Brilliant, fantastic, delighted with the experience, and great endeavour! These are only some of the words used to described the first CTEWC sponsored Skype video-conference presentation. In early November, students and faculty gathered on five Catholic university campuses in the US to observe live paper presentations by three participants of EWA V, the fifth biennial conference of the Ecclesia of Women in Asia being held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The US sites were: Barry University, Boston College, Fordham University, Loyola University Chicago, and Santa Clara University.
Each of the three presenters focused on an aspect related to the conference theme, "Wired Asia: Towards an Asian Feminist Theology of Human Connectivity."
Virginia Saldanha (India), former Executive Secretary of the Women’s Desk, Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences Office of Laity & Family, considered the impact of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) on women's lives, with particular attention to the positive potential of the "soft power" of ITC in the service of flattening hierarchies. Kochurani Abraham (India), a faculty member of the Dept. of Christian Studies, University of Madras, India, examined the way in which the virtual world offers women spaces of their own – whether prophetically to critique patriarchy, break cultures of silence or reclaim the subjectivity and agency more generally in line with Jesus’ "subversive trespassing". Agnes Brazal (Philippines), professor at the Maryhill School of Theology and past President of the Catholic Theological Society of the Philippines, presented a provocative and hopeful proposal about cyborgs as bearing God’s image and technology as an extension of nature rather than a threat to it.
The discussions that followed were rich and wide ranging. Both in Kuala Lumpur (KL) and in the US they not only considered the speakers' different styles, narratives, theological methodologies, and proposals, but also the benefits, dangers, and potentials of a wired world community. In KL, discussion also focused on poverty and access to the new technologies and whether being wired is the solution. Concern was raised about the digital divide among women, while acknowledging that characteristics of this divide differ in various Asian contexts and cultures. Kucharani Abraham noted, for example, that poverty in India is very nuanced and that her research indicated that extremely poor women have more freedom of mobility and greater economic agency than middle class women.
Reports from the US indicate that Agnes Brazal's proposal, that communication technologies could actually be considered as part of the human body, generated the most diverse opinions and responses. Overall, participants in the US were struck by the expressions of hope in the liberating possibilities that technology can bring and were reminded that this is an emerging area of communication that raises multiple social and ethical issues. There was a general consensus among the US observers that they had been constructively challenged by the EWA scholar’s hope, given the more cynical attitudes and instincts in the US regarding abuses of technology or questions of accountability.
All participants – speakers, conference attendees, and observers – found the experience to be well worth the effort and appreciated the visibility it gave to groups of women scholars in Asia. The one thing missing – all agreed – was the opportunity for greater interaction between the EWA speakers and attendees and observers in the US. Finding ways to facilitate cyber-interaction among the venues would be appreciated
CTEWC looks forward to more occasions to facilitate conversation across the world, from one continent to the other and expresses great thanks to EWA for its willingness to participate in this project. Hopefully, this innovative mode of communication will enhance future relationships of colleagues across continents.
For other reports on the conference, please go to the EWA website, which includes more photos, http://ecclesiaofwomen.ning.com/ or the UCAN (Union of Catholic Asian News) website http://www.ucanews.com/2011/11/14/bridging-the-gender-gap-in-cyberspace/
To read a recent National Catholic Reporter interview with Virginia Saldanha, one of the speakers, go to http://ncronline.org/news/women/voice-women
See more pictures on http://catholicethics.com/ewaskype2011