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Asian Women’s  Interfaith  Gathering   January  18-­‐20,  2013   Wongsanit  Ashram,  Thailand    

International Network  of  Engaged  Buddhists  (INEB)     in  collaboration  with   International  Women’s  Partnership  for  Peace  and  Justice  (IWP)     Supported  by  

and Gaya Foundation (Taiwan)

Table of  Contents:     I. Overview  and  Summary             page  3   II. Background  and  Objectives               page  3   III. Participant  Profile                             page  5   IV. Assessing  our  contexts  across  issue  area  and  faith           page  8  

a. Women’s social  justice  activism  –  movements  and  strategies  by  issue  area:           b. Integrating  spirituality  and  social  justice  activism  –     movements  and  strategies  by  faith/religion/spiritual  perspectives:  


Visioning the  Future                       Highlights,  Insights,  and  Outcomes           Gathering  Schedule                 Table  by  Issue  Areas              



page 13   page  14   page  17   page  20  




Overview and  Summary  

I feel  a  connection  with  these  women  I’ve  just  known  2  ½  days.    I  don’t  even  feel  that  with   people  I’ve  worked  with  for  years!    When  we  are  from  countries  where  religious  tensions  are   high,  it  is  hard  to  look  for  commonalties.    The  situation  makes  us  work  separately.    The  exercises   we’ve  done  make  us  realize  we  are  praying  and  working  for  the  same  things  in  different  ways.       The  Asian  Women’s  Interfaith  Gathering,  the  first  of  its  kind,  was  held  January  18-­‐20,  2013  at  Wongsanit   Ashram  outside  Bangkok,  Thailand.    The  gathering  brought  together  35  women  from  11  countries  across   Asia.       The  focus  and  priority  of  the  gathering  was  relationship  building  among  Asian  women  activists  from   various  spiritual/religious  perspectives.    We  aimed  to  create  an  environment  where  we  were  living  the   integration  of  spirituality  and  social  justice  activism  as  we  came  together  to  assess  our  strategies  at  such   integration  more  broadly.    The  goal  was  to  create  space  that  was  conducive  to  both  active  engagement   and  strategizing  around  the  very  pressing  issues  of  injustice  we  are  facing  today  (talking  and  thinking   with  our  heads  and  hearts)  and  also  of  physical,  mental  and  emotional  support  and  rest,  recognizing  the   urgent  need  for  nurturing  wellbeing  among  women  leaders  and  activists.       We  structured  the  gathering  very  differently  than  the  commonly  adopted   academic  format  of  information  exchange  based  on  ‘experts’  who  talk  and   ‘practitioners’  who  listen;    we  did  not  have  paper  presentations  or  panel   discussions.    We  used  the  time  and  space  to  really  talk  together  as  friends,   equals,  and  allies.    Each  woman  was  asked  to  come  prepared  to  share  her   thoughts,  opinions,  experiences,  and  visions  on  gender  justice  and  spirituality   in  her  context.    All  sessions  were  participatory,  reflecting  and  sharing  from  our   own  experiences.    We  worked  in  small  groups  with  effective  reporting  back  so   that  everyone  had  a  chance  to  share  and  engage.  The  gathering  included   morning  yoga,  guided  meditation,  spacious  discussions  on  issues  and  also  our  personal  lives,  and   evenings  for  fellowship  and  deeper  connections.  


Background and  Objectives  

‘Most of  us  are  activists  and  most  are  burned  out  and  have  no  time  for  self  healing.    This  sort  of   interfaith  learning  program  helps  to  build  a  strong  foundation.    I’m  looking  ahead  at  how  to   integrate  all  these  concepts  into  our  lives  and  work.’   Over  the  past  three  decades,  women’s  issues  and  rights  based  approaches  have  grown  within  social   organisations  in  Asia.    Women  in  many  countries  throughout  the  Asian  region  have  benefitted  from   heightened  awareness  and  the  ensuing  action  that  has  addressed  many  issues  from  gender-­‐based   violence  to  human  trafficking.    Yet,  most  approaches  for  gender  justice  are  derived  from  the  West  and   are  not  necessarily  contextually  relevant  towards  grassroots  women  in  Asia.    Importantly,  these  


approaches often  ignore  the  importance  of  self-­‐awareness  and  the  integration  of  spirituality  for  both   personal  and  social  transformation.     Through  years  of  practical  experience  working  for  social  justice,  INEB  and  IWP  recognize  the  essential   and  vital  role  of  engaged  spirituality  in  holistically  addressing  the  social  issues  challenging  the  world   today.    An  engaged  spiritual  approach  seeks  understanding  of  the  self  as  the  key  to  be  able  to   understand  others  and  integrates  that  understanding  into  actions  that  can  bring  change  to  wider   society.    Transformative,  empowering  frameworks  based  on  cultural,  spiritual  and  social  values  provide   the  space  and  tools  to  closely  examine  women’s  perspectives,  which  can  enable  women  to  not  only   understand,  but  to  also  engage  in  challenging  the  issues  that  they  are  facing.       This  Asian  women’s  interfaith  gathering  brought  together  activists  to  share  experiences,  lessons  learned,   and  through  a  process  of  reflection,  create  a  strategic  document  outlining  successes,  needs,  strategies   and  future  visions.    The  intention  is  that  the  gathering  and  related  documentation  will  facilitate  the   process  of  developing  further  collaborative  actions  that  help  women  to  transform  oppressive  structures   in  their  societies  and  participate  fully  in  social  change  that  benefits  all.       The  objectives  for  the  gathering  included:     •

