Asian feminist theologising on displacement and disqualification

It was my pleasure and privilege to host the 9th Biennial Conference of the Ecclesia of Women in Asia from 15-19 January 2020 (EWA 9). Thirty two conference participants who travelled from the US, Canada, India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Myanmar, Singapore, Vietnam, the Philippines (braving the eruption of Taal) and Hong Kong theologically reflected on and discussed papers presented on the theme, ‘Displacement ad disqualification: Its surfaces and silhouettes’ that foregrounds those among our midst who are made invisible, cast out, deprived of hospitality.

As an academic forum for feminist Catholic theologians in Asia, EWA 9 starts thought from the lived narratives of women marginalised – displaced and disqualified – from within and without the church. To that end, two women refugee community leaders were invited to share their stories with conference participants. Shamed and stigmatised in their home countries – Sri Lanka and Somalia – these women courageously moved forward and are deeply committed to helping others especially women.

EWA 9 was graced by two keynote speakers. Gemma Tulud Cruz from the Australian Catholic University focused on women migration in Asia and in particular, the “ethics of risk” or calculated risks that each woman weighs in making the hard choices that she needs to in the course of migration. The second keynote speaker Grace Ji-Sun Kim from the Earlham School of Religion, advocated for “intersectional theology” as sound theology in redressing displacements and disqualifications given the reality of those who are multiply oppressed, e.g. on account of their sex, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, religious persuasion, ability, age, nationality, etc.

Each day’s discussions culminated in theological reflections using the Word cloud feature of Poll Everywhere and these were synthesised as EWA’s Collective Theological Reflections on the final day. In true feminist spirit, women broke bread together in the closing liturgy on Sunday, the fifth and final day of the conference.

One of the main hallmarks of the conference was the book launch of EWA 8’s edited volume, Foodscapes: Beyond the food environment – a feminist theological take on food issues in Asia (2019). A copy of the book will be presented to the Library and Learning Commons. The other was the video conference session held at the Plenary Theatre that was conducted with five US-based universities, e.g. Boston College, Catholic Theological Union, Jesuit School of Theology, Santa Clara University, Department of Theology Benedictine University Mesa and Marquette University. And not least of all, participants were feted to Malaysian (Nyonya) cuisine at Madam Kwan’s and the sights and sounds of KL.

The conference was a success and my heartfelt appreciation goes to the welcome committee which comprised Gender Studies students – Krisha Vishinpir, Kanza Kashif, Esther Ho and Samantha Johnson. Many thanks also to my SASS colleagues (Eswary Sivalingam, Emily Chan, Felicia Chang, Hamdi Barjah and Tan Mei Sie), FMD, ITS and Security!

Photo credits: Krisha Vishinpir and Sharon A. Bong
Written by: Sharon A. Bong