World Council of Churches

A worldwide fellowship of churches seeking unity, a common witness and Christian service

African Women's Statement on Poverty, Wealth and Ecology

We, African women of faith, church leaders, theologians and activists, enriched by contributions from our sisters from Asia, Latin America, Europe and North America, have gathered in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania from 05-06 November 2007 to analyse the links between poverty, wealth and ecology in Africa, in deepening study and theological reflection on neoliberal economic globalisation, as part of the Alternative Globalisation addressing People and Earth (AGAPE) process.

06 November 2007

African Women's Hearing on Poverty, Wealth and Ecology

05-06    November 2007, Dar es Salaam Tanzania

 

We, African women of faith, church leaders, theologians and activists, enriched by contributions from our sisters from Asia, Latin America, Europe and North America, have gathered in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania from 05-06 November 2007 to analyse the links between poverty, wealth and ecology in Africa, in deepening study and theological reflection on neoliberal economic globalisation, as part of the Alternative Globalisation addressing People and Earth (AGAPE) process.

We are compelled to engage in the critical discourse on poverty, wealth and ecology as African women of faith because:

  • We are nurturers of life and we see, hear and feel the sufferings wrought by deprivation, hunger and disease besieging African people;
  • We are endowed with creative and intellectual gifts;
  • We come with a strong commitment to community;
  • We bring resources of enduring hope and resilience; and
  • We are ever seeking justice in line with our biblical mandate (Luke 4: 18-19).

Lifting up African women's stories of hope and action

Neoliberal economic globalisation, as intertwined with patriarchy, has posed severe socio-economic and ecological crises especially in the continent of Africa. African women are resisting this death-dealing paradigm and are building communities of hope. We lift up and celebrate the African women who are:

  • Analysing national and local budgets to demand accountability from their governments;
  • Empowering other women through macroeconomic literacy programmes;
  • Advocating at national and international levels for just trade and the cancellation of illegitimate debt;
  • Challenging corporate power and greed, and calling for corporate social accountability;
  • Mobilising other women and men for just wages and decent work;
  • Participating in political resistance to unjust laws and the curtailment of civil liberties;
  • Struggling for ecological justice in several areas, including through resistance to mining and logging activities;
  • Defending food sovereignty by organising farmers and promoting organic farming programmes; and
  • Responding to changing gender relations through dialogues with men on transforming relationships, and programmes of healing to address violence against women and children.

Making the links between poverty, wealth and ecology in Africa

To sharpen our understanding and to develop creative and practical alternatives to neoliberal economic globalisation, we realise the importance of closely interrogating the interrelationships between poverty, wealth and ecology.

We affirm that Africa is wealthy. God has blessed the African continent with abundance of wealth: communities of people, resource-laden lands and diverse ecology.  However, the enslavement of Africa's people and the plunder of Africa's natural resources during 500 years of colonialism had impoverished African people while enriching European colonial powers.

In the current context of neoliberal economic globalisation, powerful nations and international economic institutions, namely the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank (WB), and World Trade Organisation (WTO), have forced Africa to liberalise trade, deregulate capital flows including foreign direct investments, and privatise social and other strategic sectors, resulting in huge socio-economic chasms between poor and rich countries and between the poor and rich within Africa. These neoliberal economic policies continue to be imposed on African countries through conditionalities contained in the Heavily Indebted Poor Country (HIPC) initiative and Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSP) approach of the IMF and WB, official development assistance (ODA) or aid, multilateral and bilateral trade and investment agreements such as WTO agreements and Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs), and the New Economic Partnership for African Development (NEPAD) plan. 

Patriarchal structures are pivotal to processes of neoliberal economic globalisation. The interaction between patriarchy and neoliberal economic globalisation has concentrated decision-making power and productive means and resources, especially capital, in the hands of the so-called "Davos man". It has also resulted in drastic cuts in investment in life-giving areas such as sustainable agriculture and education and health services. Women, who stand at the fulcrum of production and reproduction, have been disproportionately affected through:

·       Weakened participation in economic decision-making processes;

·       Diminished access to productive resources and services (e.g. land, credit and technology);

·       Erosion of food sovereignty;

·       Declining wages and destruction of livelihoods;

·       Violation of economic, social and cultural rights (e.g. the right to avail health and education services); and

·       Intensification of socially-ascribed reproductive or caring responsibilities especially in light of the HIV-AIDS pandemic (e.g. caring for the ill and fetching water and fuel).

Neoliberal economic globalisation has also damaged Africa's ecological fabric. The privatisation, commodification and commercialisation of land, water and seeds through large-scale mining projects, the construction of mega-dams and neoliberal trade policies have fragmented and displaced entire communities in Africa, blocking them off from their sources of sustenance. African people are forced to migrate as a survival mechanism; and many African women have fallen victim to trafficking.

Resource extraction and deforestation in Africa to fuel and feed overproduction and over-consumption in rich, Northern countries have contributed to changes in weather patterns. In turn, the droughts, floods and cyclones wrought by climate change have wreaked havoc on Africa's predominantly agricultural economy, further threatening African peoples' livelihoods and access to food.

