Women make history and have histories to tell

8th June 2015

As part of the Women´s Conference, a great amount of guests gathered in the chapel of the Central House to commemorate the 200 years of the Basel Mission (Misión de Basilea). They were greeted by the Chairwoman of the Women and Gender Special Commission Irmgard Frank. In turn, Director of the Women and Gender Desk, Josefina Hurtado Neira, called out to stop for a moment to honour the achievements so far, and to rethink the direction of our pilgrimage. Because raising women´s diverse voices, including them in the decision making process and hearing their hopeful stories in the path of bettering their lives, will still be important.

1 group photo - featured image

Women’s Conference group photo

Next, Pia Müller, Secretary to the Basel Mission Council, referred to the turbulent story of commitment of the women of the mission, emphasizing the celerity with which they detected needs and how through touching initiatives and absolute simplicity, initiated great movements. Missionary women quickly started to make contact with the local women through practical tasks and activities. Passion for adventure may have been what took them there as young women in the first place, to enrol as “missionary brides”. During the XIX century arranged marriages were commonplace. In their countries of origin, women had managed to organise collection groups to raise money for the activities of the Mission. Even to this date, we´re still impressed by these women that through door-to-door campaigns raised important funds.

On the other hand, Brazilian afro-descendant theologian Silvia Regina de Lima Silva spoke to us of the “decolonization of the spirits”. She lives and works in Costa Rica and is the Coordinator of the Latin-American Continental Assembly of Mission 21. She sustains that a paradigm crisis can be detected in the scope of the Mission since it took active part in the collective and individual colonization. This being reflected in the power that the missions acquired in time. Indigenous and afro-descendant people were particularly scarred as a consequence of cultural and religious racism. However, resistance and survival strategies, like hiding seeds in their coily hair (as shown to us by the speaker), are some of the milestones of the conquest in the XVI century. A fundamental task in this respect is to integrate the cultural and religious heritage in the present concepts of the Mission. Making the object the subject and redefining Mission as “dialogs of wisdom teachings” to rethink and restate the Mission.

2 people at the conference

People at the conference

Next, Lucy Kumala, pastor of the “Basel Christian Church of Malaysia” and Asian´s Women Network Coordinator reported on the commitment against human trafficking in her region. This task requires lots of work from churches and other civilian organizations because we still have to create more awareness about this problem. Boys, girls and women are mostly affected. This is a consequence of both, their poverty and their limiting economic perspective. That’s why encouraging projects that generate an income, is so important.

Pastor Susan Mark, from the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria, is the Coordinator of the African´s Women Network. She presented “Leadership in contexts of political violence”, and informed us about her challenging job with displaced people, building a new existence from scratch. In this context, the coordination means commitment to help people to help themselves; to achieve stability for themselves. This includes, apart from the emergency assistance, a guide for generating income and other treatments to overcome the trauma. Susan and other sisters-in-arms took part in many workshops, like the one in Ruanda, to be up to the challenge and apply the new tools back home.

In this context, pastor Claudia Bandixen reminded us that violence against women transforms them into recurring victims, if you take into account their initial situation as displaced, kidnapped, raped and then, on return to their communities, the added situation of marginalization and outcast. Together with Susan Mark they elaborated the resolution presented before the ecclesiastical, missionary and Non-Governmental organizations, making the call for solidarity with the victims of Boko Haram.

3 resolution

Claudia Bandixen and Suzan Mark handing the resolution to Fulata L. Moyo of the WCC (World Council of Churches), to Elaine Neuenfeldt of the LWF (Lutheran World Federation) and to Ute Seibert, Evangelical Women’s Meeting Centre (Evangelisches Frauenbegegnungszentrum), Frankfurt am Main.

As we transitioned into the workshops, Secretary for Women in Church and Society from the Lutheran World Federation, Elaine Neuenfeldt, shared the story of a woman whose dress had uncountable pockets from which she drew words and stories.

Below are some impressions on some of the workshops, as collected by the Women and Gender Commission:

Ruth and Naomi, Women write history

Recounted by Dr Fulata Moyo, WCC Programme Executive for Women in Church and Society, and Heidi Zingg Knöpfli, Head of Studies of Mission 21.

