Faith communities in Zimbabwe celebrate International Women’s Day 2020

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On this year’s International Women’s Day Celebrations, the Zimbabwe Gender and Faith Network (@GFaithZim #gender&faithzim) held a liturgy to amplify a call to action for gender justice. Congregants shared the message of gender equality, alongside pledges of their roles in achieving gender justice. The gathering spoke about gender equality by highlighting verses from the Bible to show that religion has always promoted gender justice and women’s empowerment. Attendees at the liturgy included people of faith, representatives from government bodies, NGOs and UN country officials.

The liturgy began with a sermon by Reverend Chiropafadzo Moyo of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Zimbabwe about the role of women in Zimbabwe in making a powerful impact in their private lives and in the public sphere. Reverend Moyo reminded us that the celebration of International Women’s Day was a celebration of gender and the rights that should belong to all of us, as we are all equal and made in the image of God.

Sharing the story of Priscilla from the New Testament, Reverend Moyo highlighted how Priscilla was a classic example of an empowered woman, working together with her husband as a tent maker. Other than being a business woman, Priscilla was also a seeker of knowledge of theology which then led her to teaching Apollo (Chapter 18 verse 26) about Christianity and Jesus Christ.

The lessons we can learn from the story of Priscilla can be summarised in three key points:

  1. Women’s empowerment and the important role of women in society.

As a businesswoman and teacher, Priscilla opened her home for her tent-making business, to the church for worship and even for guests. This showed Priscilla’s high position in society.

  1. The importance of women seeking knowledge.

Priscilla was a keen student of theology and was also the person who taught Apollo about Christianity and Jesus Christ.

  1. To be courageous and ready to sacrifice.

In order to achieve gender justice, we must be courageous as displayed by Priscilla who was preaching during a time of persecution.

The sermon concluded with Reverend Moyo calling on women to claim their rights by creating opportunities for themselves and to break the silence on issues of oppression and violence. She gave the example of herself who is the director of a business that she started. In Reverend Moyo’s own words, “Be the director of your own things, be business minded, get yourself involved in development and use the hands given to you by the Lord.”

These encouraging words was a reminder of the potential of women that society misses out on when there is no gender justice. An example is of church membership comprising mostly women, but the leadership still dominated by men. Reverend Moyo in her sermon stated that women can hold roles beyond that of a preacher’s wife and be a preacher herself.

Reverend Moyo’s concluding remarks in her sermon calls for action: “It is not enough to just talk about gender, we must take action in favour of gender. We must not just talk about justice, we must practice justice.

 

IWD message from UN Country Representative

The UN country representative of Zimbabwe delivered a message at the liturgy, sharing the progress made by Zimbabwe in gender equality and on the important role of churches in achieving gender justice. The UN representative noted that Zimbabwe has progressed in many aspects such as the introduction of a Domestic Violence Act, the establishment of a commission to monitor women and girls’ rights and the vast reduction of maternal mortality rates.

Recognising the important role of churches and faith leaders, the UN representative shared that the UN was expanding its involvement with the local churches. The UN Spotlight Initiative to eliminate violence against women and girls is working with churches and women’s groups as an entry point into the 5 provinces in Zimbabwe, in its work to tackle issues of sexual harassment and abuses in churches. The UN continues to support the great work being done by churches through more collaboration.

 

Beijing Declaration 12 critical areas of concern and a faith-based approach.

As communities of faith, religion continues to guide and inspire our work towards gender justice. The liturgy continued with a reading of 12 goals of gender justice with verses from the Bible to support these goals.

