There is an African proverb that says ‘a weaning baby that does not cry aloud will die on its mother’s back’
Many of us have seen pictures of African mothers carrying their babies on their backs and so the proverb encourages the child to cry and make a noise if it is experiencing discomfort or any threats.
Women in the church have been rewarded for being silence and submissive to ecclesial authority even when it is harmful to their well being, dignity and flourishing. Women receive contradictory messages related to their identity as equal because they too share the imago Dei made in the image of God and at the same time are unequal and excluded from equal participation in all structures and leadership position in the churches. The voices of women have been muted and their histories of participation in leadership roles has been downplayed or erased as is the case of the role of Mary Magdalene. The silencing of women and denial of equal participation has life and death implications. During the HIV pandemic many women who were faithful to their partners died and children were left as orphans because of the refusal of the church to allow women to protect themselves through use of condoms. The World Health Organization has described intimate partner violence as a global health crisis of epidemic proportions. The culture of silence in the home extends to the church where many women continue to keep silent in the face of abuses that include sexual but not limited to sexual – to be excluded, voiceless, spoken for, denied access to decision making and ecclesial offices because of simply being women violates the dignity of women. Often church teachings operate in isolation from each other for example Catholic Social Teaching that affirms dignity of all, preferential option for the poor, solidarity and subsidiarity is not applied to women who comprise majority of the poor, those denied human dignity and excluded in decision making positions. In African context national, regional and pan-African institutions promote gender equality but their efforts are being hindered by churches and cultural teachings that continue to support the marginalization, inferiorizing of women in the face of multiple threats to life. Like the weaned baby, women will ‘die’ at multiple level if they remain silent!