The general secretary of a group that represents Anglican churches in Africa says a partnership to support micro-lending to African women could be an important way to advance gender justice on the continent.
Canon Grace Kaiso, general secretary of the Council of Anglican Provinces of Africa (CAPA), and Elizabeth Wanjiku Gichovi, CAPA’s communications and finance director, were at the Anglican Church of Canada’s national office Thursday, November 28 to give a presentation to staff on CAPA’s work and take questions.
Asked by a staff person with the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund (PWRDF) what CAPA had been doing to advance gender justice in Africa, Kaiso spoke of the group’s advocacy in a number of areas, including equal employment opportunity, domestic violence and female circumcision. In one area in particular—increasing women’s access to credit and other economic resources—Kaiso said CAPA was under-equipped. But, he added that partnering with the Canadian church or PWRDF, the Anglican Church of Canada’s relief and development agency, could prove especially beneficial.
“We have made progress in that area, because at least now, more and more women are getting organized,” he said. “Now, we as CAPA have a deficit in that area. In fact, if your organization can help, we would appreciate to partner in this area, because you have the skills as well.”
Microfinance—providing credit to enable individuals to start their own businesses—is one of the focuses of PWRDF’s Africa Program.
Many of the small-time female entrepreneurs have the potential to grow, he said, but because of the difficulty they face accessing credit, “they continue to function at a very, very low level.”
However, Kaiso said, the main purpose of the two-week tour of Canada, during which they met Anglican and ecumenical leaders in seven dioceses and the national office, as well as officials from Global Affairs Canada, was not to sign partnership agreements, but rather to strengthen existing relationships.
“Our visit is meant to address, to consolidate, our partnership, by us learning and experiencing church life here—what is going well, and where the challenges are so we can pray for one another well,” he said. “It’s not as if we’re saying now because of this visit, this and that [partnership] is going to emerge. I think what is going to emerge is this strengthened sense of fellowship and commitment to one another in sharing God’s mission.”
The Anglican Church of Canada currently supports CAPA with an annual grant of $10,000.
Gender justice is one of a number of issues CAPA has been dealing with in its ministry, Kaiso and Gicovi said. Among the organization’s key programs, they said, are a training and orientation program for new bishops; the Umoja process, which, through Bible study, mobilizes individuals and congregations to contribute to their communities; and the encouragement of conservation-oriented farming techniques.
Asked what CAPA was doing to encourage interfaith dialogue, Kaiso replied that the organization encouraged its member provinces to be active in inter-religious councils or “platforms” meant to allow collaboration and communication between religious groups—and that these groups have had some success in defusing religious tension. Last year, in Zanzibar, a predominantly Muslim part of Tanzania, a Lutheran group wanting to build a church ran into opposition from radical Muslims in the area, he said. In the end, the Muslims were convinced of the Lutherans’ right to build a church by a Muslim imam. Such collaboration would not have been possible without the existence of an interfaith religious platform in the area, he said.
The main challenges facing African churches, Kaiso said, are urbanization, which has caused a breakdown of traditional social networks and support systems; a lack of financial sustainability; political instability; political corruption; and encouraging true discipleship.
Growing government corruption, he said, has made life more difficult for the people of Africa, and for the church, in its attempts at advocacy.
“The failure of the mediating institutions—I call them mediating institutions, parliament, judiciary, security agencies—the fact that they have narrowed their agenda to serve regimes instead of serving the broader national interests has complicated the church’s response,” he said. “You want to engage with parliament, but parliament is compromised. You want to engage with security agencies, but they are compromised.”
Governments in Africa, he said, are increasingly serving individuals or parties in power, not the people—who are at times violently repressed for expressing their views.
“You find that where dialogue would have worked, tear gas is what comes,” he said. “People must protest before government takes note, and before they listen they will bring tear gas.”
Asked to consider the effects of European colonialism on Indigenous people in Africa compared to those in Canada, Kaiso said that in both cases, colonialism was “probably similar, in the sense that it was disempowering of the natives…it was dehumanizing, it interfered in their natural progression in terms of the cultural development of those people.”
An important difference, however, is that in Africa the colonized eventually became independent of the colonial powers, he said.
“In Africa, for instance, once there was independence, it meant that the leadership was actually in the hands of local people,” he said. “It is different here, of course, because the colonization process in some ways has not ended…The [Indigenous] people don’t feel that they have the space to express themselves and who they are, and their cultural gifts have not been received, you know, in a way that enriches the whole country.”