The 12 critical areas of concern from the Beijing Declaration:

  1. Women and poverty (Deuteronomy 15: 4 – 5)
  2. Education and training for women (Luke 10: 38 – 42)
  3. Women and health (Mark 5: 32 – 34)
  4. Violence against women (Ephesians 5:25)
  5. Women in armed conflict (1 Samuel 25: 32 – 35)
  6. Women and the economy (Proverbs 31: 13 – 18)
  7. Women and the environment (John 4: 10-11)
  8. Human rights of women (Galatians 3:28)
  9. Women and the media (John 4: 28 – 30)
  10. The girl child (1 Kings 5: 2 – 5)
  11. Women in power and decision making (2 Kings 22: 14-16)
  12. Institutional mechanism (John 8: 7 – 11)

This session of the liturgy displayed one of the ways to apply a faith-based approach when discussing gender equality and rights, by amplifying verses from the Bible that supported the 12 critical areas of concern as laid out in the Beijing Declaration. By doing this, faith leaders further emphasise that faith and women’s rights are compatible since religion calls for the upholding of women’s rights.

 

International Women’s Day pledge from male religious leaders

Our reality shows that gender inequality affects negatively both women and men. Therefore, the fight for gender justice must also involve men and boys. Male religious leaders from various Christian denominations led the way for male involvement in gender justice through a pledge that was read out by Reverend Dr Kenneth Mutata- General Secretary of the Zimbabwe Council of Churches

The pledge for gender equality by male leaders reflected a commitment to respecting the god given dignity of all people regardless of gender as we are created in the image of God and through Christ there is neither Jew nor gentile, male or female. This means also that all people should be accorded the same level of respect in places of worship.

On the issue of gender-based violence (GBV) the male leaders pledged to recognise that GBV has ravaged our communities and that there is an urgent need to move from talking about GBV to taking action against the problem. Male leaders pledged to commit to these issues not only on International Women’s Day, but on an ongoing basis in their faith communities.

 

International Women’s Day pledge from women

Women also recommitted their pledge to gender justice covering issues of women’s health, women’s economic empowerment and women’s political participation. This began with a pledge to raise children teaching them that their possibilities are not limited or determined by their gender.

On the issue of women’s health, women pledged to be the champions of women’s health to enhance physical, social and emotional well-being of women and girls. This also means pledging to continue advocating on the issue of GBV which affects all aspects of women’s health. Women pledge to continue providing support for women experiencing any forms of violence and to hold accountable the perpetrators of violence.

On women’s economic rights, women pledge to promote the education of women and girls. Providing equal access to education for women and girls is one of the key ways to improving the lives of individual families and to bring economic development to poorer communities.

Finally, on political participation, women pledged to step up by being active citizens in the country as voters, candidates and campaigners. The active political involvement of women as voters and candidates paves the way for increasing the number of women in leadership and decision-making roles which will allow more issues affecting women to be championed.

 

Faith, gender justice and advocacy

The International Women’s Day Liturgy organised by the Gender and  Faith Network (GFN)  Zimbabwe displayed one of the approaches in using faith voices as a platform for advocating gender issues. By amplifying the voices of faith leaders, the liturgy used the platform to highlight stories of female empowerment from the Bible, and of verses that call for gender equality from all aspects, such as the economy, GBV, education and health among others. Incorporating religious texts in the call for action spoke to a community of faith in a language that was close to their hearts and provided legitimacy for the cause of gender equality. In November 2019 the GFN in Zimbabwe launched an ongoing GBV campaign called Speak Out – No longer Silent on GBV to encourage people of faith to take positive and practical actions in addressing GBV.

The legitimacy of churches and their wide influence in local communities amongst both women and men was highlighted in this IWD event. Furthermore, the involvement of government representatives, UN country representatives and other NGOs supporting the work of churches further displays the indispensable role of churches in the road towards gender justice.

Faith-based approach (IWD liturgy), government institution (Zimbabwe gender commission) and international convention (Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action) – the combination of all three provided an all-encompassing approach in discussing gender equality on International Women’s Day. The liturgy was a powerful platform for advocacy and call to action as displayed by the pledges made by women, men, and institution representative present.

Posted by: Side by Side | Sunday, March 8th, 2020
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