In a “Litany of Lamentation,” the women—all in positions of ecclesiastic authority—expressed grief that the sins of patriarchy and sexism continue to distort the world.
“We lament the suffering of women and girls perpetrated under the oppressive system of patriarchy upheld by religion and culture,” their lamentation reads. “Where is there justice today for women who daily live in fear that they are at risk of being raped by those they trust?”
The women leaders acknowledged that God shows us what justice is. “It happens when the church becomes what it is called to be,” their lamentation reads. “It happens when the church repudiates and works to end all forms of violence against women and girls – civic, religious, economic, political, and cultural.”
A message from the consultation, acknowledges the decisions of many churches in the African region to affirm women to some of the highest levels of ecclesial authority.
“To promote transnational networks of solidarity, women leaders from other vocational and geographical contexts were also present to share their lived experiences, work and witness,” the message reads. “The opening session on navigating power and authority constituted an important launching platform for the dialogue and analysis that followed in each of the focus areas of leadership.”
The women also discussed the importance of sharing power, authority and responsibility in ways that are just, transparent, collaborative, and conscious of intersections of race, class, culture, sexual diversity and gender.
“The programme included a reflection on the Africa we pray for and leaders were invited to share their dreams and prayers for Africa (and the world) informed by the areas of concern in their various contexts,” describes the message. “Overall, our collective hope is that the deep lessons and significant insights gained at this consultation, will inspire similar gatherings in other geographical contexts, as women continue to live out their vocations to lead with courage and compassion.”
Sharpening the leaders
The consultation, hosted by the World Council of Churches (WCC) in partnership with the Desmond Tutu Centre for Religion and Social Justice at the University of the Western Cape in South Africa and the All Africa Conference of Churches, was piloted in the African context with an eye toward offering a similar opportunity in other regions.
Rev. Nicole Ashwood, programme executive for WCC’s Just Community of Women and Men, said that the consultation was borne out of a desire to accompany women church leaders “amidst their contextual realities”. “Far too often, when women are in leadership, they are excluded from the main conversations, and we are seeking to include and amplify their voices,” she said. She noted that the issues raised will be brought to the WCC Assembly later this year.
Referring to the consultation, Prof. Dr Sarojini Nadar, director, Desmond Tutu Centre for Religion and Social Justice, said what was important for her was “to create solidarity amongst women who are often thrown into leadership but do not have the necessary tools to be able to navigate that power and authority that comes with leadership.”
Right Rev. Dr Vicentia Kgabe, bishop, Diocese of Lesotho, Anglican Church of Southern Africa, said the gathering, in her eyes, confirmed that women are capable of leading, and “now the issue is collaboration and accompaniment in general.” “Prioritising education in all its forms for women is important,” she said.
Right Rev. Dr Emily Onyango, assistant bishop, Anglican Diocese of Bondo, Kenya, said that women bishops in Africa can be hidden in their localities. “I think visibility is very important,” she said. “People cannot disguise this kind of ministry.”
Onyango added that she hopes there will be more gatherings of women leaders, and more interaction with others with the same call.
“It was very important for me to meet colleagues from Africa, and also partners having the same call,” she said. “It sharpens me, and I hope this kind of sharpening continues.”