Bring together  women  of  different  spiritual  traditions  and   across  generations  to  build  friendship  and  trust,  and  for   collaboration   To  nurture  social  and  spiritual  values  as  foundations  for   sustainable  and  effective  women’s  leadership  for  social   justice   To  identify  common  needs  and  challenges,  celebrate   successes,  and  draw  lessons  learned  about  women’s   activism  in  Asia,  resulting  in  a  needs  assessment   Get  energy,  inspiration,  rest  

After presenting  the  objectives  and  framework  for  the  gathering,  participants  reflected  on  their  own   hopes  and  expectations  for  the  three  days  together.    Participants’  expectations  clustered  into  the   following  themes,  around  which  the  gathering  was  structured:   • • • •  

Self care  and  love,  personal  spiritual  practice,  get  inspired,  be   present,  gain  confidence  and  energy   Meet  new  friends,  learn  from  each  other,  share  stories   Integrate  spirituality  and  social  justice  issues  –  peace,   women’s  issues,  gender,  feminism   Interfaith  networking  and  collaboration    



Participant Profile  

‘Why aren’t  there  more  of  us  kind,  gentle,  socially  conscious  activists  who  think  spirituality   needs  to  be  infused  into  social  action?    Why  aren’t  there  more  of  these  gatherings  all  over   the  world?’       The  gathering  brought  together  35  women  activist  leaders  from  11  countries  in   Asia.    In  order  to  build  the  most  dynamic  and  diverse  group  of  participants  possible,   INEB  and  IWP  asked  members  of  our  networks  to  nominate  possible  participants.     Priority  was  given  to  women  from  organizations  in  Asia  that  use  religious   perspectives,  teachings  and  approaches  in  their  work  for  social  justice  and/or   organizations  that  approach  social  justice  with  a  recognition  of  the  connections   between  personal  and  social  transformation.    The  organizers  were  committed  to   diversity  in  terms  of  religious/spiritual  traditions  as  well  as  age  and  experience   levels,  so  that  elder,  seasoned  leaders  and  younger,  emerging  leaders  could  learn   and  share  together  in  an  environment  respectful  exchange.         The  women  who  came  together  truly  represented  a  wide  spectrum  of  movements  for  women’s  social   justice  in  Asia,  in  myriad  roles,  capacities,  issues  and  sectors.    Ordained  women  in  the  Catholic  and   Buddhist  faiths  brought  their  perspectives  as  religious  leaders,  recognizing  the  strengths  of  working   among  religious  leadership  as  well  as  the  challenges  of  critiquing  patriarchal  institutions  from  within.       Directors,  coordinators,  and  founders  of  organizations,  including  United  Religions  Initiative  in  India,   Saathi  in  Nepal,  Catholics  for  Reproductive  Health  in  Philippines,  Sisters  in  Islam  in  Malaysia,  Prabodhini   women  and  child  empowerment  project  in  central  India,  SWATE  women’s  movement  in  southern  India,   and  Women  Peacemakers  Program  in  Cambodia  shared  their  experiences  organizing  women  at  various   levels  to  come  together  around  issues  of  vital  importance  to  women’s  empowerment  and  justice.       Writers  and  researchers,  from  the  Muslim  Women’s  Newsletter  in  India  to  a  women’s  publishing  house   in  Indonesia,  expressed  the  importance  of  raising  and  promoting  women’s  voices  and  diverse   perspectives  in  challenging  the  forces  of  oppression  and  invisibility.       Young  women,  including  an  ordained  Buddhist  nun  working  on  a  medical  degree   in  India,  volunteers  and  new  members  of  International  Network  of  Engaged   Buddhists,  and  a  founder  and  resource  person  for  Buddhist  Youth  Empowerment   Project  in  Burma/Myanmar,  highlighted  the  importance  of  including  the  concerns   and  perspectives  of  youth  as  a  way  of  promoting  new  leadership  and  power   sharing.     Activists  in  networks,  including  Interfaith  Peace  Network  in  Burma/Myanmar,   Peace  Women  in  Indonesia,  and  Civic  Women  for  Peace  in  Southern  Thailand,   talked  about  the  importance  of  working  across  religious,  gender,  ethnic,  and  class  lines  for  true   solidarity  and  sustainable  approaches  to  social  justice.      


Teachers and  social  justice  educators,  from  a  theological  school  in  Burma/Myanmar  to  popular   education  workshops  in  Thailand  and  Malaysia,  shared  the  importance  of  working  with  youth,  and  with   marginalized  groups,  for  collective  action  and  empowerment  to  promote  new  worldviews  and  an  end  to   oppressive  structures.   And  these  are  just  a  few  examples  of  the  richness  of  diversity  of  backgrounds,  vocations,  experiences   and  perspectives  that  contributed  to  the  learning  and  sharing  during  the  gathering.   The  following  is  a  complete  list  of  gathering  participants,  their  organizations,  and  country/area.    


