Tanzanian church hosts regional gender justice resource hub

Rev. Dr Angela Olotu, Dean of the theology faculty of the Tumaini University Makumira in northern Tanzania. Photo: Erick Adolph/ELCT
Rev. Dr Angela Olotu, Dean of the theology faculty of the Tumaini University Makumira in northern Tanzania. Photo: Erick Adolph/ELCT

Legacy of Madagascan theologian Hélène Ralivao continues through launch of research and resource development fund

(LWI) - The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) sees theological education as a way to promote systemic change for greater gender justice in the church and in society. That principle was at the heart of the launch, in October, of the Resource Coordination hub of the Hélène Ralivao Fund, dedicated to women’s empowerment in Africa and beyond.

The Fund, set up in memory of the pioneering Madagascan theologian who was murdered in February 2020, has “two wings,” explained Rev. Chad Rimmer, LWF’s Program Executive for Identity, Communion and Formation. The first is a Scholarship program which was launched earlier this year and has already provided study grants for ten women pursuing doctoral or masters’ studies in theology and in leadership development in various African countries.

The second is the Research and Resource Coordination hub, Rimmer continued, which is designed “to serve women and men in Africa and beyond” through courses, seminars and the publication of materials on developing gender justice work within different local contexts. This wing will be coordinated by the Tumaini University Makumira, the university of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania (ELCT).

It is our hope that the program will promote structural change, building capacity to advance women’s rights.
Rev. Dr Angela Olotu, Dean of the theology faculty of the Tumaini University Makumira in northern Tanzania

Speaking at the online launch, the coordinator and Dean of the university’s theology faculty, Rev. Dr Angela Olotu, explained that the initial phase of the program will run for three years starting in 2022. It will offer twice yearly seminars for some 30 participants, consisting of two weeks of tuition, followed by three months of research, culminating in the publication of material to be shared with the wider LWF communion of churches.

In a context where the majority of church leaders in Africa are men, Olotu said, “it is our hope that the program will promote structural change, building capacity to advance women’s rights” on the continent and beyond. Seminars will be targeted especially at women aspiring to different levels of church leadership and are designed to train women and men to become trainers themselves in the practical application of gender justice principles.

Also speaking at the launch was Rev. Patricia Jabedu from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Zimbabwe, a recipient of one of the first scholarships offered by the Hélène Ralivao Fund. She noted that she grew up in a rural area and endured similar challenges to those faced by the Madagascan theologian, who dedicated her life to the empowerment of women in Africa and around the global communion of churches.

Ralivao “our foremother in the faith”

Jabedu spoke about the many barriers facing girls and women in her region, from child marriage and a lack of educational opportunities, to unjust inheritance laws and a lack of leadership positions in church and in society. Studying for a course on project management, monitoring and evaluation in the context of gender justice, she said, “is opening my eyes and my mind to evaluate my own church and also my own household, how we bring up our own children.”

Ms Eva Christina Nilsson, director of LWF’s Department for Theology, Mission and Justice, emphasized the vital work of the Héléne Ralivao Fund in “embracing and confirming the gifts and calling of all people in the church.” As we remember many of our forefathers in the faith, she said, “it is so important that she [Ralivao] can now serve as a foremother who inspires women and men in our churches” to continue the work that she began. The new fund, she added, has been made possible by LWF’s member churches “who heard the cry for greater gender justice and the need to support women in theology and leadership.”

Former LWF General Secretary Rev. Dr Martin Junge also praised the cooperation of all those involved in launching the new fund, which will build on existing scholarships already provided by the LWF. “We have high expectations,” he said, that the research and resource development work at Tumaini University Makumira “will become a hub where strong theology is developed and women are equipped for leadership in church and in society.”

LWF/P. Hitchen