Support from church leaders critical for "gender justice integration"

Lutheran women take to the airwaves in Moshi, Tanzania, with a message that women's rights must be upheld. Photo: LWF/Tsion Alemayehu
Lutheran women take to the airwaves in Moshi, Tanzania, with a message that women's rights must be upheld. Photo: LWF/Tsion Alemayehu

(LWI) – Members of The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) women’s network in Africa have called on the leadership of the continent’s churches to facilitate the integration of gender justice in all ministries of the church.

Presenting their recommendations to church leaders at the 60th anniversary of the Lutheran communion in Africa, the Women in Church and Society (WICAS) coordinators also asked for greater support towards women’s participation in the 2017 Reformation anniversary and the LWF Twelfth Assembly. They spoke on behalf of women representatives at the conference in Moshi.

The WICAS coordinators requested the Lutheran Council in Africa to appoint African women theologians who are biblical scholars to prepare and present exegetical papers on the assembly theme, “Liberated by God’s Grace.”

Visibility and recognition of women’s contribution to the church is critical, especially in preparations for the 500th Reformation anniversary in 2017 and the assembly. The coordinators urged all church leaders and pastors to support the “Her-Stories” initiative documenting the contribution of women to the global Lutheran church. “Every story is special. This is a unique opportunity for cross-cultural exchange.”

The recommendations to the heads of churches at the Marangu anniversary and Africa Church Leadership Conference included calls for support for a strategic meeting for women in the region in 2016. The aim the forum is to enhance structures for women practicing theology, provide mentorship, offer continuous opportunities for capacity building and empowerment, and a platform to dialogue with the men.

Elaborating the women’s recommendations, Rev. Jeannette Ada Maina (Cameroon) said it was significant that an increasing number of churches in Africa are ordaining women. “However, recognition of the priesthood of all believers in leadership is not yet a reality for the majority of women theologians in Africa. Ordination is not automatic for women, despite attaining the same academic degrees as their male colleagues.”

Rev. Dr Magdalena Ya-Shalongo (Namibia), Deaconess Alice Mwaringa (Kenya), Rev. Solange Yumba Wa Nkulu (Democratic Republic of Congo), Colleen Cunnigham (South Africa) and Maina were among participants in a women church leaders’ workshop prior to the 20-24 May anniversary celebrations in Moshi.

Maina, who was among the first women to be ordained in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Cameroon in 2012, is the WICAS coordinator for the Lutheran Communion in Central and Western Africa.

“In a region where illiteracy is one of the major challenges, specific efforts are needed to encourage women to take up leadership roles,” added Maina, who serves on the LWF Council.

Women’s rights

Mwaringa, from Kenya Evangelical Lutheran Church and regional coordinator for the Lutheran Communion in Central and Eastern Africa, noted that women’s involvement in the African church goes back several decades but it is not often recognized. They have made important contributions to advocacy for the rights of women and girls, education and health issues, she explained.

Wa Nkulu, who studied theology at the Makumira University in Tanzania, expressed appreciation for the accompaniment from other churches in Africa and the global Lutheran communion. “The DRC church grew out of partnership and support from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania,” she added.

Solidarity, skills and advocacy are particularly important in the case of DRC, where women experience high levels of sexual and other forms of conflict-related violence. “Thanks to the opportunities available through WICAS, we can empower our women to speak out about rape and other forms of abuse,” Wa Nkulu added.

Accompanying women theologians

Ya-Shalongo is a member of the women theologians working group that supports the Lutheran Communion in Southern Africa (LUCSA) regional coordination work. She elaborated the LWF “Women on the move: from Wittenberg to Windhoek, global initiative, aimed at encouraging women’s participation in the Reformation anniversary and assembly, which will be hosted by the three Lutheran churches in Namibia.

Ya-Shalongo noted the network is an important platform to uplift and develop women’s theological reflections in the region.

“We look forward to welcoming the global Lutheran communion to Windhoek in May 2017. We will mobilize and encourage the women to be actively involved in this historic events taking place in our country,” she added.

Cunningham, a member of the LWF Council and Meeting of Officers, emphasized the need to institutionalize a mentorship process in the region to accompany women who are nominated to the LWF Council and as delegates to the assembly.
 

Read the report Journeying Together: LWF communion in Africa 1955-2015 detailing 60 years of Lutheran work in Africa.

 

Find out more about Marangu 2015