The beauty of any nation is to create and sustain a healthy a society where women and men are protected, valued and respected as equal human beings without any prejudice based on gender. In September 2015, 193 world leaders through United Nations (UN) agreed to 17 Global Goals for Sustainable Development. If these goals (SDGs) are achieved, it would mean an end to extreme poverty, inequality including violence against women, and climate change by 2030.
As a registered faith based, non-governmental organization, Ekklesia Foundation for Gender Education (EFOGE), focusses on goal number five “to achieve gender equality and empower women and girls”. We work with faith groups and grassroot community organizations in Africa (sub- Sahara) on gender equality projects that equips and empowers men and women to live in harmony, and in mutual love and respect. Because of predominant cultures that devalues and violate females based of gender, we advocate for justice and equality for women and girls in the church and society. We call this “Imago Dei Effect”, because through these initiatives, we advocate for the restoration of female identity and expose root causes of Violence Against Women. Through “Imago Dei Effect”, we discover how men and young boys are culturally and religiously nurtured to control instruments of power for dominance which usually leads to abuse, and because of this, we call for equality and justice for women and men in order to reflect the “Image of God” and to eradicate Sexual and Gender Based Violence which are so common in our society.
a) 2017 International Conference in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania.
Since 2012, Ekklesia Foundation (EFOGE) have been conducting annual international conferences with faith and community leaders as a strategy to advance equality for women and men in order to dismantle patriarchal worldview that is so rampant in churches and communities in Africa. Through these conferences, EFOGE always target top church leadership and influencers across Africa to dialogue and engage on how best to end violence against women.
In September 20-22, 2017 in partnership with Christians for Biblical Equality (CBE International USA), we planned, coordinated and hosted international conference in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania on the theme, “Cultivating Oneness in Christ: Biblical Truth about Equality for women and Men”, with faith leaders, project leaders, researchers, lecturers, students, among others to engage in dialogue and conversation on how faith communities can help end violence against women. The conference was attended by 128 delegates from ten different countries including; Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, DRC, Cameroon, USA, UK, Zimbabwe, Denmark, and South Africa.
The following organization also attended: DanMissions, Compassion International, Women in Church and Society, World Vision, Congo Peace Network, World Renew, Empower International, PMU, Micah Network, New Cent Center International, UPCN, Oasis International, New hope for Girls, Scripture Union, Mothers Union, and Christian Council of Tanzania. Several churches and denomination including Lutharan Church, Anglican Church, Moravian Church, PEFA, Shofar Church, Harvest House Church, Heavenly Embassy Church, Weslian Church, among others were in attendance.
According to the World Economic Forum 2015, reducing gender inequality will ultimately enhance productivity and economic growth, which will lead to a better standard of living for everyone, (UNICEF). Again, UNDP’s report estimates that total annual economic losses due to gender inequality have averaged 95 billion U.S. dollars per year since 2010 in sub-Saharan Africa and could be as high as 105 billion U.S. dollars. Social norms are a clear obstacle to African women’s progress, limiting the time women can spend in education and paid work, and their access to economic and financial assets. (UNDP)
This conference was instrumental for clergy, and other faith based development partners in understanding and interpreting underlying causes and trends of violence against women and girls. Basically, this meeting/event exposed harmful religious teachings and cultural gender norms that places men above women thereby distorting the “Imago Dei”in both women and men against the will of God. The conference helped delegates/leaders to understand biblical and theological arguments on gender equality with topics touching on, faith community & domestic violence, attitudes and church doctrines against women leadership in church, faith movement on gender equality, engaging men for women empowerment, among others.
Basically, this event affirmed equal value, worth and dignity of females and males as made in God’s images and exposed distorted teachings of predetermined male leadership and authority in the church and society. Participants discovered how faith communities (some) contribute to the ongoing violence against women and girls through wrong biblical interpretations that denies women and girls equal opportunities simply because they are born females.
Books/Resources and Way Forward
Several books and academic journals on gender equality were donated to every participant. Our main objective is to equip and empower churches and faith groups in Africa with knowledge and skills on gender equality, and to dismantle Male Dominance culture being propagated as God’s design. We look forward to continue organizing annual conferences with faith leaders especially to conduct and host 2018 conference in Kampala in partnership with Uganda Christian University.
b) Training workshops on Domestic Violence & Positive Parenting.
In June 2017, EFOGE conducted training of trainers (ToT) workshop with faith leaders from Bondo on “Still Side By Side (SSBS) curriculum”with the aim to train and empower faith leader as trainers on Domestic Violence and Positive Parenting skills. The final objective was to scale down and implement this curriculum through trained ToTs within local congregations/churches in the region. The workshop and local training engaged faith leaders, young couples, youths on causes and effects of domestic violence, negative parenting, and how faith communities can resist wrong attitudes and teaching that perpetuates violence against women and girls. EFOGE staff together with ToTs directly trained 600 participants which were faith leaders and indirectly reached over 16,000 mostly young couples and about 45,000 youths on SSBS bible study curriculum within their local churches namely, St. Marks Mahaya church, St. Luke’s Nyagoko church, St. Paul’s Ranalo church, and St. Luke’s Lweya church.
