If the Christian Churches in Africa (and worldwide!) were emptied of women today, there would not be much left because they are very present and committed.
By Juste Hlannon in La Croix, June 11, 2020 “It’s women who keep the Church alive in Africa”
Methodist pastor and feminist theologian says despite being the backbone of the Church, women are still denied decision-making positions.
Pastor Fidèle Fifamè Houssou Gandonou.
Fidèle Fifamè Houssou Gandonou has been a pastor in the Protestant Methodist Church of Benin (EPMB) in Western Africa since 1988.
The 46-year-old native of Cotonou, the country’s largest city, completed a doctorate in theology in 2014 at the Protestant University of Central Africa in Yaounde (Cameroon).
She wrote her doctoral thesis on feminist ethics.
And that’s just one of the courses she currently teaches at the Protestant University of West Africa (Upao-Porto-Novo).
Pastor Gandonou told La Croix Africa‘s Juste Hlannon that women are the backbone of Christianity on the vast African continent.
La Croix Africa: How do you see the place of Christian women in African society today?
Pastor Gandonou: In the Church, women as well as men have been called to mission.
But, among adults, women are in the majority and more active in choirs, prayer groups, evangelization, diaconia, cleaning, education, care and so forth.
Women take on nearly 80% of the tasks in the Church. In other words, they are the ones who keep the Church alive in Africa.
The functioning of its various structures largely depends on the rhythm of women.
If the Christian Churches in Africa were emptied of women today, there would not be much left because they are very present and committed.
In some churches, such as mine, the Protestant Methodist Church of Benin (EPMB) for example, they do not fail to shine by their excellence as leaders of Christian communities or institutions and, sometimes, even better than men.
I will simply say, the Church in Africa is women. And yet, they generally do not hold decision-making positions and are sometimes poorly represented in the official Church ceremonies.
What challenges do you think African Christian women face today?
Even today, the Church still suffers from the ways in which men and women collaborate in its management, supervision and leadership, despite the recognition of the usefulness of women.
Sometimes it comes as a huge shock to find oneself in meetings where female representation is totally absent or insignificant.
On platforms where the development of the Church is discussed, it is often the men who take the floor to share their experiences.
The way women are viewed is sometimes even corroborated by a certain interpretation of the Bible which gives credence to the idea of the congenital inferiority of women in relation to men.
The integral and holistic development to which the Church aspires can only be possible if women, like men, participate fully in the management of the Church.
But, in fact, this condescending point of view is only a reflection of the manner in which African women are viewed in general.
The situation of women in Africa is not very good.
Christian women are not spared from social and religious prejudices that generate a certain inferiority complex and hinder the complete realization of their mission.
Unfortunately, women in our society are still seen and denied in relation to men.
First of all, she is the daughter of…, then the wife of…, and then the mother of… ; she only has an identity in relation to men.
This condition is experienced as a source of oppression, silencing, sexual mutilation and violence.
Furthermore, it leads to disharmony in the relationship between man and woman and, above all, in the visibility of the mission of women within the Church.
In your 2016 book “The Ethical Foundations of Feminism” [Fondements éthiques du féminisme] you propose ethical values as the foundations of feminism. What are these values?
In affirming the need for ethical foundations for feminism, our objective was to counter preconceived ideas that reduce feminism to a subversive discourse that questions the natural relationship between men and women.
We believe, in fact, that the demands of the feminist movement have an ethical foundation, and that the cause of women is only one aspect of the struggle against injustice for equity, justice and equality, a struggle that is compatible with the Gospel.
To this end, Letty Russell in Human Liberation in a Feminist Perspective — A Theology (1974), refocuses the debate of the feminist struggle around the ethics of the subject.
The values of equality, freedom, dignity and responsibility are those without which humanity loses all meaning.
Feminism is a movement that reminds us that these axiological bases, which run through the entire Bible, must be shared by all.
Feminism wants women, like men, to be active and respected subjects in society.
This inevitably leads to discourse and action that restore to women the human dignity that has been denied them.