Participants in  the  Asian  Women’s  Interfaith  Gathering,   January  2013  


Name   1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   10   11   12   13   14   15   16   17   18   19   20   21   22   23   24   25   26   27   28   29   30   31   32   33   34   35    

Abhaydana Abhaynavita   Aesha  Arif   Bhikkuni  Supeshala   BicBic  Chua   Chea  Muoykry   Christi  Samy   Elaine  Alam   Ginger  Norwood   Khawn  Lum   Khin  Pa  Pa  Myo   Ma  Somethea   Michiyo  Furuhashi   Mom  Sumunny   Nant  Ai  Shu   Ng  Teng  Yan   Nur  Imroatus   Olin  Monteiro   Ouyporn  Khuankaew   Pa  Pa  Phyo   Patcharee  Chonmanat     P.    Ruangwichatorn   Qutub  Kidwai   Rahanee  Daoh   Rini  Maghi   Selvi  Sachithanandam   Shahbano  Aliani   Sister  Canice  Fernando   Sister  Karuna  Placino     Sulakshana  Rana   Tsering  Norzom   Tsering  Palmo   Varaporn  Chamsanit   Walra  Peepathum   Zuriah  al  Zeffri  


Organization   Prabodhini  Women  and  Child  Empowerment     TBMSG  Pune   Al  Zohra  Welfare  Association     Buddhist  Ladies  College   Catholics  for  Reproductive  Health   Women  Peacemakers  Program   Aam  Aadmi  Party   FACES   Int’l  Women's  Partnership  for  Peace  &  Justice     GMSI  and  Gender  Equality  Network   Gaihahita  (Environmental  Network)     Peace  Bridges   Konohana  Family   Women  Peacemakers  Program   Pwo  Kayin  Theological  Seminary   Independent  activist   Asian  Muslim  Action  Netword   Peace  Women   Int’l  Women's  Partnership  for  Peace  &  Justice     Buddhist  Youth  Leadership  Project   International  Network  of  Engaged  Buddhists   Spirit  In  Education  Movement   AMAN  Woman's  Commission   Prince  of  Sonkla  University   Gender  advisor   Women  for  Good  Governance   Schuitema  Human  Excellence  Group   Inter-­‐congregational  Women’s  Desk   INHAT   Saathi   Ladakh  Nuns  Association   Ladakh  Nuns  Association   Women's  Wellbeing  &  Gender  Justice     Grassroots  Leadership  Training   Sisters  in  Islam  


India India   Pakistan   Sri  Lanka   Philippines   Cambodia   India   Pakistan   Thailand/US   Burma/Myanmar   Burma/Myanmar   Cambodia   Japan   Cambodia   Burma/Myanmar   Malaysia   Indonesia   Indonesia   Thailand   Burma/Myanmar   Thailand   Thailand   India   Thailand   Indonesia   Sri  Lanka   Pakistan   Sri  Lanka   Thailand/Philippines   Nepal   Ladakh   Ladakh   Thailand   Thailand   Malaysia  



Assessing our  contexts  across  issue  area  and  faith  

‘It was  a  great  experience  being  among  people  of  different  faith  and  find  a  safe  common  space.   The  environment  created  a  space  for  interaction,  sharing,  laughing  and  crying  and  though  we   all  were  total  strangers  we  managed  to  learn  a  lot  of  each  others’  lives.    The  work  and  the   bonding  made  it  easy  for  us  to  share  in  laughter  and  tears  our  identity  as  a  woman  and  the   common  battles  we  have  fought  and  the  triumphs  that  has  come  to  our  share  too.’   Women’s  social  justice  activism  –  movements  and  strategies  by  issue  area:   Several  sessions  included  break  out  groups  devoted  to  contextualizing  women’s  social  justice   movements  and  strategies  from  participants  own  experiences.    We  first  divided  by  issue  area,   identifying  six  thematic  areas  and  points  of  intervention:       1.  Education  –  women’s  leadership  and  empowerment,  feminism,   women’s  health,  religious  teachings,  women’s  rights   2.  Gender  oppression  –  Violence  against  Women  (VAW),  domestic   violence  services,  girl  infanticide   3.  Political  participation/advocacy/legal  reform    4.  Peace-­‐building/conflict  transformation/non-­‐violent  action    5.  Relief  work/livelihoods/quality  of  life   Gathering  participants  divided  into  groups  of  3-­‐5  with  others  working  on  their  issue.    The  groups   intentionally  brought  together  women  of  different  countries,  ages,  and  religions  to  explore  more  deeply   around  their  areas  of  activism.    The  small  groups  were  tasked  with  identifying:   • • •

The framework/approach  you  use  to  address  the  issue  -­‐  naming  tools/activities/strategies   3  strategies/tools  that  are  effective  and  work  to  address  the  issue     1-­‐2  major  challenges  you  face  

The table  on  pages  20-­‐23  of  this  report  gives  the  details  from  each  of  the  issue  areas.    The  following  is  a   brief  synopsis  of  common  themes  and  insights  that  emerged.       Half  the  group  (18  participants)  identified  Education  as  their  main   issue  area.      Each  of  the  other  four  areas  had  2-­‐4  participants   working  on  them.    General  themes  that  emerged  from  the  synthesis   of  the  groups  working  on  education  included  the  critical  importance   of  empowerment  frameworks  for  education  interventions;  key  to   its  relevance,  empowerment  includes  integrating  inner  strength,   personal  change,  social  justice,  human  dignity,  and  spirituality.  It   was  also  mentioned  that  empowerment  processes  involve  


responsibility and  accountability.    Several  groups  highlighted  the  importance  of  holistic  approaches  to   women’s  rights  and  education,  and  the  importance  of  transforming  prejudice  and  belief  systems  as  the   foundation  for  justice  and  equality.       Tools  and  approaches  were  common  across  each  of  the  five  issue  areas,  and  included  (though  were  not   limited  to):   • • • • • • • •

workshops  -­‐  on  leadership,   communication,  ecology,  etc   spiritual  and  healing  retreats     talks,  lectures,  seminars   Street  theater     Exposure  trips     media  engagement     internships   small  grants  

