Women from churches across Africa have gathered in Kenya to focus on the achievements, challenges and opportunities of women's ministry in African churches over the past 30 years, as well as their responses to the HIV and AIDS pandemic. These women church leaders from the region are participating in an ecumenical conference from 19 to 24 June in Limuru.
The conference is hosted by the St Paul’s University chapter of the Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians, and it is sponsored by the Ecumenical HIV and AIDS Initiative in Africa (EHAIA), a project of the World Council of Churches, by ICCO Kerk in Actie in the Netherlands and the St Augustine's Foundation in the UK.
The event brings together some sixty women church leaders from Zambia, Malawi, Swaziland, Ghana, Uganda, Eritrea, Rwanda, Tanzania, Cameroon, Kenya and the Netherlands.
Dr Esther Mombo, Anglican theologian from Kenya and a professor at St Paul’s University, called the conference a “celebration of women's ministry”.
“We are celebrating women leaders in African churches, their empowerment through theological training and their critique of power. Yet we analyze challenges and opportunities that came with women's ordination in the 1980s, coinciding with early diagnoses of HIV and AIDS,” said Mombo.
“The link between women's ministry and HIV and AIDS is significant, as it is a magnifying glass for issues in society related to power, gender-based violence and religious teaching on sexuality,” she said.
“These are issues that the church has not fully confronted. At this conference we want to declare that these issues have led many women to grief,” Mombo added.
Omega Bula of the United Church of Zambia spoke about the “brokenness of human life and community” as addressed by African women in the ecumenical movement.
Citing examples of work done by the African churches and ecumenical organizations on HIV and AIDS and violence against women, Bula stressed the importance of “transforming masculinity”. This concept, she said, “engages men in the struggles for gender justice, without which all actions to end gender-based violence and the rapid spread of HIV and AIDS are futile.”
She paid a tribute to African women's contributions to the ecumenical movement, which she said, focus on “analyzing justice issues by questioning from a faith-based understanding all systems, institutions, structures, practices, policies and interpretations that support the legitimization of unjust practices central to the oppression of women”.
Bishop Catherine Mutua of the Methodist Church in Kenya shared that the programme on HIV and AIDS in her Synod serves more than 500 orphans and some 800 HIV-positive people. “A community-based project, our programme works with health workers,” she explained.
“We encourage communities to connect with people suffering from HIV and AIDS, challenging the stigma and association of the disease with immorality and prostitution,” she said.
Mutua added that “as women, we understand what it means to embrace and love a child who goes through the pain of losing his or her parents to HIV. I believe God has blessed women with a strength for compassion, which is the essence of women's ministry in the churches.”
Since 2002, EHAIA has partnered with a number of women theologians for its work on HIV and AIDS in Africa. Through such partnerships, capacity-building programmes and production of resources and materials, the EHAIA helps churches to become “HIV and AIDS competent”.
More information on Ecumenical HIV and AIDS Initiative in Africa
WCC programme on Women in Church and Society
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