It is true that male dominance culture negatively impact many churches and communities in this region, a pattern that is similar in other parts in East Africa. From survey during training, we learnt that cultural worldviews and religious teaching affirms male dominance and continue to perpetuate violence against women and girls. Gender roles confines women and girls on domestic chores while men are bestowed authority and leadership roles from infancy. However, these attitudes always have negative impacts on children especially on the girl-child, her predetermine lower status as a female, and male superiority and authority that shapes young boys to embrace violence toward women and other fellow men.
Engaging these churches through SSBS bible study lessons on domestic violence and positive parenting tells a different story of family reconciliation, mutual love and respect for men and women, girls and boys, husbands and wives. Participants surveyed during these training acknowledged that beliefs and teachings of male dominance always breads family/domestic violence and affect socio-economic, cultural and political wellbeing of the whole society including men.
Resources for Churches and faith leaders
With support from CBE, FOGE donated/distributed over 800 copies of Still Side by Side (SSBS) bible study curriculum to these churches in order that they should continue with group bible studies on gender equality and positive parenting. The curriculum will empower them to teach equality for boys and girls, men and women with the truth that we are born equal in the image and likeness of God and so we all have equal responsibility to love and respect each other without gender prejudice.
This SSBS domestic violence and positive parenting project is a pilot project we initiated this year to reach out to Christian leaders, young couples and youths within Bondo. We have plans to scale-up the project/idea in the neighboring regions within Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. We appeal for prayers and support from friends, churches and foundations to make this vision a reality in our 2018-2022 Strategic Plan (due from January, 2018)
c) Sustainability of Ekklesia Foundation for Gender Education projects:
In 2015, Ekklesia Foundation (EFOGE) through its Board of Management identified and initiated building project to help sustain EFOGE projects. The work is currently going on, almost in the finish line, 85%. This building is precisely for rentals to earn revenue and commit sustainable support for EFOGE projects.
This building project comprise of five spaces i.e.;
i) Office space where all EFOGE programs and activities will be planned and coordinated. This office will also include meeting rooms and safe place where women/girls that have been sexually abused (rape and sexual violence victims) can report abuse and get immediate assistance and psychosocial support.
Benefit: EFOGE will create safe space for SGBV survivors/victims to report and get support. At the same time, EFOGE will save about $200 monthly from renting office space.
ii) Family space where the Reverend Domnic Misolo and his family will stay as they plan and execute EFOGE programs across East Africa.
Benefit: EFOGE will save about $280 monthly for renting family space for Domnic, executive director.
ii) The remaining three spaces would be rented out to generate income for EFOGE projects in East Africa. It’s is estimated that these three units upon completion will generate about $600 per month upon its completion and about $ 9,000 annually for sustainability.
Benefit: Upon completion of this building project, EFOGE will earn a total of $9,000 annually for project activities.
Current state of affairs and the next plan of Action.
As at now about 85% of the whole work is done as all structural work is completed including walling, roofing and other fine finishes. The remaining fine finishes for two upper spaces needs a total of $5,800. We plan to raise this money, ($5,800) by December 31, 2017 and we hope by January 2018, it will all be completed and EFOGE will start to earn revenue from it. The Total amount of money already invested in this project is about $87,000, raised since 2015.
Long term Goals and Vision of the Project.
Through this building project, we envision to stop root causes of Violence Against Women in the church, home and society. Our work target to transform;
i) Cultural orientations and practices in the Africa that oppresses and devalues females based on gender including female genital mutilation/cutting, polygamous marriages, early and force marriages of underage girls among other vices .
ii) Biblical misinterpretations and religious beliefs that justify patriarchy/male dominance as God’s ideal and breads devaluation of females, domestic violence, sexual violence, lack of women leadership in churches among others.
iii) Political systems that isolate women from full participation in the democratic process, leadership and decision making process just because women are females.
d) Support Education of needy Female Students
We supported few female students both in high schools and in Universities by paying school fees, buying them school uniforms, giving small stipends and buying books. While our work doesn’t directly support individual needs, we always listen to some acute cases of female students who are at the verge of dropping out of school either for being total orphans and have no one to turn to, or because of experiences of domestic or sexual violence. Most often, these are extremely needy cases.
In our upcoming five years strategic plan (2018-2022) which will be out in January 2018, EFOGE plan to build a strong case towards supporting education of girls and especially women theologians who plan to join theological schools for carrier or seeking ordination into priesthood and church leadership.