Since the turn of the century, the topics of women’s emancipation and feminism have more or less disappeared from public discourse, in church circles as well. At least, this is what happened in the Netherlands. Feminism and women’s emancipation fell victim, so to say, to their own success. In Eastern Europe, however, things are more complex, as was clearly shown at the biennial regional conference of the European Society of Woman in Theological Research that took place in Split, Croatia, from 2 to 5 September 2012.* There, it became apparent that women’s issues have not been given any priority whatsoever within the Orthodox, Protestant or Roman Catholic Churches. And what is more, they are considered with great suspicion or the study thereof is merely tolerated.
The ambivalence surrounding women’s issues and theologians (who address these women’s issues) became tangible in various ways. First of all, organiser Sister Rebeka Anić had to go to great lengths to find the right mixture of themes and speakers, of which some had to be excluded from the conference. Essential in the preparation was to prevent the use of the word “feminism”, which as such already signals heterodoxy. In many countries of Eastern Europe theologians will not use this word light-heartedly, let alone in a positive manner.
On the other hand, the conference did receive some attention of the Croatian church press. On its Croatian pages the Catholic Press Agency IKA gave daily reports and there was an announcement of the conference in English. The archdiocese Split-Makarska announced the conference on its website as well. This was remarkable, since an analysis of the Croatian Catholic press, which was presented at the conference itself, clearly showed that women as a subject are virtually absent. However, less flattery remarks were made. “These women are off their rockers”, the meeting was summarised by a local clergy man.
A visit to the centre of Split – a fascinating display of European cultural history – unexpectedly confirmed the reality mentioned here above. When our guide heard of the reason why her audience had come to Split, she produced an example without even being asked. She told how she as a widow felt abandoned by her Roman Catholic Church: it idealises the family, but never addresses the concrete and often serious problems on the road to this ideal. (FH)
* Theme of this event was: “And God Will Wipe Away All the Tears from their Eyes (Is 25:8 and Rev 21:4) — A Theological Approach to the Suffering and Hopes of Women”. Catholic, Muslim, Orthodox and Protestant women from Austria, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Germany, England, Hungary, Croatia, Lithuania, Poland, Rumania, Serbia, Ukraine and the US participated in the conference.