In Africa, the poor and women in particular rely heavily on pastures, fishing grounds and forests for their livelihood, food, medicine, and fuel, increasing their vulnerability to the destruction, depletion and appropriation of natural resources.

The intensifying competition among powerful nations and multinational corporations for Africa's oil, minerals and lumber has not only deprived African people of the use of these resources for their wellbeing. In the scramble to secure these resources through political pressure, military and paramilitary force, wars and conflicts have erupted in the continent, accompanied by massive human rights violations. The growing nexus between neoliberal economic globalisation and militarisation is a reflection of the face of empire in Africa. By "empire" we mean the coherence of economic, cultural, political and military powers and religious fundamentalism that constitute a global system of domination directed by powerful nations and organisations.

Connecting these threads between poverty, wealth and ecology in Africa, it becomes patent that structures and policies of wealth creation that are motivated by profits and greed - rather than provisioning for life and care of community and ecology - generate poverty, environmental destruction and conflicts. And in taking away communities' and women's decision-making power, ownership and control over productive means and resources, including natural resources, colonialism and neoliberal economic globalisation in collusion with patriarchy have dealt double death blows to Africa.

Therefore, we:

  • Reject the neoliberal and patriarchal economy; and
  • Declare that domination and exploitation of people and the environment is a sin against God, humanity and ecology.

Constructing African feminist theologies on poverty, wealth and ecology

We reject the patriarchal view in our churches that equates theologians with being "adult" and "male" and undermine the intellectual resources of women theologians. 

We recognise the inadequacy of existing dominant theologies couched in patriarchal systems of domination and power in addressing the interlinked issues of poverty, excessive wealth and environmental destruction.

In constructing African feminist theologies that will respond to these issues, we derive power from Africa's religious pluralism and diverse spiritualities - our Christian faith, African spiritualities, strengths in African religo-cultures - and African women's realities, experiences and intellectual resources.

From our Christian faith, we are inspired by the witness of the widow who demanded justice from the unjust judge (Luke 18: 1-8). However, we reject the systems of domination that force women to clamour and labour for justice rather than claiming it as a God-given right.

From our African spiritualities and religo-cultures, we learn of:

·       The sacredness of life and all creation;

·       The importance of our interconnectedness with each other and with mother earth;

·       The essence of relationships that are compassionate, respectful and interdependent; 

·       The values of ubuntu/botho, namely: sharing, community, reparations, redistributive and restorative justice, and the economy of enough; and

·       The need to redefine wealth as community and ecologically-centred such that wealth is shared equitably and used for the wellbeing of the community.

African women and churches acting for transformation

"…Now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation! We are putting no obstacle in anyone's way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships and calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labours, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience and kindness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God…"

(2 Corinthians 6)

                

The various spaces of African feminist theologies are the wellsprings from which we draw hope for the transformation of systemic injustice and resilience in the continuing struggle for life-giving economy.

Therefore, we commit ourselves to:

  • Ownership of the African Women's Statement on Poverty, Wealth and Ecology;
  • Continued critical study of socio-economic policies and structures - matters of life and death for African communities - especially from the perspective of women;
  • Reclaiming community decision-making and custodianship of Africa's productive means and resources;
  • Promotion of non-hierarchical models of relating and the care economy; and 
  • Continued resistance and search for life-giving alternatives to neoliberal economic globalisation.

We call on the churches to transform the fundamentalist, sexist and patriarchal discriminatory theology and practices by male church leaders/ theologians[1]

(Joel 2:28).

We enjoin churches, ecumenical organisations and partners to:

  • Share the African Women's Statement on Poverty, Wealth and Ecology at different spaces, levels and fora (e.g. the European Union-African Union Strategy Meeting in Accra, Ghana, the 52nd session of the United Nations (UN) Commission on the Status of Women, UN Economic and Social Council meetings); 
  • Engage communities and ensure women's representation and participation in all decision-making spaces in church and ecumenical processes, not least the AGAPE process on linking poverty, wealth and ecology;
  • Mobilise resources for communities and women to engage in discussions on concerns around poverty, wealth and ecology;
  • Deepen study and theological reflection on churches' complicity in neoliberal economic systems;
  • Develop a new paradigm within churches in respect of pastoral and ecumenical formation, ecclesial and 'pulpit language', and a new biblical hermeneutics that addresses the linkages between poverty, wealth and ecology;
  • Promote an ecumenical spirituality that draws from the richness of indigenous spiritualities and diverse faiths within the reality of religious pluralism; and
  • Ensure and strengthen spaces for churches in partnership with women's and other social movements to jointly formulate strategies to overcome poverty, redefine wealth, protect the environment, and to build alternatives to neoliberal economic globalisation.


[1] For example, the conduct of preferential and differential treatment for some male Bishops and theologians and the usurping of dialogical space without due consideration of full participation by all.