• • • • • • • •

campaign of  nonviolence   community  dialogue   research   publishing  women’s  critical  thinking   Training  Of  Trainers   exchange  visits   deep  listening   dialogue  with  religious  leaders  on   gender  issues    

Articulation  of  the  strategies  that  had  proven  effective  in  different  contexts  helped  to  broaden  the   conversations  beyond  specific  tools  to  include  ways  of  working  with  the  various  tools  and  approaches   within  our  framework  that  reflects  the  values  we  are  working  to  promote.         Ways  of  working  that  were  common  across  issue  groups  included:   • • • • • • • • • •

create space  -­‐  physical,  mental,  spiritual  –  to  link  personal  and   social  change   Sincerity  in  sharing  personal  experience   Draw  out  people’s  own  insights  and  experiences   Focus  on  self-­‐realization    Unconditional  listening  and  granting  significance  to  others   Activate  people  to  help  themselves   Form  networks  and  regular  support  groups   Use  of  research  to  back  frameworks    Engage  the  media   Sharing  resources  among  women’s  organizations    

Working with  the  ‘cycle  of  influence’  was  identified  as  an  empowering  approach.    Start  where  people   are,  recognizing  the  mutual  influences  of  working  with  a  person,  a  family,  a  community,  a  social  system.     Effective  interventions  at  any  level  (individual,  family,  community),  incorporate  religion,  belief,  faith,  and   culture,  and  then  challenges  to  those  beliefs  or  harmful  practices  associated  with  them  arise  out  of  self   awareness  and  reflection.    Change  happens  at  each  level  influenced  by  awareness  and  reflection  at   other  levels.       Another  effective  way  of  working  that  was  mentioned  by  the  group  working  on  political  participation   was  realizing  democratic  values  through  direct  political  intervention/decentralization  of  power  and   decision  making  at  very  local  levels.    Within  our  projects  and  organizations  we  must  model  the  


democratic values  and  power  sharing  we  are  seeking  from  the  political  structures  that  govern  us.    The   group  underscored  the  importance  of  participatory  and  collective  decision-­‐making,  and  the  inclusion  in   any  planning,  budgeting  and  visioning  processes  of  the  people  we  are  intending  to  serve.       The  peace  building  group  highlighted  the  use  of  new  technologies  and  social  media  as  effective  ways  for   reaching  out  to  youth.    The  gender  oppression  group  outlined  effective  interventions  starting  with   prevention,  protection,  rehabilitation  and  advocacy.    Each  group  mentioned  the  importance  of   relationship-­‐building  as  a  key  element  of  empowerment  and  organizing,  and  building  on  the  interfaith   values  of  love,  compassion  and  peace  to  guide  our  social  justice  work.       Common  themes  also  emerged  among  the  challenges  each  issue  area  faced.       • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •

Cultural and  social  norms  that  perpetuate  gender  discrimination   patriarchal  internalization/mindsets  of  women  and  men   Caste  and  class-­‐  based  discrimination  and  divisions   religious  authorities  (not  religion  itself)   Interpretation/conservative  reading  of  religious  texts,  teachings,  perceptions  and  proverbs   Insensitive  media-­‐  discriminatory  and  sexist  projections   Government/politicians/community  leaders/conservative  CSOs   Stereotypes  and  power  relationships  that  undermine    women’s  leadership   Legal  position  of  women  in  society  –  political  leaders  are  men,  women’s  voices  are  missing   Lack  of  laws/lack  of  enforcement   Corrupt  politicians   Funding,  and  donor  fatigue  towards  gender  justice   Illiteracy   Security   Language  and  communication   Lack  of  political  will  towards  gender  justice  

Please refer  to  the  table  on  pages  20-­‐22  for  the  complete  report  backs  from  each  sector.   Integrating  spirituality  and  social  justice  activism  –  movements  and  strategies  by   faith/religion/spiritual  perspectives:   Building  on  the  information  and  analyses  generated  by  sector/issue  areas,  we  shifted  on  the  second  day   to  the  intersections  of  our  spirituality  and  our  social  justice  activism.    We  wanted  to  answer  more   clearly,  ‘How  do  we  integrate  spiritual  perspectives  into  our  work,  recognizing  the  interconnectedness  of   personal  and  structural  change?’         Gathering  participants  divided  by  religious  faith/spirituality,  in  five  groups:  Muslim  and  Sufi,  Buddhist,   Hindu/spiritual,  Catholic,  and  Protestant.    Each  group  discussed  if  and  how  they  are  able  to  integrate   spirituality  into  their  social  justice  work;  what  works;  and  the  main  challenges.    The  intention  of  the   groups  was  for  participants  to  gain  insights  and  inspirations  from  one  another,  as  some  women  had   experience  integrating  spirituality  and  social  justice  while  others  had  none  and  sought  advice  and   encouragement  to  consider  the  possibilities.       10  

