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Published Date: December 5, 2002

Published Date: December 5, 2002

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Africa Battles AIDS and Inequality

Dr. Emily Obwaka, a graduate of the University of Nairobi, has worked in a variety of humanitarian and health service settings including with John Hopkins University. Recently, Obwaka has been set free to more fully follow her heartbeat of service to God and to the women of Africa.

As the Project Coordinator at the continental office of the Pan African Christian Women’s Association (PACWA), Obwaka designs and implements projects that carry out the purpose of PACWA: “to empower women to become all that God made them to be in the Church and in society.” The organization seeks to accomplish this mission through a variety of approaches to evangelism, discipleship and education.

Q: What issue or challenge is primary for Christians in Kenya and Christian women in particular?

A: One of the biggest challenges is the reconciliation of Christ to all aspects of life. When Christianity came to Kenya, as indeed to many parts of Africa, the holistic message of the Bible was not preached, and there is often a dichotomy in the lifestyle of many Christians: being truly “Christian” on Sunday and yourself on other days.

This situation often translates to a lack of appreciation for women as equal, unique and with gifting relevant to the whole body of Christ. The true dignity of women as found in God’s Word is not taught, and the traditional view of women has permeated the church. So although women are the majority in the church, they are often ignored and marginalized.

Q: What challenges do you face in communicating biblical equality in your culture?

A: Many countries in Africa are male dominated. This is the case [in] both the church and society. It is so culturally entrenched that biblical equality remains elusive.

How to practically translate theological concepts into reality to affect relations, roles and living has not concretely been defined in most African countries. Most churches and Christian institutions are headed by men, and it was not until the last decade that ordination of women became acceptable in some churches. Many churches have a limit to the positions that women can occupy, and it is not uncommon to have differential terms for men and women in the same position in favor of men. Biblical equality is not often communicated.

There is, however, a wave of change being seen among some evangelical churches and willingness among some clergy to re-examine traditional perspectives and change in accordance to the leading of the Holy Spirit. Where this has happened, there have been mostly positive receptions from the congregations. Much still remains to be done at an advocacy and training level.

Q: As you and PACWA seek to minister to and disciple women, health and social issues are an important focus. What is the current situation in the region for HIV/AIDS, pregnancy, and female genital mutilation?

A: Beyond the many general health concerns in Africa, AIDS is an extremely pressing problem at this moment in Kenya and indeed all over Africa. It is estimated that in Kenya, one in every eleven adults is infected with HIV. An average of 500–700 people die daily from AIDS and AIDS-related diseases. There are now about 890,000 orphans in Kenya as a result of parents having died from AIDS. The current resources are insufficient to adequately respond to the mounting challenge.

HIV/AIDS is by far the greatest challenge faced by African women, because they feel helpless and powerless to fight the scourge. Apart from the known biological vulnerability among women, women are [at] additional risk because of multiple cultural factors.

Pregnancy is an exciting event anywhere you go in the world. This is so also in Africa. Pregnancy though is still associated with high risk in Kenya. Women begin child bearing very early: 50 percent of women in Kenya begin child bearing by the age of 20. This puts them more at risk to suffer pregnancy-related complications. Four thousand women die every year in Kenya because of complications related to childbirth and inability to get to the health facility in time.

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is practiced in about 27 African countries. There are varying degrees of FGM. In Kenya, it is estimated that about 50 percent of [the] female population is circumcised. In many communities there is an emphasis on traditional practices because it is a significant rite of passage to adulthood. [It provides] girls recognition from their peers and assures a prosperous marital future, [and] it carries monetary benefits to the circumcisers and respect and acceptance for the parents in the community. The practice is associated with increased risk [of] contracting HIV/AIDS (when the same knife is used) and complications in childbirth. Many organizations, including PACWA, are working with communities to identify alternative community-initiated rites of passage for girls.

Q: How can members and supporters of CBE encourage you, PACWA, and the people of the region? How can we be instruments of change in Africa?

A: I think the greatest way you can be a help to us is to pray for the situation in Africa. It will take God’s intervention to stem the disaster we see in every aspect including poverty, disease and conflict.

  • Pray especially that God would raise God-fearing leaders upon whom the Spirit of God rests (Isaiah 11:2).
  • Pray for the light of the gospel to permeate every corner of the continent and bring truth to every individual on the continent. Truth sets free from every bondage (Romans 1:16).
  • Pray for stirring of God upon the people to see the God-given opportunities around them to creatively start developing.
  • Pray that women will arise to play their God-given part in building the society and being an important force in the body of Christ.
  • Pray specifically for the programs that God laid on our hearts to initiate: the orphan care program especially, mentoring young women, and the economic empowerment initiative.