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Inspiring inclusion and working for gender justice: International Women's Day Webinar

Posted on: March 12, 2024 3:33 PM

To mark International Women’s Day (March 8), the Rt Revd Vicentia Kgabe (Bishop of the Diocese of Lesotho), and the Revd Domnic Misolo (Director of The Institute for Faith and Gender Empowerment - IFAGE) were guest speakers on a webinar called ‘Inspiring Inclusion’ hosted by the Anglican Communion Office and Anglican Alliance. It was moderated by Mandy Marshall, Director of Gender Justice at the Anglican Communion. It was a wide-ranging conversation on themes of gender justice, women in leadership and the role that men can play in working for more equal societies.

Both panelists were asked what we need to do differently to become a more inclusive church. Bishop Vicentia said, “We are a Church that loves to talk and at times we are minimal in acting intentionally but those on the margins should be brought in. When you are at the table, look around and see who is missing and bring them in.”  Domnic said, “We have made a Church be exclusive. We are running away from biblical truth. When the Church started, everyone was included.”

This article shares some of the highlights and main comments from the webinar.

In Conversation with The Rt Revd Vicentia Kgabe

Women in leadership and ministry 

Bishop Vicentia, who is the first female bishop of her diocese, shared how she had sense God’s call from the age of 16. She started the discernment process at 18 on finishing high school when becoming a female priest wasn’t yet available. “I hadn’t been exposed to women clergy. Just male. I believed in the God of miracles, and he would make it happen,” she explained. She had the full support of her parents.

People’s perceptions were not always generous. She recalled what they would say and at times still say, “Can women be leaders? Why are you in a man’s space?”  She reflected that “even if you are qualified, the man who is less qualified is placed in leadership, so you have to do doubly hard.” 

When asked what she does to refuel she said, “The Rhythm of prayer works. You do this not in your own strength and mind. God will bring people to journey with us who understand the challenge. When the leadership of the Church gives me opportunities that has been a stamp of approval of my capabilities.”

The first woman bishop to preach at the opening service of the Lambeth Conference

A major highlight in Bishop Vicentia’s career came last year when the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, invited her to preach the sermon at the opening service of the Lambeth Conference in Canterbury Cathedral. She became  the first woman bishop ever in the history of the Lambeth Conference to have done so. How did she feel? “I spend a lot of my time doing admin and while I was working, I got an email which I thought was a scam. I replied and said yes, thinking, surely, they have made a mistake, “she laughed. She “then realised that it was legitimate when I got a response. I started crying. I know what Lambeth means. I felt humbled and scared. There were so many other bishops qualified to preach,” she said.

Advice for women considering ordination 

To other women who want to be ordained she had this advice, “You are going to hear voices saying that you are making it up and God hasn’t called you. Be a person of prayer and faith. Find the sisters and brothers of faith to journey with. Believe in yourself and your calling.”

For the future she hopes “that we get to be part of the church that sees a bishop and a priest, not their gender. I look forward to the day when our children and grandchildren do not know male of female bishop.”

Bishop Vicentia was asked how old is too old when it came to ordination. She explained that it depended on the province and “if you have a couple of years before retirement, don’t postpone. When God has called you, start now,” she said.

Bishop Vicentia is part of a group of women bishops called “The Africa 6”. They are Africa’s only women bishops and have been meeting online for prayer, fellowship and encouraging each other. They recently met together in person in Kenya and are the contributors for an  Africa 6 webinar that coincides with the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women in 2024.

In Conversation with Revd Dominic Misolo 

The role of men in championing gender justice 

The Revd Domnic Misolo, is a male champion for Gender Justice. He runs programmes across east Africa aimed at men, women and boys working towards systemic change. There are 32 men’s groups in the Lake region of Kenya that meets every month. “We have identified and trained men as Gender champions,” Domnic said.

Dominic’s decision to develop programmes like this was influenced by his childhood, where he witnessed his mother being beaten by his father every evening. He himself was also beaten regularly. His father had three wives. His mother was the second wife and there were 12 children. He grew up in desperate poverty and witnessing, as well as experiencing violence at a very young age. “At eight years old I was asking what is going on here? I realised that my culture and religion had given my father power as provider and protector. In Luo culture beating your wife is a normal practice to make her respect you and obey you. My father would even quote the Bible,” he said.

It was when he started theological training that he came across academic journals talking about equality for women and men. “I discovered that the church is a part of an institution that brings about abuse against women and girls based on misinterpretation of the Bible. As a result, one of the programmes he runs now targets faith leaders and pastors exploring biblical misinterpretation with a view to addressing gender injustice.

Overcoming barriers 

When asked what barriers he faces, Domnic said, “It has not been a barrier but an opportunity because lots of men want to listen to what I say because I am a man talking about Gender equality and women’s empowerment. They thing that it is automatic that men were born to be the way they are. When you empower women, you empower men too. There are so many things burdening men.” 

Domnic stressed that it is important to target key strategic leaders in his work in ending gender-based violence. He said, “Men are key because they are the custodians of culture. Women will not end Gender Based Violence (GBV) when men are not involved. Our churches and religious institutions are key in involving men in ending GBV. Religion and the Bible is always quoted by men when they are talking about their power. It is a misinterpretation. Deal with the theology first and have those discussions. Look at the original text.” 

Anglican Delegation at UNCSW in March 2024 

The Inspiring Inclusion meeting was held ahead of an Anglican Delegation attending the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (UNCSW) in New York between 11-22 March. This year’s theme is: ‘Accelerating the achievement of gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls by addressing poverty and strengthening institutions and financing with a gender perspective.’ 

For further information 

To watch the International Women’s Day Webinar, click here 

To read more about the Anglican Delegation at UNCSW click here