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Africanwomenculture: ISSUES OF GENDER


Africanwomenculture: ISSUES OF GENDER

The feminist highlighting of the maleness of God took back seat but African women still saw through the power that men derived by associating masculinity with God. It was necessary to exhibit the feminine face of God and to distance God from the violence against women that has become endemic in man-woman relations in Africa. God had to be placed beyond gender. Contrary to what Daly says, Oduyoye insists "God is male does not make the male God" no human being has a right to play God in another's life except as agent of love, compassion justice and empowerment as demanded by God. Gender is a human, social construct and should not be made to apply to God. Men must not continue to co-opt God into this hierarchy of being by reading into the scripture an order of male over female as ordained by God. African women took refuge in the existence in versions of African Traditional Religion in which the creator is imaged as a woman.

The gendered nature of theology is exhibited not only in the male image of God but in the doctrine concerning the nature of the human being traditionally designated as "the doctrine of man" in English. Women have to sing "Stand up O men of God". Here too African languages assuaged the fears of women that they have become invisible as most African languages have words that mean humanity and no-gender specific pronouns. This however did not prevent the church from being operated as a gendered Institution with men as owners and women as the clients.

The Church's order and liturgy came under scrutiny and the issue of participation as in the Pauline theology of koinonia was lifted up by women. In the Bible study that convoked African women theologians in 1989 Teresa Okure comments on the healing of Jairus daughter as follows "Today, we are not to be satisfied simply with being healed. We are to join the discipled in being healers, proclaiming, the reign of God has come, that we have touched that reign, become part of it, and have been empowered by God to become its heralds (Oduyoye & Kanyoro 1990).

Musimbi Kanyoro the first co-ordinator of the Circle writing on "God calls to Ministry: An Inclusive Hospitably" used the Theological constructs of Koinonia, our common baptism and the Pentecost experience. (Kanyoro & Njoroge 1996). The two articles (Okure & Musimbi) were selected by Sr. Mary John Mananzan as presenting what African women theologians say on the subject of "To be fully human". The Circle followed Accra with studies on the reign of God and out of efforts in West Africa. Elizabeth Amoah edited the Circle book Where God Reigns.

In Talitha qumi (1990) one finds the gender constraint evident and critiqued in all the contributions. The introductory article "The search for a two-winged theology" sets the agenda and the tone of participated. Power is to be jointly utilized according to charisma and not directed by biological determinism. The Bible studies in this book demonstrate the need to pay attention to context and to culture as well as the need to become sensitive to gender when dealing with religion and culture and by extension to theological construction. The papers and the poems all highlight the role of gender in theology as traditionally curbing women's initiative. The women give indicators of how to find scriptural resources to resist this dehumanization of women.

Seven years later the Circle met in Nairobi as mentioned above. One of the books that came out of the papers delivered is Talitha Cum! Theologies of African Women edited by Naymbura J. Njoroge and Musa W. Dube (Cluster 2001), Again "Little Girl, Get Up" was used as introduction and Njoroge in the Preface writes "Together we will soil our hands in our efforts to achieve the goal of dignity, liberation and fullness of life in Africa". 

Nyambura highlights in addition to Talitha Cum! "Eph'phatha" "Be opened (Mark 7:31-35). Silence is no longer an option where women theologians are concerned. Women's 'silence' was not voiceless their lives spoke volumes but now their voices are heard and as Nyambura says "they are calling churches to listen and engage in conversation with African women. (It is interesting to note that neither Nyambura nor Dube were at Accra. Though the former was at Ibadan, they represent the widening of the Circle and study increase of women with doctorates in the theological field in its membership). Theology in Africa calls for acknowledging the role of gender in theology and for eliminating its debilitating effects so that the church might be the church. Between Talitha (1990) and Talitha (2001) several researches have highlighted issues of gendered theological reflections have been written on them, hospitality, violence, HIV/AIDS, spirituality of resistance and transformation and a deepening of the hermeneutics of culture as well as biblical hermeneutics. That women are absent from the pages of our tunes on the history of Christianity is evident. This denial of women's agency has to be corrected and a beginning has been made in Her Stories.

Unravelling the gender component of Christian theology began with studies of life situations and of 'story' telling it was, if you like a phenomenological approach. Lately the analyzing and theolozing from the stories have led to tentative steps towards theorizing an example is what Musimbi describe as "engendered communal theology". The dilemma posed by culture and religion, structures that are both positive and negative in their utilization of gender is an open field for study. Discussing "Gender as a concept in theological analysis" Musimbi has this to say, "Theological engagement with gender issues seeks to expose harm and injustices that are in society and are extended to scripture and the teachings and practices of church culture".

Gender in theology faces the web of oppression as noted above and is not limited to power relations between women and men. She highlights women's emphasis on anthropology with special reference to the establishment of the full humanity of women. Gender in theology critiques the dualistic thinking that opposes body to soul material to spiritual and assigns whatever in the pair is deemed inferior to be feminine. In African women's theology, theological analysis is linked to cultural hermeneutics. A concept that has come from the identification by African women of gender as operating in both culture and theology.

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