Women and their Struggle for Empowerment
Maureen B. Loste1
The societal context of Asian women
Picture Asia, its human and natural resources, and you see its vulnerability to the forces of nature, to the forces of predators and plunderers - the colonialists-turned-capitalists. Picture Asia and you see enclaves of extreme luxury and enclaves of destruction and death.
But Asians know they live in countries rich in human and natural resources. Still they remain impoverished because majority of them do not have access to these resources. They fall prey to the imperialists who connive with the local elite to further squeeze profits from the remaining resources. The Asian economies largely depend on loans and foreign investments succumbing to indebtedness. The majority of the populace bears the brunt of paying the loans. The grim reality of poverty and unemployment push many Asians to work in more affluent societies.
Situation of women in Asia
Picture Asia and you see women in millions toiling under the harshest conditions to earn a living for their and their family’s survival. You see them as workers in factories, in agricultural plantations and in outsourcing centers, as overseas workers, domestic helpers, entertainers in developed countries, as scavengers in huge dumpsites. Under globalization, regular jobs are becoming more scarce, particularly for women.
In the June 2003 Research Conference on Globalization and Women, sponsored by the Asia Pacific Research Network, the deplorable situation of Asian women is vividly described, to wit:
The mad drive for fast super-profits has created an industry known as human trafficking, the third largest criminal industry in the world today, after arms and drug dealing. Most victims – women and children – come from the depressed Third World countries, especially from Asia.
Perspective of women’s movements
In a publication written by South Asian women, picture the reality of where the women’s movement is now.
Perspectives from the Church
In the face of these grim realities, the following challenges are presented. First, from the WCC Ecumenical Decade of Churches in Solidarity with Women (1988-1998), these are some of the challenges:
Second is from the Conference, “Gathering the Voices of the Silenced”, a conference of Catholic Asian women theologians, in November 2002, under the theme, “Ecclesia of Women in Asia (EWA): Voices of the Silenced”. According to that conference, the aim of theology done by women in Asia is to transform ourselves, society and the Church into an ‘ekklesia’ – a democratic gathering of free citizens who share in the life and the equality of the reign of God. Catholic women were called to accountability for the silence of women in church life and equipped at the conference with analytical tools and theological resources for continuing women’s claim to voice and authority within the church in Asia.
The theological issues that surfaced from these discussions ranged from where poverty and the diverse religiosities of Asia meet to form a distinct theological voice in Asia, to how women theologians meet the crisis/challenge of fundamentalism both within the church and without. The connection of fundamentalism with the escalating violence against women became painfully clear. More significantly, the conference was characterized by a seriousness in the search to claim the Catholic women’s voices, their role and authority within the Church.
Participation of churchwomen in the women’s movement
Experience proves that by sustaining the interest of churchwomen in people’s issues through conscientization, advocacy and mobilization, they are bound to become closer with the wider network of the women’s movement. Their empowerment can only be achieved by linking with the wider equally empowered community.
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