Theology Workshop: “Power & Violence within Theological Education in India” [8-11 June 2015, Chennai]
As this was AWRC’s first workshop after we moved to India, some of the general objectives of the workshop were:
After a brain storming session of the Local Support Group in India comprising Aruna Gnanadason, Jayachitra Lalitha, Sonia George, Anshi Zachariah and the Coordinator Jessica Richard during which a lot was shared about what was happening within theological spaces in India, the specific theme for the workshop was decided upon. This theme was chosen so as to provide a space and process for women in theological education/theologically inclined women in India to come together for a deeper analysis of challenges facing us in the current time and devise possible ways to tackle these challenges both as a community and as individuals.
We had a good geographical balance with a total of 27 participants including resource persons/staff from all over India: West-West Bengal; East-Maharashtra; North East-Mizoram and Nagaland; Central-Madhya Pradesh and South-Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka. Participants were diploma, bachelors, masters and doctoral level theology students, ordained women and women faculty from theological colleges as well as freelance feminist theological educators.
Dr. Lieve Troch of Netherlands, who was originally supposed to facilitate the workshop could not come to India in the last minute for medical reasons given the heat wave in India at that time. However, the workshop was facilitated by Coordinator Jessica Richard and Coordinating Team Member Yong Ting Jin of Malaysia, who had intense skype planning sessions with Lieve a few days prior to the workshop.
The workshop followed the basic premise that all the participants were also the resource persons in the sense that our lives, stories and reflections become the content for our theologising together as a critical, nurturing group of wo/men.
The workshop was also keen to allow the pace and direction of thinking of the full group to decide the direction of the following day’s sessions. So ultimately this is the broad outline of the flow of the workshop:
|Day 1||Introducing ourselves & learning from our stories|
|Day 2||– Synthesis of our stories and Situating Intersections of Oppressions;
– Understanding the need for a deeper framework of analysis
– Recognising Power and Violence: Group discussion
|Bible Study on Rizpah (2 Samuel 21:1-14)
– Questions to understand the story
– Questions for critical feminist theological analysis of the story
– Discussion to understand the story theologically and ground it in our realities/contexts
|Day 4||– Synthesis tying up the stories of violence in the group’s lives and Rizpah’s and the reactions to it and the reactions in Rizpah’s story
– Pyramid analysis (Structural analysis of intersecting oppressions)
Apart from the above we also had a session to introduce the history and work of AWRC to the group via a presentation by the Coordinator. As is usual in all AWRC workshops, we had a wonderful time of bonding and fun as the venue we were in had a large pool and much of the time after sessions were spent playing in the pool.
The feedback from participants showed that each of them had experienced an “aha” moment when something had hit them powerfully both in terms of how they perceived a particular issue theologically and/or how they had perceived their own lives. Although many painful stories and experiences were shared, the overall excitement about the methodology for analysing ourselves, our stories, our societies and our theologies using the Dance of Liberation and Transformation, created much hope among all of us.
Series of Meetings
AWRC’s organizational meetings – Editorial Advisory Committee (EAC), Working Group (WG) and Coordinating Team Members (CTM) meetings were held in Petaling Jaya, Malaysia. In order to save costs, the three administrative and planning meetings were held back-to-back between 19-28 September 2015.
As this was the first series of organizational meetings since relocation in 2014, the Coordinator apprised the EAC, WG and CTM of all the salient challenges in transition, the changes necessitated in administrative and financial functioning related to AWRC and IGI. The EAC and WG meetings preceded the CTM meeting.
EAC Meeting: The EAC reviewed the status of IGI 2014 and 2015 issues and planned the themes for the upcoming four years: 2016-2020.
2016: 1) Mixed Issue
2) Country Issue (Taiwan or India)
2017: 1) Disability
2) Country Issue
2018: 1) Social Movements
2) 30th Anniversary Issue/Neglected sub-regions combined
2019: 1) Asian feminist theologies from different social contexts
2) Country Issue (Philippines)
2020: 1) Mixed Issue
2) Country Issue (Sri Lanka/ Korea)
The terms of EAC members were reviewed and suggestions of names to fill vacancies in the EAC were collated for recommendation to the CTM. Other issues discussed were related to prices for back issues, plans for digitization of IGI, efforts to include book review section as a regular feature, suggestions for collating a pool of articles, authors and art work, and review of subscription rates. The EAC agreed that Coordinator would pursue feasibility plans for the process of digitizing.
