WSCF Sub-Regional Women's Program – report by Ann Ng


The sub-regional women’s program in Karitane, New Zealand, was exactly that – each year the World Student Christian Federation Asia-Pacific, which is the parent body of the Student Christian Movements of the Asia-Pacific region, organise a sub-regional meeting looking at women’s issues for women within different sub-regions. This year, it was Aotearoa New Zealand and Australia’s turn. 19 women came from these two countries as well as one from Taiwan and our women’s staff from Hong Kong and explored the topic “Healing Ourselves, our Communities, and our Planet”.

Interestingly enough, when the program was in its baby stage, one of the key organisers, Rauhina Scott-Fyfe announced proudly that it had to be held at her marae. Little did I know then what the word even meant. You can surmise that my Maori is next to minimal if not zero. So, guess my delight (and that of the others too) when we were literally sound-invited in as we stood at the gate of the marae to enter this gentle, sacred, respectful space where we were to sleep, eat, talk, relate, befriend and grumble (occasionally) for the next five days. December 4th to 9th 2015 will remain in the memories of the women who shared this space and experience.

Five young men cooked for us daily and they too deserve special mention – how wonderful to see the roles actually reversed, and to realise that when there was a will, there is a way!

One participant who came from Canberra almost didn’t make it; she had applied for a passport and it was the evening before the flight and it still hadn’t arrived! She was on the verge of deciding just not to come but God was kind and a sequence of events led her to receiving it at 4 pm the day before. I mention her because she had been to many other church camps/meetings but in her evaluation she said, this was pretty close to being the most amazing that she had ever attended (to quote, “bloody crap, it was just fan-tas-tic!”).

We were so lucky to have women from across different cultures. From Melbourne, the women came from a Karen community (from the Thai-Burmese border), a small province in China, an inter-faith worker for the Uniting Church (single mother with two children), a newly-ordained Anglican minister, a journalism student and myself, the national coordinator of the Movement in Australia. The New Zealanders were from Samoa, Tonga and Rauhina and family were Maori while three others were Pakeha. As mentioned, Sherry came from Taiwan, and Nina, our women staff was based in Hong Kong but of Indonesian origin.

What did this add to our overall experience? It meant that one day we would be hearing stories of child soldiers in Myanmar, and another of how domestic violence in Australia saw a woman killed every week on average, or another person would speak of an idyllic childhood with a beloved grandmother from Tonga, or there was sharing about stereotypes and inequalities facing women in different parts of the world. Being ecumenical, being of many cultures meant that we were open to one another’s stories and eager to learn; it was not significant which denomination we belonged to, our stories as people who belonged to one gender.

The program was diverse and arguably didn’t always jell together around the topic but each session developed our knowledge and understanding of one another and the issues confronting women today, the bible studies gave us a much more intimate knowledge of how perspective and context were critical in true understanding; watching a film together (I am a Girl) provoked questions of different realities for young women in various cultures, in this instance – two girls from “white” society – the US and Australia, then Papua New Guinea, Cambodia, Afghanistan and the Cameroun; preparing for worship (sometimes in very pressured circumstances) gave room for creativity and praise; and meals, visiting other churches, going to the Huriawa Peninsula and a very special candle-lit Taize service in Dunedin (9 pm) all added to a varied and captivating program.

A couple of sessions which had been added were very basic and looked at caring for ourselves. Processes throughout were gentle and respectful; as friendships formed we could feel that it was okay to be ourselves (we would be accepted for whoever we were) and each night a small steering committee evaluated the day’s journey and tried to deal with any questions that had arisen, a key one being ‘whether the chaps should be included, and if yes, for which sessions?’

The strength of the gathering is perhaps best demonstrated in the camaraderie among the participants. There was room to be on one’s own as well as space to gather and chat at length, but by the end a bond had been formed among the group; there was much eagerness to connect again despite the distances, a lot of goodwill and loving sadness as we said a temporary goodbye, and I am sure that our paths will cross again in the years ahead. The will to also do (or give) what each person could in their own situation – was also clearly there; on the last day, each group (by country) drew up various action plans and gave them substance (that is, tried to be as specific as they could), and shared them with the other groups.

We’ve now all gone home to our individual ‘spaces’ but perhaps testimony to how successful the program was can also be seen in that the Melbourne participants are organising a similar program for the people here in Australia. Called “Transforming Injustice”, this program scheduled for September this year seeks to emulate what was wonderful from the one in Karitane and to build further on it.

We are women, we are awesome!

Ann Ng
Former National Coordinator, ASCM