Reclaiming Spirituality for Life & Gender Justice : A Book Review

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I came across an old book, rather a collection of reflections, essays and writings of women from various faiths and religious traditions. These are women from diverse cultures talking about violence against women. “Women Resisting Violence”, it says on the cover edited by a pool of women. It was published in 1996 – four years since I started working as a young researcher in a women’s NGO in my country. That year I also became a mother.

In those years, feminism was a nascent idea slowly taking roots in the cultural context that was Philippines. Many fear its growth as a bad influence, a western import that is meant to divide and create conflict between the sexes. Who would have thought it can take root and harness what was already there in the culture in the first place? The present generation has so much to thank for the women of the 70s and 80s: a national framework on the role of women in nation-building, laws and policies that are meant to protect women from domestic violence, rape and other forms of abuses redefined and penalized and many other gains from past to present. Despite these policies and laws, cases of violence against women are still on the rise.

Furthermore, there are a host of problems needing solutions that are needed to lift majority of women out of poverty. Where poverty thrives, women are also vulnerable to abuse.

At last we came to realize that emancipating women, means lifting the burden placed on men’s shoulders, too. This is liberation that frees both victim and perpetrator; powerful and powerless. However, in the wider scheme of things, both sexes are actually affected by structures, systems and policies that are dehumanizing. At its worst, both had been socialized and made to accept such practices as “normal.” It is “normal” to bully a woman because she has the body of a woman. She is assumed to be weak so words alone can break her spirit. But a man will not verbally abuse another man – it is more macho to physically assault another man (hence, war was invented). As a form of deterrent in some cultures, men who bully women are called “faggots” to shame their acts (derogatory term referred to gay men, with apologies!). Even men who are gay are known to receive as much abuse and bullying as females do. In domestic settings, the man can do both and more, as woman is “object and possession” – a kind of ideology that is meant to subjugate and control.

Denise M. Ackerman, one of the contributors to this book spoke of the “unrelenting evil done to women in war and in times of so-called peace.” Indeed, violence permeates through everything – ecology, economy, culture, politics and even religion. Thus, women needed to reassert “spirituality for life” – and reclaim the life-giving, life-sustaining character of faith and spirituality.

Myriad Forms of Violence Done to Women

Violence takes many forms. The underlying cause is power – unequal power relations, and the urge to exert power of the perpetrator(s) over the victim.

Cultural and Ecological Violence

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The book also discussed different forms of violence that women suffer from. Although these were mostly retold from “herstories” or critical trajectories in the lives of women from Asia, Africa and Latin America, there were inputs from women in Northern countries that spoke of similarities in reflections and spirit of empathy. There is so called cultural and ecological violence. These are spoken by women from indigenous communities reclaiming their identities in the face of an imposition of something foreign such as the notion of patriarchy. By engaging in cultural critique and internal dialogue in a spirit of mutual respect, women can transform their realities, says Elsa Tamez on her discourse on “Cultural Violence Against Women in Latin America.”

Ecological violence now widely acknowledged was still fresh in the early 90s as a focal point for activism. Out of these reflections came ecofeminism – the likes espoused by Vandana Shiva and of nameless women engaged in the production sphere confronting realities like depleting natural resources, natural disasters and policies that place more burden than relief on their economies.

In contemporary times, we point to climate change as a pressing concern with irreversible effects on the planet. We witnessed dramatic changes in weather patterns, rainfall amount and natural disasters as a result of combined loss of natural protective systems in the environment and the damage of the heightened occurrences of storms and other natural calamities.

(to be continued)

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