Report on Feminist Liberation Theologians’ Network Mid-Year Meeting
Mary E. Hunt
May 10, 2023
The video of this meeting can be found at: https://youtu.be/NnhYL6CTLS0
The Mid-Year meeting of the Feminist Liberation Theologians’ Network was held on-line on May 10, 2023 with more than forty attendees from more than seven countries (including Ecuador, Ireland, Australia, England, Germany, Canada, among others). It was a chance to meet colleagues, hear two stimulating reports, and look ahead together. FLTN, sponsored by WATER, collaborates with the Women’s Caucus of the AAR/SBL.
We began with a land acknowledgement, WATER being situation on the land of the Piscataway and Anacostan people. We continued with introductions in small groups, putting a priority on meeting colleagues from different parts of the world who collaborate across generations to make feminist liberation theology a useful reality.
- Monica Maher on the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues at the UN and on collaborating with Kichwa women in Ecuador in their new School of Indigenous Medicine.
Monica Maher, PhD, is a theo-ethicist who was WATER’s first intern more than 35 years ago. She is now an ordained United Church of Christ minister, a Buddhist teacher, a graduate school teacher, part of the Grail working on peace and justice issues in Ecuador. She is the Founding Director of the Ecuadorean Faith Network, which does interfaith advocacy for sexual and reproductive rights.
Monica’s talk focused on activism and advocacy, at the international and the local level. It was feminist liberation theology in action. She highlighted the voices of indigenous women of the Andean region, beginning with a young Kichwa poet, Tswaywa Samay Cañamar Maldonado:
~~~ Knock at my door and let us travel between mountains and white doves.
On the way, the black jaguar of the rocks will greet you, you will tell her of the mountain woman you carry inside, the wool cloths of grandmother mountain will cover you, you will come down with the rain, you will run in the eyes of the water, you will love each scent, texture and color of the wakas.
…The shouting from outside will fall into the sacred water, it will go away with the flowers which flow with the river. You will walk with the wisdom of the moon, you will sit around an altar together with your own, your shadows, your desires, your fears. You samay, will return to yourself, to your rhythm, to your time. ~~~
Monica attend the recent 22nd UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, where the Grail, an international women’s organization, and UFER, United for Equity and Ending Racism, sponsored a parallel trilingual event called Hitarishun, Kichwa for Together for Tomorrow, with six women indigenous leaders from Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, Mexico, and the US.
Monica lifted up the voices of some of the women. For example, she said “Sofía Chipana Quispe, Aymara Theologian from the Plurinational State of Bolivia, opened the panel with poetic words about, ‘Relational spiritualities as roads of healing the body-land territory’. Body-land territory is a conceptual political proposal of indigenous community feminism, first articulated by Lorena Cabnal, of the Maya-Xinka peoples of Guatemala. Sofía Chipana addressed the need to heal body territories and land territories of Andean communities through opening to the warm embodied embrace of healing memories of justice and millennial struggle. Sofía spoke of ancestral wisdom and spirituality as ways of life which recognize relations of reciprocity between peoples and the diverse sacred forces of nature, and urged recognition of the plurality of religious and spiritual experiences of the Americas.”
Monica reported on a talk by Jhajayra Machoa Mendúa, of the Cofán peoples of the plurinational state of Ecuador. Jhajayra “offered moving words about her commitment to continue to protect ancestral land territories, key to the survival of her people. She spoke with strength amidst her grief for her uncle, Eduardo Mendúa, who was recently assassinated for his activism to defend the forests.” Many lands rights defenders in Latin America have suffered similar assassinations as incursions on ancestral lands are common. Helping us understand this situation through the words of indigenous women is a way to center their voices.
Monica paired the international work with her involvement with the School of Ancestral Medicine in Cotacachi in the Andean highlands of Ecuador, an initiative of the women´s collective, Jambi Mascari, Searching for Health in Kichwa.
She said: “The school is a dream long held by the women leaders, particularly the School´s Director, midwife Martha Aritongo. With others, she helped launch the school almost two years ago, in order to address obstetric violence and transmit ancestral knowledge and spirituality to the next generation of women. Eleven students began studying with women elders. Topics include plant medicine, ceremonies, ritual baths, midwifery and dreams. Currently, nine women are carrying out practical internships in the outlying rural communities with an elder mentor. On the International Day of Midwives, the School held a celebration to affirm the importance of ancestral midwifery. It began with students leading a traditional Andean ceremony.”
Monic concluded: “In the words of Samay:
~~~ We are also spirit that mutates within air, fire, wind, water, mother earth. An infinite force that very few of us manage to experience fully. ~~~
“The efforts of Andean women, both at the international and local level, to affirm and strengthen their ancestral wisdom and spirituality, is an integral part of their human rights struggle to protect life in all its forms in the face of climate injustice and extractive industries. The InterAmerican Commission on Human Rights and the United Nations are increasingly bringing attention to the right of indigenous communities to preserve and practice their ancestral spiritualities as part of the right to freedom of religion and belief. The right to spirituality is inseparable from the right to cultural identity, the right to water- land -body territories, the collective right to exist, to live free of violence and to flourish as a people in harmony with all other living beings.”
