Maktaba-e-Anaveem Pakistan (MAP)-Women Theological Forum (WTF) conducted a four days training session from October 17 – 20, 2019 at Theological Institute for Laity (TIL),Sadhoke. The theme of the seminar was “Feminist Theology in Pakistan”. The seminar commenced with Eucharistic prayer led by Rev. Fr. Shakeel Luka (Parish Priest-St. Roques Parish, Pasrur).
i. Aims and Objectives
In the first session of the seminar participants introduced themselves. Mrs. Sajida Pervez (Chief Coordinator –WTF) welcomed the participants. Mrs. Alishbah Javed Akhtar (Directress-MAP) presented Aim and Objectives of the seminars. She said the vision of MAP-WTF is to enable women to work together with men, and contribute in society’s progress. The most important thing is that being women is not sin; it’s a blessing from God. Women should recognize themselves and their importance in the society. Feminist Theology is a movement that lies in all religions. When we do feminist theology we also see as to what are the hurdles that prevent us from doing feminist theology.
ii. Introduction to Feminist Theology
Ms. Ayra Inderyas (Incharge Women Desk-Church of Pakistan, Lahore) threw light on the topic in a very simple way. She said that feminist theology is not linked with our physical appearance but it shows our thinking power which makes us free from the boundaries of negative motives, exploitation, and from illiteracy. It makes us free from that actions and thinking which let down women. We see the meaning of theology from bible with different references and for everyone it is different. In our society women do struggle and fight for their rights and self-assertion in every field of life. The word “Patriarchal” implies a level of thinking which regards women inferior than men. When we raise voice against this mindset it is “Feminism”. We find the biblical references which make women free from the conservative thinking and take them to the restoration from deprivation. We should not only do the feminist theology but also see theological issues which cease this act. We in Pakistan believe on traditional theology but theological institutions invite us to read and see the biblical scripture in current context. There are many feminist personalities in the bible which promotes feminism. We as feminist should find the feminist personalities in bible who served in evangelical services. They remained strong in their faith.
iii. Contextual Feminist Theology in Pakistan (Women’s Status Problems and Challenges)
Lay Theologian – Ms. Noureen Akhtar pointed out that in the bible there is a negative title for women like sinful, adult, bend women etc. We see that theological experiences of men dominate female theological concepts and hide them. We see in the biblical scripture that women are exploited and portrayed very negatively, because the writers of the bible are men and this shows the patriarchal perspective. In society also the negative role of women is highlighted more than their inspiring roles. Women are the basic source to bring about change in any field of life; they can share their experience on local level. We with mutual understanding can promote the feminist theology. In the process of salvation God needs a helper that is a ‘woman’. We should focus on the text and bring this in our practical life. The feminist theology is not getting stronger because the women are strengthening each other and not reunification among them; this is the miserable condition of our society. We should be Mary of the current age, because women are facing exploitation in every sphere of life. We should provide plat- forms for women for sharing their views. We have to celebrate our identity, recognize our importance so that we can promote local femininity.
iv. Mutual Interaction of Theology and Feminism
Ms. Noureen Akhtar (Lay Theologian) said Laity needs to strengthen themselves to promote theology and feminism. They needs to be aware and shout out. We are provided with platforms so that they can present themselves on a consistent and with open heart. We also need to promote moral values. We need to be bold, brave (speaking the truth, speaking for our rights) to challenge our system. Jesus said that he who heals the sick, feeds the hungry, helps the poor, deserves salvation. We need to bring forward spiritually to the backward and helpless people in the society so that they can play a positive role in the society. What Feminist Theology wants for women is to live at the level of equality. Not all human beings, created in the image of God, can separate theology from feminist theology. We can share the Bible with love by following the Declaration of Equality, the Bible. The Bible saves us from outdated systems and practices that would reject us in society. We also see only daughters in society. But God does not abandon them but embraces them. The story of our woman tells the truth of our society that it is to bring stray and sinful people to Jesus.
v. Concept and Implication of Feminist and Contextual Theology
Dr. Farhana Anthony Nazir (Gujranwala Theological Seminary) speaker of this session described the historical background of feminist concepts and its implications. In the 1960's there was criticism for speaking at a women's gathering. Women started discussing theological issues, this leads to the foundation of feminist theology. But most of it has to do with the West. In the West, feminism is given a lot of importance. But we will try to see in Judaism that there were women who were not given much importance. The difference between the view of a man and a woman is that they both have their own importance and that is their individuality. Contextual feminism involves the constant practice of women. Contextual women's experience differs from men’s experience.