Each group’s  discussion  was  lengthy  and  robust,  as  participants  shared  their  experiences,  insights,  and   also  challenges  and  disappointments.    As  one  Catholic  participant  reflected  as  the  whole  group   reconvened:  ‘I  take  inspiration  from  others  and  now  I  go  back  with  renewed  strength.    We  are  banished   children  of  Eve.    Disappointments  and  frustrations  engaging  clergy  have  added  to  my  stress  and  this   gathering  has  helped  my  healing.    We  will  gather  the  faith  groups  and  consolidate  our  ranks.’    A   Buddhist  nun  shared  her  insight  that  while  Buddhist  teachings  are  clear  on  compassion  and  effort,  taking   care  of  one’s  own  well-­‐being  as  we  engage  in  our  work  for  social  change  is  not  explicit;  yet,  that  is  a  key   element  of  the  spiritual  practice/social  justice  integration  and  what  is  missing  for  so  many  women   activists.     For  the  synthesis  in  the  large  group,  each  group  shared  a  summary  of  their  key  insights.       Muslim  and  Sufi  group   • • • • • • •

it is  an  ongoing  effort  to  challenge  patriarchy,   history  and  Koranic  interpretation   We  need  to  offer  new  interpretations  of  religious   texts   Use  the  place  of  oppression  (Koranic   interpretation)  as  the  starting  point   Plant  the  seeds  for  individual  transformation   Work  with  youth  and  elders   Start  from  a  place  of  ‘my  life  as  spiritual  practice’   Draw  on  the  four  core  Islamic  values:  justice,   benevolence,  compassion,  wisdom  

Buddhist group   • • • • • •

The Bottisatva  vows  are  the  ground  for  individual   and  societal  work/enlightenment   Use  the  five  precepts  as  spiritual  guidance  for   building  a  culture  of  human  rights     Focus  on  Sangha,  community  building   Challenge  misinterpretations  of  the  Buddha’s   teachings,  for  example  on  Karma   Consider  our  social  work  as  spiritual  practice   leading  to  individual  transformation   Story  telling  is  powerful  and  inspiring  for  making   change  

Spiritual/Hindu group   • • •

Start with  individual  transformation  through  spiritual  practice   Create  space  and  facilities  for  women  for  spiritual  awakening   Provide  safe  space  and  livelihood  practice  and  facilities  for  healing  


Catholic group   • • • • •

Cultivate discernment  and  critical  thinking   Re-­‐read  the  teachings  from  marginalized  perspectives,   make  them  relevant   Live  the  universal  values  of  love,  compassion,  equality   Dialogue  within  and  between  faiths   Emphasize  gender  justice  

Protestant group   • • •

Praxis =  action/practice  +  faith  =  social  justice   Apply  ‘love  others  like  ourselves’  in  community   Adhere  to  non-­‐violent  practice  

Common Themes     Common  themes  that  arose  were  the  perspective  that  when  we  consider  our  social  justice  work  as  our   spiritual  practice,  the  connections  between  our  work  for  inner  peace  and  our  work  to  bring  peace  to  the   world  become  clear.    Our  work  for  social  justice  necessarily  starts  from  a  place  of  self-­‐love,  and  our  work   with  women  must  start  from  honoring  women’s  strengths.    Social  justice  activists  working  from  a   spiritualized  perspective  constantly  examine  their  intentions  and  the  motivation  in  every  action.     Support  systems  and  community  are  essential,  as  are  safe  spaces  for  people  –  across  faiths,  genders,   and  ideologies  –  to  really  share,  listen,  and  connect.    Finally,  efforts  to  draw  on  commonalties  between   religious  and  spiritual  faiths  increase  cooperation,  trust,  and  partnership.   Challenges   Despite  differences  in  terms  of  religion,  geography,  and  political  systems,  as  well  as  backgrounds,   identities  and  views  of  the  participants,  the  challenges  of  integrating  spirituality  and  social  justice  were   common  across  faiths  and  spiritual  perspectives.      Challenges  spanned  the  range  of  personal  to  political,   and  included:   • • • • • • • • • • • • • •

The mainstream/dominant  perspective  separating  spirituality  and  social  justice   how  to  integrate  perspectives  from  different  religious  beliefs,  and  people  of  different  faiths   rise  of  fundamentalism   extremist  misconceptions   sectarianism/exclusivity/division   no  direct  experience  ourselves  of  integrating  spirituality  and  social  justice   our  own  egos,  limiting  collaboration  and  openness  to  new  ideas   how  to  effectively  involve  men  in  the  struggle  for  women’s  rights   materialism  and  consumerist  cultures  that  undermine  spiritual  approaches   lack  of  women/feminist  role  models  in  religious  leadership   hierarchical,  male  dominated  religious  institutions   submissive  culture  emphasized  by  the  clergy   ritualistic  teaching  which  has  resulted  in  a  loss  of  meaning   lack  of  confidence  among  women  to  challenge  social  injustices   12  

• • •

different interpretations  of  religious  texts  and  teachings     funding    lack  of  understanding  of  social  justice  by  governments/the  state      


Visioning the  Future  

‘I’m eternally  grateful  to  the  universe  to  make  me  come  here.    It  is  the  answer  to  my  worries   back  home.    So  many  questions  I’ve  been  able  to  answer.’   The  focus  of  the  third  day  was  positive  visioning.    After  analyzing  the  context,  and  the  successes  and   challenges  in  our  strategies  so  far,  visioning  afforded  everyone  the  space  to  dream,  create,  and  channel   the  energy  and  inspiration  of  the  gathering  for  future  projects,   collaborations,  and  ways  of  being  and  working  in  the  world.    The  visioning   was  initially  an  individual  exercise  and  was  then  the  foundation  for  the  final   session  answering  ‘Where  or  how  do  we  move  from  this  gathering?’   The  visioning  process  began  as  a  guided  meditation  for  grounding,  calming   and  clarity.    From  that  place  of  spaciousness,  participants  were  led  through   the  following  journaling  process:  If  you  have  all  the  power  you  need  to   create  change  –  inner  and  outer  –  what  do  you  want  to  do?  Pick  one   project  with  a  3-­‐5-­‐10  year  time  frame;  it  can  be  personal,  with  friends,   family,  organization,  movement.    Write  what  you  want  to  do  in  a  sentence.   • • • • •

