20022018

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Personal profile

Biography

Dr Sharon A. Bong is Associate Professor of Gender Studies at the School of Arts and Social Sciences (SASS), Monash University Malaysia which she has served since 2003 in various capacities which presently include the Gender Studies major coordinator, Internship coordinator, and formerly, the Deputy Head of School Education, Postgraduate Coordinator and Undergraduate Course Coordinator. Her multidisciplinary academic background stems from her shift from dead poets to living communities in moving away from literary studies to Women’s Studies and Religious Studies over two decades ago. This leap of faith was in part, precipitated by her involvement in women’s non-governmental organisations since the 1990s at international, regional and national levels that compelled her to seek a greater resonance between theoretical aspirations and practical needs, fuelled by an ethos of social justice and inclusivity, particularly gender justice.

Her research expertise in the intersection of genders, sexualities and religions (including feminist and queer theologies) has led to numerous invitations to publish, deliver keynote addresses, present conference papers, serve as consultant at international, regional and national contexts. Collaborations in Europe include invitations to present on: ‘Religious identity and gender’ at the Catholic Theological Faculty, University of Munster, Munster, Germany (June 2016); ‘Gender, sexuality and Christian feminist movements in Asia’ at the Intensive Summer Programme, University of Münster, Germany (September 2014); and ‘Freedom of religion and gender’ at the International Conference on ‘Freedom of religion: A human right claimed and instrumentalised’, organised by Missio (Aachen), the Franz-Hitze-Haus Academy and Institute for Christian Social Sciences, University of Münster (November 2014).

Collaborations in Asia include invitations to present on: ‘A Gender Perspective on Catholic Sexual Ethics: Who Defines the roles and issues’ at the joint symposium of DAKATEO (Catholic Theological Society of the Philippines), ET (European Society for Catholic Theology) and INSeCT (International Network of Societies for Catholic Theology)’s ‘Gender and Ecclesiology: An Intercultural Dialogue’, Philippines (July 2016); ‘To marry or not to marry: The law and sexuality rights in Malaysia’, for Tonan Talk: A Brown Bag Lecture Series at the Centre for Southeast Asian Studies (CSEAS), Kyoto, Japan (April 2015); ‘‘The Ecclesia of Women in Asia: Liberating theology’ at the FTESEA/ATESEA Women Theological Educators and Women in Theological Movements Conference, Manila, the Philippines (June 2015); and ‘Women’s rights and religions in Malaysia’ at a seminar organized by the Center for Gender and Women’s Culture in Asia, Nara Women’s’ University, Nara, Japan (February 2011).

Dr Bong continues to harness the research-education nexus by establishing the Gender Studies major at SASS in 2016, a notable career achievement. Units written for this homegrown major, unique to the Malaysia campus (MUM), have not only provided MUM a distinct competitive edge but also gender-inclusive fora for students’ active and meaningful learning. Wider gender-sensitisation, capacity-building and collaborative initiatives include organising the inaugural Genderworks 2017 (undergraduate conference on gender studies in collaboration with the Gender Equity Initiative set up by the Association of Women Lawyers comprising key private universities and colleges) and CoGen 2018 (international conference on gender and sexuality studies in Asia) hosted at MUM.

Her translational research harnesses the academia-industry linkage which she has sustained through her involvement in, among others: the Ecclesia of Women in Asia, an academic forum of Catholic feminist women theologising from Asia (since 2004), and Catholic Theological Ethics in the World Church as a regular forum writer for the Asian region (since 2011). In addition to the corpus of social commentaries that include radio interviews, her external engagements with the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development, Malaysia (MWFCD) include: writing the Third Malaysian government report on the status of women for the CEDAW Committee (Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, July 2005) and serving as an academic stakeholder in providing input on the MWFCD’s ‘Gender mainstreaming framework and policy recommendations for the implementation of the 11th Malaysia Plan’. In 2018, she facilitated ‘‘Gender and development awareness training for stakeholders’, for the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) Malaysia to enable female and male refugee community leaders to better understand their lived realities particularly gender-based violence and opportunities in light of gender binaries and gender equity, and the UNHCR staff and partners to better operationalise the UNHCR’s policy on Age Gender Diversity mainstreaming (October - November 2018).

Research interests

Dr Bong’s research is in the multidisciplinary fields of gender and sexuality studies and religious studies with a particular focus on Southeast Asia.

Her earlier work on women’s human rights and religions challenge the secularisation (and by extension, universalisation) of human rights with the moral and political imperative to negotiate rights with the lived reality of how integral cultures and religions are in an Asian context. She conceptualised critical relativism as an Asian feminist standpoint and praxis in bringing the conventions home. This is the thesis of her single-authored book The tension between women’s rights and religions: The case of Malaysia (2006). Her chapter ‘Going beyond the universal-versus-relativist rights discourse and practice: The case of Malaysia’ in Violence and gender in the globalised world: The intimate and the extimate published by Ashgate (first published in 2008 and reprinted in 2015), is a textbook for Rutgers University where Dr Bong had been selected as a participant for the 1999 Women's Global Leadership Institute - a two-week training in women’s human rights - organised by the Center for Women's Global Leadership with Charlotte Bunch as its then Executive Director.

