If women will not support each other to step up to the pulpit or become engaged in politics, then gender equality will not be a priority issue for leaders both in the church and in government, says Eppie Marecheau, Christian educator and president of the Christian Council for Caribbean Women. In July, she participated in a seminar organized by the Pan African Women’s Ecumenical Empowerment Network (PAWEEN), a project of the Ecumenical Theological Education department of the World Council of Churches (WCC), at the WCC's Ecumenical Institute Bossey. The following interview is part of a series featuring insights by some of the participants.
Eppie Marecheau, born and raised in the Caribbean island of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, currently resides in the United States. She is the president of the Christian Council for Caribbean Women, an advocacy organization of the Gospel Torch Ministry. She received a master’s degree from Regent University, in practical theology (interdisciplinary studies), and has taught discipleship classes for more than ten years at the World Bank / International Finance Corporation groups in Washington, DC. She is assistant to the executive director of the Council for Affordable and Rural Housing. Currently, she serves as general secretary of the Saint Vincent and the Grenadines Nationals Association of Washington, DC; the spiritual growth coordinator of the United Methodist Women of the Greater Washington District; and a certified lay speaker within the United Methodist Church. She is a member of the Emory United Methodist Church, Washington, DC.
Q: Have you experienced solidarity from other women of African descent in your life path? How has it empowered you to contribute to the ecumenical movement and/or to sustainable development?
I grew up Catholic in the Caribbean island of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, but I loved attending the Methodist church with my mother. She was part of a group called the Methodist Women’s League and even as a young girl I was deeply moved by their prayers and their stories of woundedness.
I was forbidden to listen to these stories, but I found creative ways to listen in. These women, coupled with my own experiences of woundedness empowered me – their strength, their fortitude, their solidarity, their faith. I vowed then to never let myself be wounded by anyone (that didn’t work), and to do everything within my power to help hurting women and girls.
Everything I did was geared in some way to empower other Pan African women: Bible studies, small group discussions, one-on-one storytelling and prayers. My call to ministry was rooted in ecumenism, both in its foundation and its practice. Caribbean women in the diaspora and at home – from all denominations and agencies willingly joined with me and offered their support and commitment to work towards eliminating cycles of woundedness.
I have always experienced solidarity from other women of African descent, but there are some areas in which much work has to be done: women’s participation in politics and women preachers in the church. We are in the process of examining issues of immigration and its effects on family structures as well as immigrants adjusting to a new culture and society. As we review the issues we will be working on Sustainable Development Goals that are relevant and effective for our Pan African women and girls.
Q: What learning are you taking away from the PAWEEN seminar?
The importance of developing an agenda that is inextricably linked to justice and peace, to compile our data with clear objectives in a comprehensive way that articulates our needs and proposed solutions, so that we can be taken seriously as we seek partnerships and funding.
The root of woundedness among Caribbean women can be traced all the way to the days of slavery on the plantations where women, who did most of the work, were able to find solace in their huts and in their hearts through their prayers – even to today. As Pan African women we are charged and encouraged to lift our hearts and voices in an effort to create transformation in legislative and political arenas as we advocate for the eradication of these cycles of pain.
We must tell our stories; therefore we are charged to provide safe spaces and places for our storytellers. The church and community should play an integral part in the education and leadership training of our Pan African women and youth.
What are your intentions for empowering other Pan African women in the future? How will you follow up on this seminar?
We will be working through embassies and agencies of Caribbean governments within the diaspora and in the Caribbean to address in particular, issues of immigration and how it affects the family structure when the mother is absent from the home. I plan to develop partnerships with various Caribbean organizations so that we can create forums that address issues that are relevant and meaningful to women of African descent: a place where speaking with an “accent” is not a problem and where women feel safe to tell their stories.
The Christian Council for Caribbean Women will put in place its LACES program (Leadership Strategies, Advocacy, Create forums for discussions and storytelling, Equity and justice sessions, Self-renewal and reconciliation). The ultimate goal is for the empowerment of women through equipping and educating them on self-worth, self-confidence, healing, forgiveness, while being nurtured by the solidarity of liberated Pan African women.
Are there areas where you still see a special need for solidarity with women of African descent?
Yes, there is still much work to do in the areas of politics and women’s role as preachers in the church. On any given Sunday, in any church, women are the dominant attendees. However, women have complained about not being given opportunity to preach and in some cases to participate in the leadership of the church. But, as I have spoken with several Caribbean women, I have been surprised that many of them do not support women in the pulpit or women’s participation in politics.
We have our work cut out for us. If women will not support each other in these areas then gender equality will not be a priority issue for leaders both in the church and in government.
What is the specific role of churches and of the Christian faith in empowering Pan African women?
Churches need to create platforms for theological education and training for Pan African women and youth. They must recognize the significance and contributions of Pan African women and encourage expression of their God-given gifts to the church, including preaching and other areas of leadership.
As a church we are called to seek after the well-being of Pan African women through advocacy for justice and peace.
The Caribbean Conference of Churches (CCC) should maintain its mandate to take initiatives in the areas of theology and Christian education, holistic development, youth and women's concerns, family life, human rights, and communications. The CCC must address “uprootedness” as persons move from one territory to another in search of work and a better life; violence against women, and endemic poverty.
The churches should set Sustainable Development Goals for their work, comparable to the ones formulated by the international community under the leadership of the United Nations, to address issues that are specific to Pan African Women. In general, we need the church to boldly affirm Pan African Women.
Recordings of several panels at the PAWEEN seminar are available on the WCC YouTube channel