List  all  the  resources/conditions  that  you  need  to  make  it  happen  –  inner  and  outer  resources   Circle  the  ones  you  have   Identify  how  you  will  use  your  existing  resources  for  your  project   How  will  you  acquire  the  conditions/resources  you  don’t  have  yet?   Create  a  timeline  

As participants  shared  their  ideas  and  visions,  we  explored  ways  of  working  both  within  the  same   issue/faith/country  and  also  across  issues/faiths/countries,  reflecting  on  four  key  points:   • • • •

How are  we  going  to  sustain  what  already  works?   How  are  we  going  to  expand  what  already  works?   How  are  we  going  to  deepen  what  has  not  yet  taken  root?   What  new  things  can  we  create?  

In time,  each  participant  shared  her  vision  for  how  best  she  could  move  forward  building  on  the   strengths  of  her  experiences  and  wisdom,  and  the  inspiration  and  ideas  generated  at  the  gathering.   While  each  of  the  visions  was  unique  in  its  specificity,  commonalties  and  shared  ideas  –  meaning   tangibly  possibilities  for  collaboration  and  mutual  exchange,  clearly  emerged.    


Idea/Vision Young  women’s  peacebuilding  camps   Alternative  health  and  spiritual  retreats  for  women     Training  for  religious  leaders  on  social  justice   issues,  especially  violence  against  women   The  establishment  of  a  spiritual  women’s   consultative  body  for  ASEAN   Trauma  workshops  for  survivors  and  activists   Self-­‐defense  and  street  theatre  for  women’s   empowerment   Spiritual  leaders  who  work  in  social  justice  to  share   across  countries   Workshops  that  integrate  spirituality  and  social   justice     Create  opportunities  for  young  women  to  write   their  life  stories   Interpretations  of  classical  Muslim  sources  in   relation  to  women’s  rights   Country  level  women’s  interfaith  gatherings   Interfaith  gathering  in  conjunction  with  INEB   meeting  in  Malaysia,  November  2013    


Countries of  Participant  interest   Sri  Lanka,  Thailand,  Burma/Myanmar   Thailand,  Malaysia,  Pakistan,  Japan   Indonesia,  Nepal,  Philippines,  India   Malaysia,  general  agreement  by  the  group     Sri  Lanka,  Indonesia,  Pakistan   India   India,  Philippines   Thailand,  Sri  Lanka,  Malaysia   Thailand,  Indonesia   India   Everyone  agreed     Everyone  agreed  

Highlights, Insights,  and  Outcomes  

‘This  conference  is  so  different  than  others  I  have  gone  to.    Usually  I  feel  heavy.    It  is  so  much   thinking  and  talking.    In  this  one,  I  feel  I  can  share  openly  my  experiences  and  it  feels  peaceful.’     Gathering  participants  agreed  this  was  the  first  time  such  an  event  has  taken  place  in   Asia.    For  many,  it  was  their  first  time  in  an  all  women’s  space.    For  some,  particularly   those  from  countries  where  conflicts  and  violence  in  the  name  of  religion  have   separated  communities,  the  chance  to  meet  and  share  across  faiths  with  respect  and   love  was  part  of  a  needed  healing  process.    For  women’s  rights  activists  who  inhabit   the  world  of  women’s  conferences  where  religion  in  considered  taboo,  the  space  to   explore  spirituality  and  social  justice  as  mutually  inclusive  fundamentals  felt   supportive  and  refreshing.       A  highlight  for  many  participants  was  the  interfaith  prayer  ceremony  for  world  peace  on  the  second   night  of  the  gathering.    Each  religion/spiritual  group  shared  a  prayer/blessing/reflection  as  an  offering  to   the  unity  of  the  group  and  the  vision  of  a  peaceful  world.       As  one  participant  reflected,  ‘The  candle  lighting  ceremony  for  world   peace  was  a  profound  experience  for  which  I  have  no  words  to  describe   what  I  felt.  Everything  was  so  serene,  calm,  refreshing  and  a  great  