There is a difference between knowing and experiencing local feminism. From 1880 to 1930 in Indo-Pak, the emphasis was on how to help women. We belong to the Third World. We still see the difference in our Asian context. Our woman is still entangled in the system of high humiliation. The woman does not yet have any cultural identity. Through various theological examples, it is believed that our speech and behavior are different. We have to adopt Christ's attitude. We have to give Christ the middle position in our life. The New Testament woman Priscilla guided and made Paul the person who had convincing power. There are numerous examples in the Bible where a woman was source of salvation.
vi. Concept of Feminist Theology in other Religions
Mrs. Alishbah Javed Akhtar (Directress-MAP) discussed different aspects of women in comparison of religions. She said religion is a social and cultural system, which includes our attitudes, everyday tasks, thoughts, habits, perspectives, and various theological institutions, including the sacred places, the formation institutions associated with humanity and talk about these elements. Speaking on feminist theology, she said that women need to provide such a platform so that they can talk about aspects of their role (social, cultural, economic). Women need to talk about their position and highlight it. Talking about feminism in Abrahamic religions, she said three dominant religions describe different roles of women, but they have not been tailored to their context. They do not find the identity to which they belong. According to the Bible, women play an important role in breaking down man-made structures.
Talking about social truths, she said that women have not been given free opinion even in society today. Women still feel deprived of their rights. From a Jewish perspective, women are religious, legal, and culturally equal to men. The first movement for Jewish feminism began in the United States in the 1970s. Women felt that women were excluded from certain forms of worship. So they emphasized the need to change the system. In 1973, the first Jewish women's conference was held in New York. Today we can see the positive effects of this movement in every field of life. According to Christian point of view, women are equal with men in spiritual and moral leadership. The Christian point of view emphasizes that God created all humankind in harmony and equality. Free of any caste and creed.
Talking about feminism in the Islamic context, she said that women have religiously equal right, but as a society they are still skeptical of backwardness. In the 7th century, women's rights were voiced. And the status of women in the Arab world was established. In the 12th to 13th centuries this was the golden age of women's freedom and it became educationally prevalent in the society. The freedom and deplorable condition of women in Hinduism was also talked about. Religiously, woman is a victim of social backwardness. In Sikhism we can see the freedom of women in every field. They can perform religious ceremonies as well and fulfill other responsibilities without prejudice.
Religions do not teach us to be enclosed in four walls, but they strengthen us in how we want to operate in society. And the religious approach is to apply it in our context, in our lives, so that we can put the teachings into practice.
All the speakers also held workshops at the end of their lectures in which the participants participated and expressed their views. The following questions were discussed in the group workshops:
How do women help God in the struggle for salvation/Freedom? How does Jesus' feminine movement in the Gospel provoke us? What kind of struggle do women need at the local level? Mediate religiously, socially, and culturally on the “Song of Mary”.
The program helped participants learn about basic elements of feminine theology. Like God, a woman also cares her family. Women need to be strong in faith and self-assertion. They need to read the Bible in their context and look into applying it in their practical life. They are an important part of the church.
viii. Certificate distribution
In the end, 42 participants were awarded certificates by Mrs. AlishbahJaved Akhtar (Directress-MAP), Mrs. Sajida Pervez (Chief Coordinator-WTF) and by Mrs. Rachel Joseph (Assistant Chief Coordinator-WTF).
ix. Vote of thanks
The seminar ended with Eucharistic prayer celebrated by Rev. Fr. Emmanuel Asi (Chairperson-MAP). There were 42 participants from different Dioceses of Pakistan that included Archdiocese of Karachi (Christian Town, Lalukhet, Baldia Town, Nasri Colony, Saddar, Esa Nagri), Hyderabad Diocese (Hyderabad City, Kotri), Archdiocese of Lahore (Kaka Kolo, Jurian-Hafizabad, Ghazi Menara-Shiekhupura, Harpoke, Father Satani Selas Town Christian Colony-Sadhoke). Mrs. Alishbah Javed Akhtar (Directress-MAP) paid a vote of thanks to all.
x. Participants’ Feedback
This was a great opportunity to know more deeply about feminist theology. We emphasize curriculum training in life, but such kind of theological programs give us awareness and invite theological thinking on how we as women can play a role in the society. Women who play an important role in the development of society, need to provide religious as well as social equality. Feminism teaches us about different aspects that guide us better in the society.