By Jeannette Andrade
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 04:06:00 03/07/2011

MANILA, Philippines—When Sister Mary John Mananzan first received an e-mail informing her that she had been named one of the top 100 inspiring people in the world, she thought that it was another spam message.

Mananzan, executive director of the Institute of Women’s Studies of St. Scholastica’s College, told the Philippine Daily Inquirer that she was overwhelmed when she discovered how prestigious was the Women Deliver 100 list that included US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

“I got so many of those (spam) before on my e-mail account, where the message would say I had been chosen to be among the recipients of some award but then I would have to pay for something,” she said with a laugh.

Mananzan said she was not able to read the e-mail, which she received from the New York-based Women Deliver last week, but she learned of the list’s prestige from other people who congratulated her during one of her religious missions in Tacloban City.

“I did not realize what the e-mail from Women Deliver was real. I did not know how prestigious it was. But when I realized it was authentic and to be on a list including Hillary Clinton, I was so overwhelmed,” she said.

Mananzan was cited for being instrumental in developing a feminist Third World theology within the Catholic Church and introducing feminist activism into the country’s Catholic faith.

She said she was just part of the Ecumenical Association of Third World Theologians which saw the dominance of patriarchy in the Church and sought the establishment of a theology from the perspective of Third World women. “Religion is both liberating and oppressive. Here, we sought to deconstruct the oppressive and construct the liberating aspect,” she said.

Her group analyzes the teachings in the Bible, a lot of passages of which are misinterpreted and are used for oppression, she said.

Mananzan cited an abused woman in the care of the Benedictine Sisters, who claimed that her husband would cite a biblical passage in which Eve had been taken from Adam’s ribs to justify that he should be in full control and could do whatever he wanted.

“God will not sanction the oppression of anybody … We have to make women understand that in the eyes of God, they are on the same level as men. They have the same dignity. They have the same opportunity,” the Benedictine nun said.

She said the empowerment of a woman could not be complete without the spiritual aspect. “In empowering a woman spiritually, she must develop self-esteem in the sense that she is created in the image and likeness of God.”

Mananzan holds the distinction of being the first woman to graduate summa cum laude from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, earning a doctorate in Philosophy, majoring in Linguistics Analysis.

Upon her return to the country in 1973, she was entrusted with a number of positions, including the deanship and subsequently the presidency of St. Scholastica’s College, and the leadership of the Association of Major Religious Superiors of the Philippines.

Mananzan also held positions in the Ecumenical Association of Third-World Theologians and in Gabriela, an organization promoting women’s rights which she cofounded. She subsequently founded the women studies program in St. Scholastica’s College.

She said that when she first joined the Benedictine order at 19 years old, all she thought was she could not participate in social work for the poor unless she was a nun. “I was so young at 19. I always say, ‘Do not ask me why I entered. Ask me why I am staying,’” she said with a smile. “It is because I found more reasons to stay.”

The first time she told her mother of her decision to enter the Benedictine order, after finishing her tertiary education at St. Scholastica’s College, her mother was speechless. “The next day, she told me ‘It was OK if I really wanted to be a nun.’ She was very proud of me,” Mananzan said, beaming.

Despite the gains in the pursuit of women empowerment, she said there was still a long way to go. She said there were 350 men who had completed the women studies seminars, which basically teach them that they can remain “macho” even if they show tenderness, warmth and love toward their partners.

She noted that more women-friendly laws were being passed even if she found their implementation wanting.

Many priests are understanding the perspective of women in theology although the Church hierarchy as a whole remains patriarchic, Mananzan said. “In a matter of consciousness, we have achieved a lot. But we still have a long way to go. We have, after all, a population of 90 million … We have to reach out to mothers who are not conscious of these things so they would not continue to pass on gender-based subservience to their daughters,” she said.

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