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The long journey of African women

In Africa male-female bipolarity is lived in a relationship of dialectic tension as yet unresolved: in the African conception, apart from a few encouraging exceptions, women in some respects seem to count for little. Metaphorically the woman is seen as “a rain drop” which doesn’t know where it will fall. For African women the three words that Benedict xvi used in thinking of the continent’s future in his Apostolic Exhortation Africae munus – that is, justice, reconciliation and peace – are not yet a reality. There are too many family traditions which fail to acknowledge equality between women and men, too many conflictual situations in which women are the predestined victims of violence, especially where rape is used as a real war weapon. However, precisely in such a distressing scene the power of African women emerges. Even with few forces and very few means they are capable of fighting to defend the weak. This is because African women are paragons of courage, intelligence, resistance and responsibility. Although they are socially relegated to third place, after men and children, African women are always the first at work and the last at rest. They draw from faith the strength to face appalling tragedies, to make themselves mediators of peace, to oppose injustice and exploitation and to take on important roles in the Church. Yet they are also capable of speaking with irony and with African wisdom, for they are strongly rooted in a culture which, willing or not, cannot but recognize their strength, indispensable if the societies of the continent are to survive and progress. African women are able to forge ahead, taking the better of the two cultures in which they live: the traditional society which even though in some ways it mortifies them recognizes their social and religious value, and the Christian society which defends their parity and their right to be recognized with dignity. Thus the inferiority complex which blocks girls psychologically must be removed from their mentality; at the same time it is essential to teach and to accustom them to putting greater reliance on their brains, since the Gospel of freedom and conformity with Christ wipe out all discrimination between human beings (cf. Gal 3:28). What men codified in the past could change today – because the times demand it – and thereby open the possibility for a strong witness in the world. After these considerations, we may suggest and hope that without seeking to ape men, African women fully assume their natural condition and at the same time men must do likewise, precisely because being male or female lies within the very essence of the human being so that for a woman to abandon her female nature means death, the death of the human being. It is also necessary to promote in Africa that culture of respect and reciprocity which is found only where two beings exist to the full, that is, where there is otherness. Thus we must strive to defend and promote the rights and dignity of African women. (rita mboshu kongo)

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