The role of church universities in empowering women
ACCORDING to the encyclopaedia of feminism, liberal feminists argue that the quality of rights and opportunities should be extended to women in all areas of life.
Weiner opined that liberal feminism asserts that individual women should be as free as men to determine their social, political and educational roles, and that any law, tradition and activity that inhibits equal rights and opportunities must be repealed.
At the core is the transformation of education systems and laws to ensure that the environment is conducive enough for women to learn with the full support of teachers.
However, this study looks at the subject matter from the perspective of universities and employment opportunities for women into higher positions of influence.
According to Zwana (2008: 280), church-owned universities play a key role in the socialisation of women into active members of society. He goes on to state that the dynamics of student activism and their implications in a church university are also interrogated alongside issues of academic freedom and autonomy, as well as the role of a university in influencing and shaping national processes and debates.
There is a ligament that connects university education to positions of influence in church and in the public sector by women. A number of women from mainline churches, including nuns and deacons, are graduates from both secular and the church owned universities and a majority of those occupy key positions in church and in the public domain.
There are a number of Catholic nuns who are professors, occupying key positions within the university structures and in their religious orders as mother generals of various formation houses and convents.
In most churches, the educated women are being given a preferential treatment. However, with the high unemployment levels and depreciated value of education in Zimbabwe, such achievement is not quite sustainable.
In Africa the institution of marriage is like a double-edged sword, it empowers and also disempowers women.
In some instances, one’s status changes with marriage. For example, the first ladies in the political sphere. In the traditional sphere, the king’s wives used to play a very important role in the management of the state and its affairs. In the religious sphere, the position of women is relative.
While in most Pentecostal churches wives to prophets become prophetesses, in Johanne Marange Apostolic Church their statuses remain unchanged. The bias of this study is on denominations where the status of women changes positively with marriage.
The study assumes that in those denominations the elevated women would act as the bridge to other women, hence an important empowerment strategy.
There is a lot of evidence that proves women’s status is being transformed through the institution of marriage. In most Pentecostal churches, women share authority and apostleship with their husbands. The common titles in Pentecostal churches are prophet and prophetess.
Through the institution of marriage, wives end up occupying key positions in the church and majority of whom are being called Amai, meaning mother in Shona. The church members, regardless of gender, would surrender and submit themselves to the mother or prophetess.
In rare circumstances they end up succeeding their husbands, for example TB Joshua of the Synagogue Church Of All Nations was succeeded by his wife. TB Joshua’s wife Eveline has set a pace for other churches and she has demonstrated that women are equally capable leaders considering the sphere of influence of the church concerned.
Women-led churches are more appealing to distressed women who require more love, care and support.
According to Ross (1976: 94), the African continent has experienced phenomenal Christian growth in spite of numerous challenges and disasters. Zwana (2007: 76) pointed out that by virtue of their salvific mission, churches have been rated as sources of hope in the midst of difficulties.
However, most churches are continuously losing their role of being sources of hope because of a surge in church related human rights abuse on women and children.
The study noted that apart from the institution of marriage as a factor influencing the rise of women in churches, the changing circumstances also contribute immensely.
The 21st century is an important century in terms of human rights issues. The world over, human rights and gender issues are a front-page topic. It is like an unstoppable wave as people are beginning to demand and question all the elements that violate their rights.
The human rights and gender wave have seen many denominations beginning to offer women positions in the church, perhaps to silence them. Haynes (1996: 8), writes, in order to perpetuate hegemony successfully it is necessary for the dominant strata to maintain a more or less consensual moral order which has the status of common sense.
The majority of churches gave women less glamourous positions in the church in order to silence them from demanding their full rights. The fear of radical feministic approach resulted in many churches accommodating women in their ranks and structures.
Mapuranga (2020:186) provided a global statistical evidence which demonstrates how women are disempowered and yet they work harder than men. In a United Nations blog, the need to specifically examine women’s empowerment stems from the notion that ‘to this day, women perform 66% of the world’s work, produce 50% of the food, but earn 10% of the income and own 1% of the property’ (www.unwomen.org).
From a religious studies perspective, this scenario emerges from the fact that Christianity and other world religions developed amid patriarchal societies in which women are treated as objects rather than persons.
To this day, women have neither been accorded equal rights within the society not equal rights within religious communities. The male, in most instances, has been granted authority and power over women, especially wives, and this has led to devastating consequences for women and their health and wellbeing. (Messer 2004: 78).
About the writer: Matthew Mare is a Zimbabwean academic who holds two bachelor’s degrees, five master’s qualifications and a PhD. He is also doing another PhD and has 12 executive certificates in different fields. Professionally, he is a civil servant and also board member at the National Aids Council of Zimbabwe.