Thursday, November 15, 2012

One Small Step for Women

There are so many things I would like to see change in this world, so many areas where the Kingdom of God has yet to be fully realized. As readers of this blog know, I am passionate about affirming the full equality of women and men in this world. I grieve over the many ways in which women are still excluded, marginalized, treated as inferior and silenced. Progress often seems painfully slow, but slow progress is still progress. I was reminded of this when I read a report from an acquaintance of my wife and I, who serves with her husband in training local health care workers in Kenya. Recently she made a trip to a remote village to celebrate the opening of a new medical dispensary.

We arrived for the first big meeting of the community to celebrate the new dispensary and to see how things were going. As is the custom the men sat under the community tree. It is called the tree of men. It is where the real business of the community happens. The women sat in a group separated and to the side. In Rendele culture women would never talk or even sit in such a meeting. Only men are allowed under the “tree of men.” But today was to be different. A historic first. A cultural shift was about to happen before our eyes. A mandatory condition of building and supporting the clinic was was that women had to participate in the leadership and in oversight. This is a standard requirement in the AIC clinic oversight committees. It is designed to begin to bring women into the leadership process, to give women a voice. This was a bold change.

So, for the first time ever, after a series of negotiations that had occurred with the men long before our arrival, women were going to be allowed into the meeting that would happen under the “tree of men.” The compromise was that the women would sit separately but still be included in the circle under the tree. A women would be allowed to speak and she was to give a greeting to the visitors (I was one of the visitors), but she could not stand and speak in front of the men. As long as she sat, she could give a greeting.

On the one hand there's still so much more room for progress in this situation, but what a wonderful, significant step. The women of this village have, for the first time, a voice in the affairs of the community. They may not yet be viewed and treated as fully equal, but they have a place a the table, or under the tree in this case. I hope and pray that in a generation or two the "tree of men" will have a new name, one that reflects the equal status of men and women in the community. That day may still be far off, but this meeting marked a significant step in a positive direction. Traditions and cultural norms can change. It takes time and willingness and often a strong push, but they can change.

You can read the rest of the brief update as well as other interesting stories of life in Africa at Equipping Africa.

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