Malaysia: A”Widening in the Understanding of Gender Roles”
Interview with Rev. Au Sze Ngui on LWF Gender Justice Policy, WICAS ASIA Network Meeting
(LWI) – Participants from 12 Asian countries attended the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) Women in Church and Society (WICAS) Asia network meeting in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, from 8-13 August. The aim of the gathering was to highlight the contributions made by Asian women to the Lutheran Reformation journey and to study the implementation of the LWF Gender Justice Policy. In an interview, Rev. Au Sze Ngui, pastor of the Basel Christian Church of Malaysia speaks about the importance and relevance of the Gender Justice Policy in Asia.
What in your opinion are the most relevant outcomes of this WICAS gathering?
The good representation of all the Asia sub-regions at the meeting is clearly an asset. Having 37 participants from different Asian backgrounds gathered around gender justice issues is a significant step forward for the church. The fact that the participants have expressed their willingness to translate the LWF Gender Justice Policy into many Asian languages shows there is an eagerness to own the document, and to find in it the strength to transform their churches and communities. Personally, WICAS’ encouragement to contribute in this process as a theologian has been particularly important to me.
Taking the Asian context into consideration, how do you envision the actual implementation of the LWF Gender Justice Policy?
Asian society is evolving. Migration towards the cities and the increasing freedom and participation of women in the workforce has led to a widening in the understanding of gender roles. In such a scenario, the transformational dimension of the Gospel, which offers a provision for gender justice, will enhance the possibilities for implementation.
The Gospel paves the way for entering into a reflection on gender justice and that is what we have been doing throughout this meeting. The successful implementation of the policy will happen when the transformation brought by the understanding of the Gospel has taken place.
What are the possible challenges to this transformation process in terms of gender justice in the Asian context?
The understanding of justice is contextual. It could mean different things to each society. However, for us Lutherans, it is because we believe in a just God who has created women and men equally that we can share the core values reflected in the Gender Justice Policy.
It is important to emphasize this theological grounding in order to avoid any misconception of gender justice as a Western perspective. Traditions play a central role in Asian societies and finding a way to highlight gender justice in a context where ancient practices are still highly valued may be a challenge. This is particularly visible in rural settings where we still have very strict gender roles that can prevent women and girls from benefitting from equal opportunities, and where often they suffer discrimination and abuse that is tolerated and reproduced in families and the institutional system. The LWF has contributed significantly in confronting these situations and has empowered women. However, it is still a challenging context.
What contributions can women theologians in the region bring to the discussion on gender justice?
Faith is the haven from uncertainty. We read the Word of God searching for comfort. But if we decide to head towards greater gender justice, as women theologians we need to introduce critical thinking so as to question the interpretations of the Bible that lead to injustice towards women. This exercise of questioning is not specific to Asia, but it is necessary.
I would add that we have to reach out to both women and men theologians. Based on my experience as part of the LWF Asian Lutheranism Symposium group of theologians, I realize that we analyze things in a particular and complementary manner. The richness of women’s experience doing theology is often rooted in a more practical approach and the discussion with male theologians is crucial in order to cover the full range of issues regarding gender justice that the church, as a whole, needs also to reflect and act on.