opportunity for  me  at  least  to  learn  about  the  work  of  our  East-­‐Asian  counterparts.’     Fundamental  to  the  success  of  the  gathering  was  the  spaciousness  created  by  the   retreat/workshop  schedule  and  the  attention  to  personal  life  sharing.    From  the  first   day,  participants  commented  that  they  felt  they  knew  each  other  well,  despite  having   just  met.    Sharing  in  groups  about  their  spiritual  and  social  justice  journeys  created  a   sense  of  solidarity  across  differences  that  were  built  on  both  formally  in  sessions  and   through  informal  conversations  and  sharing  throughout  the  three  days.    Mindful   movements  after  breaks  to  energize  and  focus  the  group,  as  well  as  opportunities  for   individual  and  group  creative  expression  contributed  to  the  feelings  many  participants   expressed  that  they  were  leaving  the  gathering  feel  more  energized,  relaxed,  and  open  –  a  rare  feeling   for  many  who  said  they  spend  so  much  of  their  professional  lives  in  meetings  and  discussions.   Outcomes   A  clear  outcome  of  the  gathering  was  the  opportunity  to  identify  and  connect   with  women  from  different  countries  and  faiths/spiritual  perspectives  who  work   for  social  justice  and  gender  justice.    It  afforded  the  opportunity  for  women  from   different  countries  to  learn  about  one  another’s  contexts,  and  women  from  the   same  country  to  share  together  across  faith  lines  which  often  create  barriers.       Many  women  expressed  that  they  felt  alone  when  trying  to  raise  these  issues  in   their  faith  and  activist  communities,  and  the  gathering  broke  those  feelings  of   isolation.     Many  participants  talked  about  feeling  personally  re-­‐energized  and  re-­‐inspired  as  an  outcome  of  talking   and  sharing  with  like  minded  women’s  activists.    Mutual  and  honest  exchange  between  and  across   religion/faith  was  identified  as  very  helpful  learning  to  gain  insights  on  different  perspectives.    Such   exchanges  are  very  difficult  in  contexts  where  religious  tension  is  high,  and  yet  it  is  in  those  communities   where  understanding  is  needed  most;  having  the  space  outside  the  contexts  of  conflicts  supported   deeper  reflection.     Participants  commented  on  the  realization  that  the  challenges  women’s  activists  are  facing  –  across   country  and  religious  lines  –  share  many  commonalties,  and  thus  our  struggles  for  justice  could  be  more   collaborative  and  mutually  supportive.    Strategies  identified  –  like  reinterpretation  of  religious  texts   from  a  gender  justice  perspective  –  have  similarly  been  used  by  women  activists  in  different  religions,   and  the  learnings  for  effective  methods  and  approaches  were  beneficial  to  everyone.       Several  participants  articulated  their  personal  realization  as  a  result  of  the  gathering  of  the  need  for  self-­‐ care  and  wellbeing  for  themselves  as  women  activists;  the  foundation  for  transformation  is  self  love,   and  self  transformation  is  intimately  linked  to  social  transformation.    Self-­‐love  is  a  spiritual  process,  and   thus  the  connection  between  spirituality  and  social  justice  begins  with  awareness  of  oneself  and  our   wellbeing.    Linked  to  that,  the  understanding  of  empowerment  as  integrating  inner  strength,  personal   change,  social  justice,  human  dignity,  and  spirituality,  helps  to  place  spirituality  within  the  context  of  our   work  for  women’s  rights.    These  are  profound  shifts  in  thinking  and  worldview  within  most  activist   15  

cultures, and  a  shift  that  could  contribute  to  the  sustainability  of  individual  activists,  organizations  and   social  justice  movements.   Next  Steps   ‘Let’s  make  this  more  often.    It  is  a  way  to  build  global  citizenship.    We  share  a  lot  more   common  values  rather  than  differences.    If  we  can  bring  this  home  and  share  with  colleagues,  it   would  make  our  lives  easier  and  our  work  more  bearable  and  mutually  collaborative.’   In  terms  of  tangible  outcomes  beyond  the  new  insights  of  the  participants,  there  was  strong  interest  in   more  women’s  interfaith  gatherings,  both  regionally  -­‐  naming  the  power  of  meeting  likeminded  activists   from  diverse  contexts,  and  also  country  specific.    Many  participants  named  that  interfaith  gatherings   contribute  to  solidarity  and  trust  building  among  women,  and  would  be  very  useful  for  organizing   around  social  justice  issues.       INEB’s  bi-­‐annual  conference  will  take  place  in  Malaysia  in  November,  2013  and  the  opportunity  for   another  women’s  interfaith  gathering  in  conjunction  with  that  conference  was  unanimously  supported   by  participants  as  a  specific  next  step.       Many  of  the  visions/ideas  that  participants  outlined  on  the  final  day  are  projects  that  can     (and  hopefully  will)  be  initiated  in  a  specific  locale  using  available  resources.    Exchanges  and  the   possibility  for  joint  programs  across  religion  and  country  lines  could  deepen  the  work  and  strengthen   the  impact  of  the  programs,  and  several  participants  said  they  were  interested  to  explore  the   possibilities  of  coming  together  with  others  with  similar  ideas  to  develop  the  projects  further.    For   others,  development  of  their  projects,  even  within  their  own  locale  and  context,  will  require  additional   resources,  and  being  part  of  a  community/network  for  sharing  ideas  for  resources  and  funding  would  be   supportive.     In  the  months  since  the  gathering,  the  group  has  maintained  email  contact  as  a  whole  and  also   individuals  have  contacted  one  another  for  specific  ideas  and  project  collaboration.    IWP  is  committed   to  helping  to  maintain  the  ‘community  of  practice’  that  was  established  in  the  gathering,  in  the  least  as  a   virtual  forum  for  exchange  and  inspiration,  and  hopefully  that  can  lead  to  concrete  future  partnerships   and  projects  across  country  and  religious  lines.    The  gathering  felt  supportive,  instructive,  and  unifying   for  the  women  involved;  more  such  gatherings  and  support  to  develop  the  ideas  initiated  here  could  be   instrumental  in  promoting  gender  justice  in  Asia.     ‘I  don’t  think  there  are  other  spaces  and  opportunities  like  this.    I  feel  so  privileged  to  have   been  a  part.’    



