, 28 January, 2020 / 4:26 AM
The importance of empowering women through formal education was a key highlight of last Friday’s interreligious conference that sought to educate women on making their voice heard within religious spaces and in society under the theme, “Religious Minority Rights and (Inter-)Religious Literacy from a Women’s perspective.”
Held at the Nairobi-based Catholic Institute of Higher learning owned by 22 Religious Orders and Societies of Apostolic life, Tangaza University College (TUC), the January 24 conference was preceded by a training of about 50 Muslim and Christian women at TUC’s Institute of Religious Dialogue and Islamic Studies (IRDIS).
Highlighting the important role of women at the conference, the Deputy General Secretary (DGS) of the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops (KCCB), Fr. Lucas Ongesa Manwa said women performed the important task of passing knowledge to the children.
“Education to the women is power to the family and to the society,” Fr. Ongesa told ACI Africa Friday, January 24 on the sidelines of the conference.
He explained, “As a woman and as a mother in the family, she has a responsibility of parenting the children. So, the moment you empower her with education she is able to give the same knowledge to the children and she is able to tell the meaning of education to her children.”
The Kenyan Priest further said that women have a great role in peace-building because “their role is very key in imparting values in the family and the society. If they play this key role with knowledge, then they become pillars of peace.”
Emphasizing the importance of women’s education, the cleric from Kenya’s Kisii diocese remarked, “If there are religions that are not promoting literacy of women, they are doing a lot of the disservice to the society.”
He cited the Scriptures to make his point saying, “This is what Christ commanded us to do; go out to the whole world and teach. Christ did not discriminate against the value of knowledge.”
It is for this reason that “the Catholic Church promotes an all-inclusive education,” the DSG of KCCB said during the Friday interview.
Speakers at the conference highlighted the importance of creating safe spaces for women within the Church and in the wider society where they could share issues that affect them.
“We have just talked about the importance of safe spaces for women,” Venerable Scholar Wayua, a Minister in the Anglican Church of Kenya explained and added that through such spaces, women are able to share on subjects such as children and community life, which affects them.
The Anglican Minister noted that women are ignorant of their rights and therefore, the need to organize forums that educate them and act as safe spaces for them to discuss matters that affect their daily lives.
“Some of them do not even know their rights,” she said in reference to women and added, “Through such forums, women will be able to come together to understand who they are, their position and also their rights as human beings.”
According to IRDIS Director Fr. Innocent Maganya, women are ready to play their role towards peace building and national cohesion in society but they are not given enough space.
“They might be ready to play the role but our societies and our religions are a reflection of the society which is a male-dominated society and does not give much space to women,” Fr. Maganya, a Missionary of Africa said, identifying this gap as the reason for convening the IRDIS conference.
“This event has so many objectives, one is bringing together people who otherwise would not sit together. This is already under the pedagogy of interreligious dialogue, people sitting together for a common thing,” the Kenya-based native of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) told ACI Africa.
Another objective of the daylong conference, Fr. Maganya said, was to give “women space within the different religious traditions because they have a great role to play in contributing towards peace building and national cohesion.”
Asked if women empowerment makes them domineering in society, he said that this is “a wrong perception” and explained, “Women in an African perspective have always had a say and women in an African perspective don't see their male counterparts as enemies but (in a relationship based on) complementarity. Actually, in certain settings men will not make decisions without consulting women.”
“The more women are given the right place within the society, the more society can also improve,” he told ACI Africa.
Also speaking to ACI Africa on the rights of women in society, Aisha Dafalla said that the ignorance on the part of women with regard to their civil and religious rights is a major concern that education can help resolve.
Referencing Muslim women and their respective rights, Ms. Dafalla, a Muslim, said, “We have a lot of Muslim ladies that do not understand the religion itself. In our Kadhi office, they are responsible for three things, marriage, inheritance, you know they deal with successions, there are some women, they are being denied, unknowingly, and they don't know.”
However, Dafalla expressed the hope that things will get better for women “because when we have religious leaders coming in, I think we will do a lot.”
ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.
Father Don Bosco Onyalla
Editor-in-Chief, ACI Africa