Asian women theologian are playing an important role in the church and in the society, by empowering women to liberate themselves from oppressive situations.
Asia is blessed with plurality of cultures and religions. The presence of many cultures and religions make Asia vibrant and colourful. Religion plays a major role in peoples’ lives. The sense of the sacred is still very much palpable in the Asian soil. People, on the whole, are religiously inclined. The various spiritual traditions offer ways and means of reaching not only the divine but also one’s own inner depths.
On the other side, one cannot ignore the fact that religions are commercialized, communalized and politicized in the present-day Asian context. ln countries like India, the growing religious fundamentalism is destroying the secular and democratic fabric of the country. Religion also legitimizes certain dehumanizing elements present in the culture. The caste system or the graded inequality practiced in India is a case in point. Moreover, the patriarchal elements present in most religions ensure women’s continual subordination and oppression in most societies.
Christianity is one among the many religions found in Asia. However, it is a minority religion comprising approximately 2 to 2.5 percent. Christianity entered Asia during the time of colonialism. Consequently, it is seen as a foreign religion. This perception is enhanced since the Church is slow in inculturating the Christian faith into the Asian soil.
All the countries in Asia, except Thailand and China, suffered colonial rule for more than 350 years. The negative impact of colonialism lingers on even after decades of self-rule. The massive poverty that we witness in Asia, especially in South Asian countries is linked to the past history of colonization followed by the present neo-liberal, globalized market economy which day by day, widens the gap between the haves and the have nots.
Within this overall socio-economic and religious context of Asia, women suffer the most.
They are the most exploited and deprived, the most vulnerable and powerless. They are accorded a marginalized and inferior status both in society and in the churches. Asian societies are still patriarchal. They have customs and practices that come from feudal times. The coming of capitalism and modernization of Asian societies have led to more and more oppression of women.
As a result, Asian women suffer double and triple oppression. They experience various forms of domestic and social violence. They are also victims of trafficking in different forms: as prostitutes, mail-order brides, overseas contract workers, domestic helpers and entertainers. As far as women are concerned, it is correct to describe the culture of Asia “as a culture of suffering within a culture of domination.”
From a theological perspective
Asian women began doing theology in the 1980s. They reflect in the context of violence and oppression of women in their respective countries. They are aware that this oppression is caused by their own patriarchal cultures. They articulate who God is from their experiences of pain, discrimination and exclusion.
It was during the Asian continental consultation held in Manila in November 1985, with the theme, “Total Liberation from Asian Women’s Perspective” that women were introduced into the working methodology of feminist theology. Between 1992 and 1994, women theologians convened national consultations. In these consultations, women theologians reflected on several aspects of theology that relate to violence against women. Moreover, they were thus able to bring gender issues to the liberation theologies of their respective nations. Some of the aspects of theology which they reflected include: the image of God and Christology; marriage and sexuality; ecclesiology and ministry; mission; moral theology and spirituality.
Women theologians in evangelization
In which way the emerging theological reflections and biblical interpretations from women’s perspective and experiences have relevance to the evangelizing mission of the Church or her pastoral out-reach? Evangelization is the central mission of the Church. It represents God’s loving kindness, reaching out to every person in human society through human agencies and His caring concern for the whole of Creation. According to Pope Francis, “to evangelize is to make the kingdom of God present in our world.” Given the particular oppressive situation of Asian women.
Women theologians can play a significant role in social transformation by promoting justice especially for the suffering women of Asia. Asian theological efforts, in general, show more an integral understanding of salvation. Women theologians in Asia have a special responsibility to help the wounded and broken women of Asia to move towards wholeness and well-being.
This will include the twin tasks of inculturation and liberation. There is a need to critique the culture as well. There are aspects of cultures and religions which have been oppressive and dehumanizing, especially for women. As part of the theologizing process. women theologians undertake a serious analysis of the local culture and religion to detect which aspects of developments of the local culture and religion are life-giving and liberating and which are domesticating and alienating. Furthermore, women theologians can help in bringing awareness to women and help them to resist all that is oppressive in their culture or religion.
How do women theologians bring about this transformation? Korean women theologians demonstrate this by their way of doing theology. They begin their theologizing process first by listening to women’s stories of oppression. Second, they analyze the social structures that cause this unjust situation. Third, they reflect on this situation in the light of faith and then check back with the story tellers to make sure that their analysis is in accord with their experience. Finally they devise various actions to change the situation oppression.
In the work of justice and liberation, women theologians also need to join hands with others women’s movement for justice, equality and liberation. They need to explore new ministries with and on behalf of women who need support, defense, their presence, solidarity and friendship. Thus, women theologians can show the care and concern of the Church to all those women who are victimized in various ways.
Empowerment through evangelization
Asian women are not free even in the 21st century. They are victims of multiple oppressions. Ever since Asian women began to do theology from their perspective and their experiences, they also began to challenge many patriarchal elements present in their cultures and religions that are oppressive to women.
Such a theology and biblical interpretation can empower women and help them to come out of the oppressive situations and life-denying customs. Bringing wholeness and well-being into the lives of broken women; women theologians contribute towards the evangelizing mission of the Church. By being on the side of the victimized women in various situations they concretize the pastoral concern and care of the Church.