The story about Naomi and Ruth was read up until Ruth conceives Booz´s son. The reading was stopped every once in a while and the participants were asked to step into each of the characters´ shoes (Ruth, Naomi and Booz). One of the most controversial parts was the scene in which Naomi asks Ruth to go and see Booz, to lay at his feet and practically offer herself to him. Nowadays, that request could be considered human trafficking. But what were Naomi´s motivations at the time? Maybe the reasons were economic, maybe that would mean financial security for Ruth and Naomi. How would we feel today and how would we react if we were manipulated that way? How was this experience for Booz that woke up to find a woman at his feet?

Answers were varied, maybe because they came from different continents. A participant from Asia told us that in her country this was still possible until not long ago. And only recently had women accomplished self-determination after gaining more self-confidence as a consequence of industrial development. In the end we all agreed, regardless of the continent of origin, that women´s economic independence prevents that women can be sold o prostituted. (Marlies Flury)

Storytelling by painting

Conducted by Rachel Weber, Theology student at the University of Basel

The workshop gathered participants from Chile, Indonesia, Malaysia, Germany and Switzerland. It started with a brief introduction of everyone by name, place of origin and their earliest memory. Later, the idea was to paint our stories and share them with the others. With background atmosphere music they all painted their story, some based on something purely personal, some based on their countries´ reality. In the end, those who chose to could show their work to the others and say a few words. It was stunning to listen to so many diverse paths of life, but it was also stunning to learn how many similarities existed in spite of those differences. Some paintings showed painful scenes, others happier times. But in many paintings both aspects were present, the darkest and those full of hope.

When it was time to explain the paintings, both, participants and moderators, had to find common ground, achieving really amazing relationships. To such extent, that a real “sharing” of the stories was reached. Sharing in the best sense of the word; even the situation was moving. Seeing so many paintings on the tables, appreciating them and understanding what each represents… that is a true expression of the art of life!

In the final reflection, the group wrote a page full of future hopes based on the stories that had been shared.

Weaving Patterns tell Life Stories

With Claudia Hoffmann, Assistant at the Chair for Extra-European Christianity at the University of Basel.

We analysed what material was used to weave the mats in Borneo, and discovered it to be rattan. So we looked into how it is extracted and how it is processed. Then, the women from Kalimantan and Sabah told us who weaves (women) and with what purpose (to generate an income). We looked at old mats and new ones. And afterwards we tried to weave ourselves with strips of paper, which proved to be very difficult. Women who were older than me also took part of my workshop, women who had spent years in Kalimantan. Maybe this experience is like a small portion of the story of their own life. (Claudia Hoffmann).

Following the footprints of memory

A walk through the city with Veidt Arldt. I took part of the tour. Even for me, a Basel local, the walk was very interesting and informative. Although I must admit that it was almost too short. We briefly visited the Mission House, the Trading Society of Basel, Spitteler´s house, his students´ house and the black housekeepers´ house. (Vreni Blum)

The Politics of Sewing

An exhibit curated by Roberta Bacic, Arpilleras curator.

Arpilleras with illustrations of tragic scenes from Chile, Perú but also from Ireland and Great Britain were presented at the exhibition. This way of remembering and of relating with history and each of the individual and collective traumas, was invented in Chile by those who reacted in this way to the terror of the forced disappearance of family members. For this, they used everyday materials, odds and ends of fabric or cloth, socks, etc., with which they sewed the dolls and the entire landscape they represented. This way of relating with this topic was later applied in other contexts. The curator motivated us to start a dialog with the portrayed scenes and later, with each other. One of the arpilleras that impacted me the most was one that showed the people escaping in rafts in the Mediterranean, seeking for refuge.

From each of the workshops we brought a symbol that was included in the final reflection. Later, we thought of the women of the Mission, the women in Theology and the Church, and wrote their names on sea pearls and strung them on a chain.

Final round in the plenary

Final round in the plenary

The closing party featured a buffet, drinks and live music from the Basel Mission Anniversary musical, among others. The multiple encounters between the women present, proved that: “Here´s the party!” (from the Italian La festa è qui) and that´s exactly what it is. Here is where women celebrate life and their relationships, where they make everyday life something worth celebrating.

Esther Gisler Fischer