These are some of the images Monica shared:
The poetry of Samay:
~~~ I Am Vital Energy
I am vital energy.
One that grows moving.
I am strength and confluence. A renewed energy
My life is the spiral of the past
and what comes ahead
tied up by the wisdom of a Condor.
I am the heart of the wind
that nurtures your vital energy
and makes the tremors of fear
I am like a spiritual song
touching all the memories of the universe.
I have the beauty of a fresh water spring of quiet mountains
vast and exalted lands
I am young and beautiful.
I go on clothed by the land. Moving on and on. ~~~
A link to some of Samay´s poetry translated into English:
- Tracy McEwan on the International Survey of Catholic Women
Tracy McEwan, Ph.D. is an Australian feminist theologian.
She and her University of Newcastle colleague Kathleen McPhillips headed a landmark study of Catholic women worldwide, the International Survey of Catholic Women (ISCW). Their findings offer concrete data about Catholic women’s views on a patriarchal church. They analyzed 17,200 responses from women in 104 countries.
Tracy recently presented Pope Francis with his own personal copy of the report. And, she slipped under the report a copy of Australian Women Preach 2023. In Her Voice: Raising Women’s Voices in Preaching the Gospel, Melbourne, Australia: Garratt Publishing, 2023 for his edification.
Tracy’s presentation, which is based on the report which can be accessed at https://nova.newcastle.edu.au/vital/access/manager/Repository/uon:48018, is another wonderful example of what feminist liberation theology looks like in the real world.
Tracy told a powerful, data driven story that captures Catholic women’s experiences as never before surveyed. The conclusions, detailed in the report, speak for themselves. The use of quantitative data means that it is impossible to deny the depth and breadth of Catholic women’s dissatisfaction with a patriarchal church.
Likewise, it is clear that a clerical church with women in the mix is not what women want. More than 80% of respondents noted the negative impact of clericalism, and many, especially older women, were emphatic about wanting new models of church.
The use of open and closed questions allowed the voices of women themselves to emerge. Tracy presented the written report in person to Pope Francis, along with a book on women preaching that might also open his eyes. It was feminist liberation theology in action if ever it were!
Both presentations showcased the kind of work FLTN members are engaged in around the world. They also highlighted the need to hear women’s voices on their own terms. Both speakers are scholar activists, their activism clear in Monica’s involvement with the medical education and Tracy’s with Catholic women in Australia especially Women and the Australian Church. WATCA has published Catholic women’s preaching in churches that are generally unwelcoming of such voices.
QUESTIONS FOR SMALL GROUPS:
- How do these two examples of Feminist Liberation Theology in action relate to your work? What are you doing that is connected in some direct way with the needs of an unjust world?
- As the Feminist Liberation Theologians’ Network moves ahead, what are some key issues we need to consider that are both timely and impactful in the ways that Monica and Tracy have modeled?
FLTN IN ACTION:
What FLTN folks are doing that is related to the kind of work showcased by the speakers:
–Creation of new relationships of solidarity
–Call for a women’s international strike
–Use of art in social change as in the example of Australian women planting ribbons to represent abuse survivors Newcastle
–Need for Spanish translation for this and other similar meetings to broaden participations
–How to ensure that ritual work is not appropriating culturally specific content
–Work people are doing in local settings
–Anti-racism in local churches
–Preaching in churches that have not heard women before
–Queer, postcolonial work
–Celebrating lesbians globally
–Local church sharing space with a congregation of refugees from Democratic Republic of Congo who stood against sexual violence as a tool of war in Congo
–Facilitating information on gender identity with people who know nothing about it
–Feminist spiritual direction
–Theological education with women
–Refugee and anti-racism work in Ireland
–Education about the role of U.S. military as a major polluter
–New relationships with indigenous people in Canada
KEY ISSUES FOR FUTURE FLTN WORK
What are some key issues we need to consider that are both timely and impactful as modeled by the speakers?
–Migration, gender, religion
Please send additional suggestions for speakers and topics for next year to firstname.lastname@example.org
THANK YOU to our speakers, Monica Maher and Tracy McEwan, and to Patrice Rupp for technical support.
The next meeting of the FLTN will be in San Antonio, TX on Friday, November 17, 2023 from 4-6 PM in conjunction with the Annual Meetings of the American Academy of Religion and the Society of Biblical Literature. Watch also for Women’s Caucus sessions in the AAR/SBL Program.
Meanwhile, use the Google list to share information with one another (for information on how to join the list write to email@example.com) and consult our website www.waterwomensalliance.org for other WATER programs to which you are cordially welcom
 Tsaywa Samay Cañamar Maldonado, Shunku-yay / Mirarse en la eternidad del corazón (Siwar Mayu, Ecuador: 2022). Translation from Spanish by Mónica A. Maher. Wakas are sacred spaces.
 Cañamar, Shunku-yay. Translation from Kichwa by Fredy A. Roncalla.