Her later work builds on Asian feminist theologising within a feminist-postcolonial framework. Her scholarly contribution in this area lies in foregrounding theologising by Catholic feminists in Asia. This corpus of research and involvement (since 2004) with the Ecclesia of Women in Asia, an academic forum of Catholic feminists Asian theologians are mutually constitutive. Publications include contributing chapters in EWA’s edited volumes (of its biennial conferences) that range from Talitha Kum Southeast Asia, a network of religious Catholic sisters combatting trafficking in human persons to a transman’s narrative in negotiating his sexuality and spirituality and co-editing EWA’s third book Re-imagining marriage and family in Asia: Asian Christian women’s perspectives (2008). She has foregrounded EWA as a movement in invitations to publish in The Wiley Blackwell encyclopedia of gender and sexuality studies (2016) as well as The Oxford handbook of Christianity in Asia (2014) and Feminist Catholic Theological Ethics: Conversations in the World Church (2014) published by Oxford University Press and Orbis Books, respectively.

Dr Bong’s research also extends into queer theologising. The focus on embodiment gleaned from narratives of suffering, resisting and healing began in 2002 (in the final year of her PhD candidature at Lancaster University, UK) with an invitation to publish by Concilium (an International journal of theology and religious studies). Data generated from 30 narratives of persons in same-sex partnerships in Malaysia and Singapore resulted in several publications, notably with journals such as Marriage and Family Review (2011), Journal of Bisexuality (2011) and Asian Christian Review (2009). A further invitation to publish by Routledge on ‘Transgender’ in Contemporary Theological Approaches to Sexuality (2018) ensued.

Dr Bong is also privileged to have received recognition of her expertise from the Catholic Theological Ethics in the World Church where she serves as a regular forum writer for the Asian region (since 2011) in offering theological reflections on topics as diverse as: parodying female subservience of the Obedient Wives Club, breaking the silence and shaming of victims of gang rapes, arguing for an an inclusive Gospel of Families in affirming LGBTIQ parenting, positing critical relativism in recognising some forms of female circumcision as differentiated from Female Genital Mutilation, forging the intimate connection between climate justice and gender justice, and demystifying the compassionate caning of two lesbian women.

Monash teaching commitment

Dr Bong’s expertise is wide and ranges across women’s studies (women’s rights, narratives, movements), gender and sexuality studies (sexual reproductive health and rights in global contexts, lived realities of LGBTIQ persons and communities), religious studies (the intersectionality of genders, sexualities and religions or theologies), area studies (Southeast Asia), and feminist methods, methodologies and epistemologies as a qualitative practitioner (using Computer Assisted Qualitative Data Analysis Software, e.g. ATLAS.ti and NVivo). Over the past 15 years as an educator at Monash University Malaysia (MUM), she has  taught a wide-ranging field of units at undergraduate, Honours and Masters levels. The first decade of her career at Monash (since 2003) was dedicated in part, to facilitating creative writing labs - AMU3857 Writing Techniques and AMU3858 Writing Experiments - which she has  since relinquished with the establishment of the Gender Studies major in 2016. She is recipient of the Pro-Vice Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching (in 2011, 2012) and has received outstanding unit evaluation results for AMU3560, AMU2907, ATS2906 (now AMU2906), WRT34221 (now AMU3857) and AMU3858.

The establishment of the Gender Studies major is a career achievement built on seven homegrown units that Dr Bong had written comprising: two gateway units - AMU1310 Introduction to Gender Studies and AMU1309 Introduction to Sexuality Studies; two cornerstone units - AMU2906 Genders, Sexualities and Religions in Southeast Asia and  AMU2908 Critical Methodologies for Action Research (using feminist and queer methodologies); two capstone units - AMU3560 Contemporary Feminisms in Asia and AMU3744 Workplace Learning Internship; and AMU2907 Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights in Global Contexts. The major is featured in the Overview of Women’s and Gender Studies in Malaysia (Ng et al., 2018) and offers the Malaysia campus a competitive edge - nationally, regionally and globally - as the units are not only contextualised in Asia (which presents particular challenges to the affirmation of gender justice) but are also in conversation with global contexts, discourses and practices.

The major serves as praxis for the gender diversity and inclusion ethos of Monash. Dr Bong’s passion in women’s studies, gender and sexuality studies has infectiously spread to her students who in turn, have sustained her 10-year vision  of establishing the major at MUM. She is a firm believer in empowering students not only in harnessing their theoretical, methodological and practical (e.g. problem solving) skills but also instilling in them a profound appreciation for realising gender justice for themselves and their communities.

Empowering the young had also been impetuses to introducing rites of initiation at the School of Arts and Social Sciences, namely; the Transition Programme to facilitate the transitioning of first-year Arts undergraduates to the culture of learning and teaching at Monash and its corollary, the credit-bearing internship unit (in 2011) to facilitate the transitioning of soon-to-be Arts graduates as work-ready and employable for the workplace.

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 3 - Good Health and Well-being
  • SDG 5 - Gender Equality
  • SDG 13 - Climate Action
  • SDG 16 - Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions