- Lutheran theologians from all over Western Africa in an Abuja seminar agreed that African women need to break the taboos of talking about sex in order to stop the AIDS pandemic from spreading further. The relatively liberal Christian minority church emphasises on empowering women to take greater control of their sexuality and family life.
- Unless we women break the African taboos of talking about sex, we and our children will keep dying, especially from HIV/AIDS, said Reverend Marie Barnett, sub-regional coordinator for the Lutheran World Federation (LWF). Ms Barnett, who also heads an LWF programme for women in church and society, was speaking at a theological seminar for the Lutheran Communion in Western Africa (LUCWA) in Abuja, Nigeria.
Under the theme, "Ethical Challenges Affecting African Women," about 20 women theologians and other women leaders from Lutheran churches in Cameroon, Liberia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Togo gathered to name, analyse and strategise on the critical ethical issues that they face in their churches, families and societies.
- As women we generally have not had a safe space to share and dialogue about these concerns, said Ms Barnett, herself a pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Sierra Leone, and member of the LWF Executive Committee as chairperson of the Programme Committee for World Service.
In the course of the recent three-day meeting, the women frankly named the critical issues, including many forms of violence against women, and how in adultery, rape, and bearing children out of marriage it is the women who are stigmatized and blamed. It is generally perceived that "the man is always right, and the woman wrong," participants said.
When a woman is widowed, it was observed, not only do churches and society fail to care for her needs, but in some of the churches, widows are actually required to give up their church positions, it was made known at the seminar. The Lutheran Church, one of the first to admit women priests, in theory does not accept such norms.
The women representatives from Lutheran churches in West Africa however said blatant gender inequality and discrimination in patriarchal societies were some of the main reasons why these practices continue.
- These concerns must be challenged, including by confronting male church leaders, the women insisted. They stressed the need for assertive, diplomatic efforts to convince churches that do not yet ordain women to do so, and to enable more women pursue theological education.
In their reflection on biblical texts in which Jesus challenged various forms of stigma and crossed boundaries to relate to women, it became clear to the West African Lutheran women that "it is Jesus Christ who transforms and empowers African women today to press for change in harmful cultural practices. Culture cannot be the last word," the women asserted.
The LUCWA sub-region comprises 12 Lutheran churches, nine of which are LWF member churches. Membership in the body is drawn from churches in Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Chad, Congo Brazzaville, Ghana, Liberia, Nigeria, Senegal and Sierra Leone. The LUCWA gathering was followed by a larger seminar of the Lutheran Church of Nigeria Women Fellowship, in which these same concerns were strongly affirmed.
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