Advertisement

Church Leaders in Africa Call for Strengthening of Gains Women Made Before COVID-19 Advent

A poster announcing the March 8 webinar organized by the All African Council of Churches (AACC)

The outbreak of COVID-19 and the subsequent socio-economic plunge has undone the gains that were made to empower women, Church leaders at the Monday, March 8 All African Council of Churches (AACC) event have observed.

In their virtual celebration of the International Women’s Day (IWD) on March 8, the Church leaders called on stakeholders, including religious leaders, cultural and government leaders, to speak up and to act in order to reverse the harm they said has been done against women especially in African countries during the pandemic.

“As we celebrate this day, the deadly COVID-19 pandemic has retrogressed the pace of African countries’ efforts toward socio-economic development,” Likico Paula, the Youth Coordinator of Uganda Joint Christian Council (UJCC), said in a statement that was shared with ACI Africa following the event.

In her keynote address at the event, Ms. Paula added, “The fight towards achieving a gender equal society in Africa was steadily progressing until the outbreak of the deadly COVID-19 pandemic. For many years, women and the girl-child have faced several life-denying challenges and these have further been worsening by COVID-19 pandemic.”

Held under the theme, “Women in Leadership: Achieving an Equal Future in a Covid-19 World”, the virtual event brought together faith-based leaders for consultation on the topic, “the Role of Religion in Enhancing Women’s Full Participation in Leadership, and Eliminating all Forms of Gender-based Violence in a COVID-19 World.”

Advertisement

In her presentation, Ms. Paula observed that women are still facing “complex and interrelated challenges” during the COVID-19 pandemic, despite the efforts by stakeholders including government officials, religious leaders and others, to combat the effects of the pandemic.

The UJCC Youth Coordinator noted that women’s financial independence had been hindered by unequally distributed domestic burdens and low decision-making power at home.

Women, she said, have once again been reduced to the humbling domestic chores and caregiving during the pandemic.

“The pandemic has increased girls’ and young women’s duties caring for the elderly and ill family members, as well as for siblings who are out of school,” Ms. Paula said.

Additionally, she said, economic stress on families due to the outbreak has put women and girls at greater risk of exploitation, child labor and gender-based violence.

More in Africa

She further reported that most governments seem to have diverted their resources from routine health services to fight against COVID-19.

This diversion of resources, she went on to say, has further reduced the already limited access of many girls and women to health services. The religious leaders, in their different capacities and powers, seem to have not done enough to help women and girls overcome these challenges associated with the pandemic.

Ms. Paula observed with concern that women are not sufficiently integrated into decision-making spaces on crisis management, despite being on the front lines of operational management during the crisis, as health workers, mothers or heads of families.

The youth coordinator provided the example of Senegal noting that in the West African country, only five of the 30 members of the COVID-19 monitoring committee are women.

“I recommend that governments and religious leaders take measures to ensure that women are well represented and participate effectively in decision-making spaces on crisis management, for example by establishing quotas for women when selecting members of decision-making bodies,” Ms. Paula says in her March 8 report shared with ACI Africa. 

Advertisement

Organizers of the event noted that although efforts have been made to close gender gaps, leadership positions in Africa are still dominated by men in religious, political and economic spheres.

“Even when women have employment opportunities, patriarchal social norms and tradition in some societies dictate that a career be secondary to a woman's primary place as a housewife,” AACC leadership says in a statement shared with ACI Africa ahead of the March 8 event.

In the statement, the faith-based leaders add, “Although there are several biblical foundations for gender justice, some biblical texts, which subordinate women to man and forbid women from speaking in public, continue to be invoked to reinforce gender disparity in patriarchal societies where women do not lead men.”

According to the representatives of Christian leaders in Africa, gender disparities do not only restrain women from exploiting their God-given potential to serve in public and private spaces, but also accelerate acts of violence against women and girls.

To strengthen the position of women in the society, which is under threat owing to COVID-19, Ms. Paula urged leaders in all spheres of life to speak up for women.

(Story continues below)

“The stakeholders, including religious leaders, cultural and government leaders are supposed to speak up and implement policies and laws that protect women and promote their inclusion in leadership in the society and treat them as equals that are committed to the welfare of all,” she said.

The youth leader added, “In general, women are to be protected in all situations be it war or pandemic; the pandemic should not make women less human; women should equally assume their roles as agenda setters and demand to be listened to and should be guarded against GBV (Gender-based Violence).”

“Now that the fight against gender inequality has been slowed down by the pandemic and women are facing all kinds of inhuman challenges, the stakeholders, most especially the religious leaders, cultural leaders, government officials and others should collaborate and make intentional and concerted efforts towards supporting women to overpower the monster they are facing during the pandemic,” she further said.

In his opening remarks at the event, the General Secretary of AACC, Rev. Dr. Fidon Mwombeki, challenged both genders to work in solidarity to overcome obstacles to women empowerment. 

In a statement shared with ACI Africa, Rev. Mwombeki said that it is only through working together that men and women will be able to overcome those within their ranks who might still harbor retrogressive thoughts on the issue of women empowerment. 

Rev. Mwombeki who is the Director of the Department for Mission and Development (DMD) at The Lutheran World Federation (LWF), however, observed that there is cause for celebration over the milestones, which women in Africa have so far achieved.

He said that it was not so long ago that all leaders in the world were men, as well as all Ministers of defense. This, he said, had seen a huge change. 

Rev. Mwombeki added that in the church, enormous changes have taken place in bringing women into leadership, and the mindset that was against women serving in previously men-only roles is now in the past.