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Empowering African Anglican Women

Posted on: October 31, 2005 9:49 AM
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In the "Haven of Peace" - Dar es Salaam - women leaders from the 12 Anglican provinces in Africa gathered to discuss issues relating to their empowerment and survival. Topics concerning women's role in the church, in elected offices, in curbing violence, adequate health care, education, HIV/AIDS, marital rape, poverty, leadership, new ways of studying Biblical texts and others were discussed.

Held at the Belinda Resort Hotel, the consultation took place from 24-28 October. With the joyful singing of a local youth choir, a Eucharist heralded the opening of this historic event. The speaker was the Rt. Revd. Dr. Philip Baji, dean of the Anglican Church of Tanzania. He brought greetings on behalf of the Most Revd. Donald Mtetemela, who was attending the primate's gathering in Cairo. Bishop Baji noted that "Women if empowered, can make a difference in the lives of those in need."

This was a meeting of the African region the of the International Anglican Women's Network (IAWN). Priscilla Julie is the region's link coordinator, as well as a key organizer of the meeting. The Empowering African Anglican Women consultation was the brainchild of Jolly Babirukamu, a teacher and counselor from Uganda, and the IAWN representative to the Anglican Consultative Council. IAWN is a network of the Anglican Communion which enables women's concerns to be voiced in the councils of the church.

The moderator of the meeting sessions and keynote speaker was the Anglican Observer to the United Nations, Archdeacon Taimalelagi Fagamalama Tuatagaloa-Matalavea. She brought greetings from Canon Kenneth Kearon, Secretary General of the Anglican Consultative Council. Archdeacon Tai noted that her office "will not have been able to coordinate and fund this consultation without the donations and compassion of wonderful friends who fully support this initiative." Some of the donors present were Episcopal Relief and Development, represented by Jannette O'Neill and Janis Rosheuvel, and the director of the ECUSA Women's Ministries, the Revd. Margaret Rose, who gave a short history of IAWN. The women expressed heartfelt thanks to Phoebe Griswold, IAWN's patron, for her enthusiastic support. The Rt. Revd. Catherine Roskam, Suffragan of New York, sent greetings via Yvonne O'Neal. Bishop Roskam reminded the women of the power they already have. She said that "as always for Christians, we must use our power for good. We must use it to remain in communion and to put before the councils of the church the issues that most effect women."

Archdeacon Tai urged the women to continue to make IAWN to be more effective to serve the needs of women within the context of three R's: relevant, radical and responsive. By the end of the consultation, the women resolved "to make the IAWN relevant to God's mission and ministry, radical in the way that Jesus taught us and responsive to the needs of those who suffer."

Our Observer to the UN, with her characteristic enthusiasm, gave an overview of the activities her office has been pursuing on gender and women's issues as they relate directly to the mission statement of the ACCUN Office. In elucidating what empowered Anglican women can do, Archdeacon Tai quoted Archbishop Desmond Tutu ("Women have an extraordinary capacity for nurturing life. No woman will want war as she cannot carry a child inside her for nine months and then she goes and turns them into cannon fodder.") and UN Secretary General Kofi Annan ("If you are going to reconcile at the national level, you need to bring in women. They have a different attitude to men. Their influence and voices are extremely important.") Our Observer said that these examples she quoted justify the empowerment of women for the "common good of all."

Archdeacon Tai urged the women to apply Micah 6:8 as a guide for implementing the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). She further challenged the women to look at what she calls the silent Rs: Reduce, Reuse, Repair, Recycle, Rethink, Repent, Rejoice.

The African Anglican women in Dar es Salaam had a full agenda. They discussed the ACC-13 resolutions and how they related to the concerns of women. Many of the resolutions that emerged were as a result of this discussion. The woman discussed their province's experience with the Bejing Platform for Action and the MDGs. Throughout Africa, both church and state are taking the MDGs quite seriously and are working on the goals within the context of each country's realities. The NGOs in Tanzania have taken a refreshing approach to the MDGs by restating them in positive terms, according to Mary Mwingira, a guest speaker. The focus is on three areas: quality education, quality health services, and good governance and accountability. The Tanzanian NGOs are well-organized and are truly committed to making poverty history.