WG Meeting: WG members were apprised of the continuing challenges facing the AWRC Office in India regarding movement of funding into India. The WG tabled the issues regarding this matter to be conveyed to the CTM meeting that was to follow. The WG also reviewed subscription rates recommended by EAC, Membership fees and Life Membership issue.
CTM Meeting: The CTM had quorum although we had two apologies. The CTM in attendance were Anshi Zachariah (Local Representative, India), Naw Htoo Htoo (South East Asia (A) Representative/Myanmar), Nina Nayoan (Regional Women’s Program WSCF-AP Representative), Woon Yoke Heng (South East Asia (B) Representative/Malaysia), Hisako Kinukawa (Coopted/Japan), Yong Ting Jin (Coopted/Malaysia) and Coordinator Jessica Richard. Apologies were received from Nelun Gunasekara (South Asia Representative/Sri Lanka) and Un Sunn Lee (Korean Association of Women Theologians (KAWT) Coopted Member/Korea).
As some of the CTM were newly elected from sub-regions and this was their first meeting, the Coordinator and older CTM apprised them of the Minutes of the CTM 2013 meeting and clarified points raised. The CTM received various reports from the Coordinator related to programs, funding, IGI, Accounts/Audit, Membership review, Sub-regional elections conducted in 2014, program reports and program plans for the coming years as well as Budgets for the coming years. …
Issues related to Membership fee collection were also reviewed and the CTM mandated that the Coordinator pursue feasibility of receiving payments via PayPal in order to minimise our losses in bank charges and exchange rates and receive the maximum possible amount into our account. The CTM was informed and updated on the list of AWRC members. The revised Membership fees chart as presented by WG was also reviewed and ratified by the CTM. The new Membership fees chart is available on our website and will also appear in the June 2016 issue of IGI.
Programmatic Concerns: The CTM reviewed programs and reports handed over by Outgoing Coordinator Anna Marsiana in 2013 and the subsequent changes in the programs necessitated after relocation to India in 2014. CTM also approved the EAC recommendation that the Coordinator pursue feasibility plans for digitizing IGI. The CTM also mandated the Coordinator and a small team from the CTM to follow-up and bring to a close the Constitutional Review and finalise the publication of the Constitution booklet.
The Coordinator pointed out that despite financial challenges in India one major workshop (India workshop) had been carried out, networking in India is ongoing since 2014, IGI’s backlog has been cleared and website updated. Ongoing projects that have been on hold since prior to relocation like the Development of Asian Feminist Theologies (DAFT) project, were also reviewed and fresh plans were drawn. CTM also reviewed the program plans for 2016-2018 presented by the Coordinator. Some of the upcoming programs that have been approved are:
Due to the enormous time required to deal with administrative matters and running of AWRC’s own India programs, the Coordinator has had to turn down some invitations to represent AWRC at various meetings within India and prioritise the stabilizing of AWRC systems and work flow. So in 2015 the Coordinator participated in only one regional program representing AWRC, and a few networking trips within India. A summary of the Coordinator’s participation and networking is given below:
Networking with Asian women theologians:
The Coordinator participated in a five-day conference on “Women in Theological Education and Women in Theological Movements” in Manila, Philippines, between 21-25 June 2015. The conference was organized by Foundation for Theological Education in South East Asia (FTESEA) and Association for Theological Education in South East Asia (ATESEA). Jessica was requested to represent AWRC in a Panel on “Women in Theological Movements” and made a presentation on “AWRC and its promotion of Asian Feminist Theology”.
The conference was intended for (a) fact-finding and data-gathering about women and leadership in theological education in Southeast Asia and women doing theology and practical ministry, so that FTESEA can better partner with ATESEA to strengthen women in theological education; (b) discussing the issues and the future of Asian feminist theology; and (c) exploring partnership and collaboration among Asian and Asian North American female theological educators.
As Kwok Pui Lan summarised in the conference report, “The conference was a communal event, with participants sharing leadership in worship, Panel discussion, group facilitation and reporting, and cultural celebration. Several grassroots groups struggling for justice issues for migrants, urban poor, indigenous peoples, human rights, and the environment came to share their testimonies and hope.”
This conference was a good space for the AWRC Coordinator to network and renew contact with old and new AWRC members and friends who were at this workshop.
It was especially fulfilling to have fellowship with and draw inspiration from our longstanding and new friends like Hope Antone, Hisako Kinukawa, Muriel Orevillo-Montenegro, Lilith Usog, Chuleepran Srisoontorn, Wong Wai Ching, Rini Ralte, Yak Hwee Tan, Archi Ligo, Shannon Clarkson, Aye Nwe, Septemmy Lakawa, Norma Dollago and Pearl Wong.
Sr. Mary John Mananzan, a pioneer of Asian feminist theology, was present for most of the conference. This workshop proved to be fruitful interaction for AWRC to develop new contacts in some regions like Vietnam and China in which we do not have much of a presence.
Networking within India:
AWRC is a member of the Henry Martyn Institute for Research, Interfaith Relations and Reconciliation (HMI) Hyderabad, India, as they were our partners to help us stabilize administratively in India in 2014. The Coordinator therefore attended the 2015 AGM of HMI held on 30 July 2015 both to give input as well as to learn from the work of the Centre.
In October 2015 the Coordinator also met with possible network partners in YMCA, Delhi the facilities of which AWRC could use for upcoming meetings such as the South Asia workshop.
Visitors to AWRC
On 10 September 2015 AWRC received in our Chennai Office one of our funding partners Dr. H. S. Wilson, Executive Secretary of FTESEA. It was a cordial visit and the Coordinator was able to discuss with him AWRC’s plans in the coming years and the possibility of FTESEA’s continued support for these. In November 2015 another funding partner of AWRC, Corrie Van der Ven, Program Director (India & Indonesia) of ICCO Cooperation–Kerk in Actie (ICCO-KIA) visited AWRC Office and spent a few days in Chennai. …
While Corrie was in Chennai we also received in our office Kungreiliu (Akung), Director of Priscilla Centre – a training Centre for abandoned women run by the Baptist Churches in North East India that seeks to empower women with vocational and entrepreneurial skills. The Coordinator shared with her about the work of AWRC and the resources and publications available in AWRC that Priscilla Centre could also use in future.
Corrie was also introduced to a few in AWRC’s network of friends and activists in Chennai like Aruna Gnanadason, AWRC member and Local Support Group member in India; Aiswarya Rao who works in the areas of gender and health care focussing on people living with HIV and transgender people, and with Ashley Tellis, a gay rights activist and writer.
The Coordinator, Corrie and AWRC staff Annapurani also participated in the inauguration of the Tamil Nadu state LGBTIQ movement which was an eye opener to the realities faced by this group of people in the state of Tamil Nadu–the state in which AWRC is currently located. Many stories of coming out were shared for the first time and it was an emotional as well as hopeful space of supportive people coming together to show solidarity and draw inspiration from each other. Fortunately, Corrie was able to leave India in one of the last flights from Chennai before the airport was closed due to the Chennai Floods.
A Somber closing to the year …
The year 2015 closed on a very somber tone for AWRC as the Chennai Floods inundated the city confining most Chennaites to their flooded homes with no drinking/sanitation water, electricity and food. The Coordinator and staff were also confined to their homes most of which were flooded. The areas close to the AWRC Office experienced the worst flooding as we are close to the Adyar River that overflowed causing the floods. It was fortunate that the AWRC Office experienced minimal damage although we had to salvage some stock that got soaked as a result of water seepage through the walls due to incessant rains. The beacon in the dark times we faced in Chennai was that Chennaites from all walks of life and across economic and religious divides came together in relief and rescue efforts.
Once the floods receded and the city was crawling back to normal AWRC too was able to mobilise funds from friends and provide relief to those closest to us who were affected by the floods. The homes of Selvi, AWRC Office cleaning staff, helpers of the Coordinator and other women living close by were totally submerged. Selvi lost everything in her house due to flooding as did her sister-in-law, Lakshmi’s family. AWRC provided a small amount to five of these families as they had all received much material relief from various NGOs and cash was what we felt they needed most.
With the AWRC South Asia workshop slated for January 2016, the Coordinator, had to quickly shift focus from the floods and prepare for the workshop.