The voice of women in Africa

 On a beautiful sunny Saturday (24 April) about 100 women and a handful of men gathered in Chelmsford to listen to and reflect on the voice of women in Africa. This day of reflection was organised by the Sisters of the Priory of the Resurrection, New Hall, Chelmsford, lead by Sr Teresa Lenahan. Participants came from Congo, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Rwanda, Uganda, Chile, Belgium, The Netherlands, Spain and the UK. The day began with a moving prayer in which a big candle was lit as a symbol of Christ's light and the flame of the Holy Spirit. The candle was passed from person to person as a sign that participants were showing great care and respect for each other. The role of women religious in making the voice of women heard cannot be underestimated. Sr Helene from Belgium gave the keynote speech. She had spent 38 years in the Congo. She narrated the experiences of women in the Congo, their pains and joys. Sr Julienne, a native of Congo also spoke of her experience both as a missionary in her own country as well as her new experience here in the UK. She began her talk with a colourful dance that put everyone in the mood to listen. She remarked how despite so many sufferings African women have continued to be a beacon of hope for the continent. Sr Susan Anyango from Uganda, described her experiences of working with women in the violent environment of Karamoja (North East Uganda). The women there had formed a group called 'Women for peace and eradication of violence' with the aim of breaking barriers and establishing relationships between women and men and thereby creating a culture of peace in the region. The women she described live in an area that is forgotten and where most people have not been to school. But according to Sr Susan, "God uses the weak to teach the strong. Never doubt that a small group of people can change the world. There was only one Ghandi and a meagre band of disciples." Her talk was illustrated with images of the women and what they had achieved in the process. West Africa was represented by Sr Eugenie Benin Kone from the Ivory Coast as well as Sr Cynthia and Sr Esther from Nigeria. Sr Eugenie insisted on listening to the voice of the voiceless with examples drawn from women in her country as well as in Congo where she had also lived and worked. The Nigerian Sisters spoke of the traffic and sexual abuse of women as a new form of slave trade. They spoke eloquently about how European and African women needed to work together to overcome this problem. The Daughters of the Holy Spirit, to whom they belong, have indeed worked for the dignity of women in Nigeria and other parts of the world. There was a lovely exchange of ideas among all participants. Many participants realised the necessity of networking so that the voice of African women can be heard in the whole world. This could be felt in the big hall where all participants realised that solidarity with African women was an urgent task for all people of good will. Ghanaian feminist theologian, Mercy Amba Oduyoye once wrote: "by the time a woman has spent her energies struggling to be heard, she has barely the energy left to say what she wanted to say." The gathering in Chelmsford provided an opportunity for the voice of women in Africa to be heard. Standing up straight women of Africa stretched their hands to the global sisterhood of life-loving women. Together with others women from all continents they announced their struggle for liberation and solidarity with all.

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