World Student Christian Federation - Asia-Pacific Region (WSCF-AP)
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Regional Programme

Joint Women’s Programme:
RWP - SCM Sri Lanka

Women Doing Theology workshop
“A Feminist Reading of the Bible and VAW in Sri Lanka”

Regional Women’s Programme - SCM Sri Lanka Joint Women’s ProgrammeFebruary 23-28, 2011
Moratuwa, Sri Lanka

Regional Women’s Programme – SCM Sri Lanka Joint Women’s Programme (RWPJWP) was hosted by the SCM Sri Lanka. This workshop was conducted in the national level focusing on the theme:  “A Feminist Reading of the Bible and VAW in Sri Lanka”. 15 young women from SCM SL, Theological College, and from Churches participated the workshop. Though all the participants were from Sri Lanka, the group was quite diverse- coming from different orientations and background. This workshop was supposed to be held in November 2010, but due to some practical reasons with the SCM SL we had to postpone and organize in February 2011.

The objectives of the workshop were:

  1. To provide a common platform for SCM young women to share experiences and exchange ideas around the issue of VAW which addresses personally and socially as a problem to all women; including women’s identity as female self/woman self for the other instead of being Self for self as a Subject, as in “who am I and what am I”
  2. To understand violence against women in the Sri Lankan context from a critical feminist analysis perspective.
  3. To re-read and interpret biblical texts critically on violence against women with new eyes.
  4. To understand that objectives 1-3 are essential elements in doing critical feminist theology of liberation and transformation.
  5. To come up with a guide book on the workshop contents and process pertaining to doing feminist theology of liberation in praxis for SCM Sri Lanka and all national movements in WSCF Asia-Pacific region.

The Process, Contents and Methodology of the Workshop were:

  1. Using feminist critical analysis, participants shared their life experiences, struggles on the issue of VAW as well as VAW at large in society.
  2. Using biblical feminist interpretation or hermeneutics to read a few selected biblical texts related to VAW.

Yong Ting Jin the feminist theologian from Malaysia, Sunita Suna – regional women’s coordinator and Ashani John the women’s programme in charge of SCM SL facilitated the whole workshop.

The workshop started with an opening worship followed by the community building -led by Sunita and Ashani. Sunita conducted the group exercise – “Who am I”? She instructed the participants to identify themselves with some symbols or pictures and share about them relating to the symbols. This exercise also helped to reflect our multiple identities as women and gender roles for women. Many of them chose candles or lamp as their symbols, which also defined the traditional role of women to sacrifice her for others – like candle burns itself and gives light to others.

Story telling and sharing of experiences was an important aspect of the workshop as feminist theology begins with our lives, our stories and struggle, so sharing of Her Story is an essential process of the Women Doing Theology workshop. The participants were divided into small groups to share and listen each other’s life story, especially the stories of VAW and discrimination they have experienced in their lives. This was an exclusive space for many participants to share their experiences as the “negative experiences” are not welcomed or encouraged to share in most of our communities either for cultural/traditional belief or this is still a taboo. So, during the story telling time they shared their own stories and also they brought the stories of other women who are their friends, sisters, and mothers. Many of them found that their experiences as women are quite similar and they could relate with each other through their common stories/experiences.

After sharing the personal experiences the participants moved beyond to understand the experiences of women in general in the Sri Lankan contexts. They together read and reflected the stories of VAW depicted in the newspapers/magazines and tried to understand the problem and analyze the issues/forms of violence from various aspects. Some of the issues of VAW which was reflected from their personal stories as well as the stories of women in general were not much different then the women in general experience in different parts of the world: Domestic Violence, Sexual Harassment/abuse, Mental and Physical abuse, rape, rape/murder, biased laws against women, lack of freedom or mobility, deprived of power to take decisions etc are the most common forms of VAW in the SL context.

The facilitator Ting Jin helped the participants to develop the framework of analysis to critically analyze the issues and causes of VAW. Their critical analysis helped them to understand that gender is not the only factor which is causing VAW but there are multifaceted factors like: culture, tradition, religion, class, caste, race, ethnicity, patriarchy, hierarchy, nationality, education, age,  etc. she said in order to understand VAW we must also do the analysis of power relation of domination and subordination. Because there are power differences in men and women and the power domination can be exercised between men and women, women and men, men and men or women and women. She did an activity of celebrating self, to make the participants aware that our own self as a subject and we should affirm our subject self. She said we can not celebrate our self if we are conditioned to fulfill the societal, religious, cultural expectations. In order to celebrate the subject self we must need to liberate ours elf from the societal construction and conditions.

The following 3 Bible studies conducted by Ting Jin using biblical feminist interpretation or hermeneutics.

  1. Luke 10:38-42 – The Identity of Mary and Martha
  2. Judges chapter 19 – Texts of Terror
  3. Mark 5:21-42

The Bible studies from the feminist perspectives were insightful and eye-opening for all.   The facilitator enabled the participants on how to re read the Bible together from the feminist perspectives. Though these texts were read/heard by the participants many times in Sunday schools/ sermon from the pastors in the Church,  they found the activity of reading the Bible together meaningful and insightful. Ting Jin provided the skills/ tools and the participants were able to use their imagination, suspicion and discovering new things and insights together. They were able to read in between the lines to analyze the situation of the stories in the Bible which has a direct implication in our lives especially for women. She said its important to read the Bible as subject and not object.

For many participants the whole workshop was an empowering, challenging and liberating experience. They affirmed to continue the process of re reading the Bible together from feminist perspectives in their groups. SCM Sri Lanka is also planning to have a series of similar workshop as follow ups.