Gathering Schedule   17th  January  2013  -­‐  arrival,  rest,  and  evening  meal  together.    No  formal  program.   DAY  ONE  –  18  January  2013  

7:00 –  8:15  

meditative yoga  

9.30 -­‐10.30  

Welcome and  guided  meditation   Introductions  –  Name,  one  intention  for  the  year  ahead   Workshop  overview  and  objectives   Participant  expectations    


Coffee Break    Who  are  we?  Learning  more  about  each  other  


Mingle and  form  small  groups  by:     Country:  What  is  your  work/areas  of  activism?   Age:  What  inspires  you?    How  do  you  keep  hope  alive?   Religion:   How   is   your   spiritual   practice   a   source   of   strength   and  courage?   12.30-­‐14.00  

Lunch Break  and  rest  


How are  we  going  to  come  together?    Trust   building   River  of  Life  drawing  reflection:    draw  2  rivers  to   symbolize  spiritual  journey  and  activist/social   justice  journey   Share  in  council  (groups  of  4)                                                                                                                                

15.30-­‐16.00 16.00-­‐17.00  

Coffee Break   What  are  we  talking  about?  Identifying  the  issues   Break  up  by  issue  area  (6  issues,  groups  of  3)     1.  Education;  2.  Gender  oppression;  3.  Political   participation/advocacy/legal  reform;  4.  Peace-­‐ building/conflict  transformation/non-­‐violent  action;  5.   Relief  work/livelihoods/quality  of  life  

Evening free  for  rest,  friendship,  informal  sharing       17  

DAY TWO  –  19  January  2013   07.00  -­‐  8.15   09.30-­‐9.45  

meditative yoga   Guided  meditation  for  grounding/relaxation  

9:45 –  10:45   Where  are  we?  Mapping  Asian  women’s  activism  at  the  intersection  of   gender  and  spirituality:  Report  backs  from  sector  groups  from  Day  1:   Harvesting  wisdom,  learning,  insights,  common  themes   • • • •

What frameworks/approaches  do  you  use?   Name  tools/activities/strategies   Three  strategies/tools  that  are  effective/work   1-­‐2  major  challenges  

10.45-­‐11.15 Coffee  Break   11.00-­‐12.30  

Break out  groups  by  religion/spiritual  perspectives:   How  do  we  integrate  spirituality  and  social  justice  work?   Examples  that  have  worked   What  are  the  challenges?      

12.30-­‐14.00 Lunch  Break  and  rest   14.00-­‐15.00  

Learning to  see  each  other  mingle:  Silent  mingle  and  pair  work  with  guided  meditation  read  aloud  to   reflect  on  the  qualities  and  actions  of  lovingkindness,  compassion,  empathetic  joy  and  equanimity  

15.00-­‐15.30 Coffee  Break   15.30-­‐17.00  

Women activist  self-­‐care:  the  five  dimensions  of  wellbeing       • • • • •

Physical –  care  of  our  bodies,  rest,  healthy  diet,  exercise   Emotional  –  expressing  feelings,  embrace  difficult  emotions,  experience  joy   Mental  –  awareness  of  our  thoughts  and  their  impacts,  intention  and  ability  to  think  positively,   clarity  to  analyze   Spiritual  –  fostering  inner  peace,  a  sense  of  hope   Relational/intimate  –  an  affirming  self  image,  positive  relationship  with  ourselves,  communicate   openly  with  others,  express  needs  and  desires  

Things I  love  activity:  draw  a  4  square  matrix  –  things  I  love  to  do  and  do  often,  things  I  love  to  do  and   don’t  do  enough,  things  I  don’t  like  to  do  but  do  often.    Reflection:  how  do  I  reduce  the  things  I  don’t   like  doing  and  increase  the  ones  that  support  wellbeing?  The  fourth  square  is  an  ideal  blend  of  the   other  three  boxes  that  promotes  wellbeing  and  health.     Council:  deep  listening  in  groups  of  4   19.00  

Interfaith Ceremony  for  World  Peace        


DAY THREE  –  20  January  2013   7.00  -­‐  08.15   09.30  -­‐  10.45  

(optional) meditative  yoga    Reports  back  by  faith:     Harvesting  insights  on  the  integration  of  spirituality  and  social   justice     Reflecting  on  common  themes  

10.45 -­‐  11.15  

Coffee Break   Visioning  the  Future  

11.15 -­‐12.30  

Guided meditation  and  reflection:  If  you  have  all  the  power  you  need  to  create   change  –  inner  and  outer  –  what  do  you  want  to  do?  Pick  one  project  with  a  3-­‐5-­‐ 10  year  time  frame,  that  is  personal,  with  friends,  family,  organization,   movement   List  all  the  resources/conditions  that  you  need  to  make  it  happen  –  inner  and   outer  resources   • • • •

Circle the  ones  you  have   Identify  how  you  will  use  your  existing  resources  for  your  project   How  will  you  acquire  the  conditions/resources  you  don’t  have  yet?   Create  a  timeline  


Lunch Break  and  rest   Where  or  how  do  we  move  from  this  gathering?    

14.00 -­‐  15.30  

• •

Within the  same  issue/faith/country     Across  issue/faith/country  

Individual ideas  and  visions  that  feed  into  the  whole  of  the   group  


Coffee Break  


Pulling it  all  together     Drawing  river  of  this  journey  together:  


Asian Women’s Interfaith Gathering Report  

Asian Women’s Interfaith Gathering January 18-­20, 2013 Wongsanit Ashram, Thailand

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