Women and Religion in Africa

I wrote this article because I have noticed that there's a huge possibility of women being abused by these churches because we are so vulnerable. We have so many problems especially considering our environment, with us living in Africa; we're living below the poverty line, we want our husbands to love us, our boyfriends to love us and we have no one else to cry to. So in a way the churches become like a social support system. I grew up in a Pentecostal church. I quickly realised that there was a huge influx of women in the churches and it was serving as a means of further making women submissive in the society. Sometimes our churches use the Bible for their own ends, making women submissive and subjugating them towards the male patriarchal system. 

 

There are disparities in attendance of women and men in African churches, and Zimbabwe will be used as the focal point of this article. Over the past years, there has been a sharp spike in the number of Pentecostal churches and apostolic sects. The major attendees of these churches are women. Men are generally not to be found in church, with the exception of the pastor and a few other quiet introspective males.


This has not always been the case as church was once a traditional male bastion where men took their families every Sunday come rain or thunder. Church was used to reinforce the superiority of husband and father over family, and it supposedly kept the women and children in line. With time, men seem to have turned to a new religion of masculine socialisation, such as football, drinking at the local pub, braaing and other distinctly male preserves. Men who go to church, if not dragged unwilling, are now seen as effeminate. Church has come to be seen as a therapeutic place where grievances are aired, and most men want nothing to do with airing of feelings. They would rather grin and bear it through whatever society and life throws at them.

Nowadays, a visit to one's local church will see the vast majority being women and children. One man said the latter are present as a 'spy' to ensure the mother has truly gone to church. These women will be involved in different levels of service within the church, such as ushering, ministering and interceding. However, the pastor is usually male as well as the bulk of the church building committee.

One wonders if this influx of women in churches does not give rise to potential abuse of power within the church. An observation of certain Pentecostal and apostolic churches has found that 'demons' are generally cast out in a very physical manner, and most of those at the receiving end are women. A visit to one particular apostolic sect found the author being pulled by her hair and water in the face, in order to remove a 'demon'. Upon perusal, none of the men were subjected to this treatment.

There have also been various scandals between pastors, prophets and female congregants. The influx of women and female socialisation of church has given rise to abuse of office within the church hierarchy.

Poverty in Africa is a major reason for the popularity of church, as most people who go are looking for an opium for their poverty induced troubles. Karl Marx famously said that religion is the opiate of the masses. The majority of women live below the poverty datum line, and are are inflicted with powerlessness to make essential decisions as most of African society still maintains patriarchal tendencies. Thus, church is an escape from their worldly troubles as well as a form of social club.

Single women praying for a husband are plenty within the African church. This is mainly due to society's obsession with marrying women off. A married woman is seen as more accomplished than an educated successful one. Being unmarried is a disability in African society, and the church has young and not so young women in varying states of desperation. The powerlessness mentioned before renders women virtually unable to act towards securing their own future relationship wise. The African man makes all the moves to instigate a relationship as well as marriage. All a woman can do in this situation is pray and have faith that her destiny will involve a man and a dowry. Married women make up the other section as they pray for their husbands to come to church, stop masculine socialisation of drinking which unfortunately might end up including extra marital affairs. Even in church, the African woman can not run away from how helpless they are in the face of a pervasive patriarchy. Their prayers still revolve around men.


Women are increasingly being used as beauty props in the new 'prosperity gospel' churches. A walk around a city will find bright flashy and glossy posters of Prophets and their Prophetesses, who happen to be their wives, adorning them with healthy and toothy smiles. These will be advertising crusades, church services, financial success conferences and the like. There is a recurrent visual theme of beauty and light skin complexion throughout the posters. One wonders if these prophetesses are designated such due to a Godly calling, or rather they are called by their husbands. However, one cannot deny that it is a clever marketing gimmick designed to attract couples as well as make women feel safer in the presence of another woman.

An African church is the most powerful and influential place where women can gather and socialise. It is even more powerful than political parties, and this is evidenced by the amount of electioneering that takes place in churches when elections are nearing. The influence of the pastor amongst his crowd is undeniable, and it has been shown that there are higher voter registration numbers amongst women. Their role within the church of serving and ministering and rarely pastoring reflects their role within society, as well as the political structure of their countries. One might wonder why they cannot vote themselves into power or take over the pastoring, as they are also very capable of doing both. Pull her down syndrome of crabs in a bucket is still very prevalent because for a long time women were conditioned to be ruled by men.


Ilet Chirimangombe is a young Zimbabwean woman who is passionate social advocacy. She has a Bachelors of Social Sciences in Politics and Public Management.

“I believe in Africa... I want to see Africa win, and I think how we treat our most vulnerable shows where we are headed as a continent. I stand for equality between genders, true recognition of women's rights and not just on paper. I want women to help themselves, to become a sisterhood instead of fighting over petty issues which revolve around men. I want more women like Phumzile Mlambo Ngcuka, Folorunsho Alakija, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Danai Gurira. I want women to read my writing and come out of it inspired. I want to leave them reflective. That's all one can really hope for when you write.”