Five women from Australia attended the 5th Assembly* of the Asian Church Women’s Conference (ACWC), which was held in Bangkok, Thailand, in 1974. They were Fran Bailey, who was elected Vice-President of the ACWC; Rachel Cocks, the newly elected Australian National Representative to the ACWC; Joy Smith, National President of Australian Church Women (ACW); and Maisie McKenzie and Ailsa (Ails) Webber, both from the Northern Territory.
*Unfortunately, I do not have a photo of this 1974 Assembly of the ACWC and neither does the ACWC office. If you have or know the whereabouts of any photos of this assembly, please contact me firstname.lastname@example.org
Rachel Cocks was a member of the Tasmanian Unit of ACW and she was thrilled to represent Australia at this assembly, which she described as a life-changing event. Here’s a portion of one of Rachel’s two reports to the National Committee of ACW:
‘There were about 125 women at the Conference. A most colourful, interesting and interested group of women. Some time it would be good to write a little about the personalities there. For me, much of the value of the experience lay in the meeting and talking with so many representatives from so many countries. Seventeen Asian nations and folk from Geneva, Germany, U.S.A., Canada, Africa, Papua-New Guinea and the Middle East. We had a very happy delegation from A.C.W. and for all of us, it was a moment of great pride when at the moving and impressive closing ceremony, we watched Fran Bailey receive her candle of office from the outgoing Vice-President.
‘We slept in the boarders’ dormitories. There were 30 or so women in mine and this was a lovely experience. Leita Fondall and I had the only white faces, and in seven days and eight nights of dormitory sharing, we really got to know each other. I was amused one day as I passed the bed of a lovely and most dignified delegate from Sri Lanka to see a jar of Avon Moisture Cream. Good old Avon! It speaks all languages.
‘Devotions and vespers were shared by all countries. Australia was grouped with New Zealand, Malaysia and Indonesia for these, and also for the cultural evenings which relaxed, informed and enthralled us every evening. Joy’s collection of very beautiful slides of Australia shown to the recitation of Dorothy McKellar’s poem “My Country” were very well received. The “Star” of the group was Ails, who played the didgeridoo and sang a favourite hymn in her own language. We felt very proud.’
The ACW Archives also holds a report of the assembly from Joy Smith. Joy was the President of the Working Committee of ACW and the Immediate Past President of the South Australian Unit of ACW. Her account of the ACWC Assembly featured in Women at Work, the ACW National Newsletter:
‘The Conference was held at the Wattana Wittiya Academy which was the first boarding school opened 100 years ago for girls in Thailand. Mrs. Frances Bailey (of Adelaide) who had been a previous A.C.W. delegate and member of the A.C.W.C. Working Committee has now been elected vice-chairman. The chairman is Mrs. Agnes Loyall from Lucknow, India; the Secretary, Mrs. Gloria Santos from Lacag City in the Philippines and the treasurer, Mrs. Yoshiko Isshiki from Tokyo, Japan. Mrs. Shanti Solomon, the Founder of the Fellowship of the Least Coin, continues as the Executive Secretary – the only paid member of the Conference.
‘The statement issued following the Fifth Assembly speaks out strongly against hunger and poverty and the need for planned parenthood; lack of leadership amongst women; inequality and injustice; and the exploitation of women and girls.
‘Women from the continent of India spoke about the continuing crises which have followed one another over many years – droughts, floods, famine, floods again. Starvation is a colossal problem and in the next 18 months–2 years, many millions (estimated between 60-80 million) of the 555,000,000 inhabitants will die from hunger and poverty.
‘Another concern was the recruitment of people from one country to another, or from remote rural areas to the cities, where they are then exploited. Young girls especially were mentioned. With little education and no jobs girls as young as 12 and 13 years are enticed to leave home by stories of wonderful opportunities for them in the big cities. There they become prostitutes and many die of disease, commit suicide, or find themselves in jail. Church women have already been involved in fighting this evil and are urging all women to be active in stopping this practice.
‘Recommendations from the Conference say “Women must realise their power and potential for Christ.” They are urged to be aware of their value as people of influence and importance; to be active in the political life of their countries; and to seek positions of responsibility where Christian witness can influence the processes of decision making.
‘In an age when social pressures are great and importance of family unity is a major concern, planned parenthood is being sponsored and promoted by many Asian governments. Women are asked to be involved in family planning, and counselling, and to recognise the need for education in those fields. They are asked to be active in expressing opinions about the use and misuse of the mass media and to also make the Church more aware of its responsibility to the whole person.’
Tragically, so many of these unjust and exploitative issues are still with us 46 years later. Will they ever be resolved?