The women told of the atrocities committed against innocent women and children in the battleground of the Great Lakes region. Some of these acts are unbelievable, were it not for the photographs depicting the horror. Women in this region are instruments of peace, as they engage in effective peace building and conflict resolution. The Mother's Union has played a major role in peace-keeping efforts not only through prayers but by organizing relevant seminars on peace and reconciliation.

Godfrey Lema, a guest speaker, called the women to action for he believes that the solution to the AIDS pandemic and many other ills in society will be brought about by women's ideas. He said women should challenge some of the old customs such as female genital circumcision, which is not only unnecessary and painful, but also increases the incidence of HIV/AIDS.

The Revd. Dr. Beverley Haddad of Southern Africa delivered a presentation on gender and HIV/AIDS. She discussed the factors that cause women and girls to be more vulnerable to HIV/AIDS and what the church can and should be doing. The women discussed their role in finding solutions to the myriad problems they are facing. Solutions include establishing effective counseling centers; organizing seminars/workshops on sexuality (these have proved quite effective in Burundi); teaching life skills to young people; stressing the ABCs (abstain, be faithful to your partner, use condoms). Rather than continuing with the debate on human sexuality, some felt that Africa has more pressing issues that require attention: HIV/AIDS, malaria, polygamy, poverty, etc.

Time and time again the discussion led the women to discern the need for paralegal training for women. A field trip to the Women's Legal Aid Centre (WLAC) and the Legal and Human Rights Centre (LHRC) in Dar es Salaam made this even more apparent, as the women heard stories of the need for legal representation of vulnerable women who were being exploited. The legal practitioners in the delegation, Florence Akinkoye of Nigeria, Philippa Amable of West Africa and Priscilla Julie of the Indian Ocean, engaged the folks at WLAC and LHRC by asking excellent questions. These three women also drafted the resolutions that came out of the consultation.

The Revd. Joyce Kariuki of Kenya rocked the house in her call to leadership and the empowerment of women. She had already given a preview when she led devotion and talked about the success story of Nehemiah, which is quite inspiring. To be successful, we must have "a common vision, a common strategy, and a common implementation." Revd. Kariuki cited the examples of Deborah and Abigail, in the books of Judges and Samuel, as models of leadership. She concluded that "effective leadership is and will continue to be the end product of understanding the cause of human behaviour, analyzing the critical factors in a situation, and knowing how to use the potential of individuals and of groups - all to accomplish the organization's, church's or community's mission.

The Tanzanian women were gracious with their hospitality. Special thanks go to Joyce Ngoda and Assah Mgonja, the local coordinators. Other Tanzanian women present were Margaraeth Mpango, Joyce Kibaja, Jane Liasi, Pauline Baji, Grace Mokiwa, and the Revd. Cecilia Kwikima. Elizabeth Taylor and Joanne Chaytor, overseas missionaries in Tanzania, were also present.

Each and every delegate made invaluable contributions, by leading discussions, asking insightful questions, offering solutions, leading worship services and bible study. Everyone deserves recognition, if only by naming: Claudette Kigeme, Burundi; Mugisa Isingoma, Congo; Joselyn Tengatenga, Central Africa; Revd. Agnes Mukandoli, Rwanda; Mary Martin Nawai, Sudan.

The consultation consisted of five days of singing, worshipping, and learning. There was a special camaraderie among the women, and the bonds of affection they held for each other were quite strong. Everyone was transformed for the work of the greater glory of God. The women left Dar es Salaam determined to enhance the speed of poverty eradication. They left committed to having women participate to influence change at provincial and diocesan levels. What a team of African Anglican woman, heeding the call of Jolly Babirukamu that "together each achieves more!"

Some of the women had met before, as delegates to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (UNCSW) in New York in 2004 and 2005. A good number of these women will be in New York next February for the 50th anniversary of UNCSW. Our Observer to the UN has written to all primates urging them to send two delegates to this very important upcoming gathering.

Report by Yvonne O'Neal