Women from 21 African nations across the continent gathered for networking and leadership development at the United Methodist Women-sponsored “Women Transforming the World” conference in Maputo, Mozambique, Oct. 17-20.
Participants sharpened their organizing skills and strategized ways to use their voices and power to ensure the needs of women, children and youth are addressed in the church and in their various countries. Onsite translators working in English, French, Kiswahili and Portuguese staffed the event to facilitate full participation.
“Women navigate so many things, and women have a tendency to say, ‘Not me,’ when it comes to leadership. But why not you?” said Andris Salter, associate general secretary of United Methodist Women in the United States. “We are faithful women, and we take that faith seriously. So we must strategize on how we can have an impact, how are we going to show up and show out as leaders in the church and how we are going to address policies that impact the lives of women, children and youth.”
Bishop Joaquina Filipe Nhanala, Africa’s first woman bishop and prelate of the host Mozambique Episcopal Area, welcomed the women to her nation and affirmed the importance of their work at the historic gathering in the opening worship service.
“I want to speak in Portuguese because I want to speak from the heart,” she said. “In this moment, across the world there are refugees moving from one country to another. There is abuse. There is a need for education. There are problems in our nations and world. And we as women are part of the solutions to these problems. I want to emphasize the need to lead in different ways and the agency of women…Women must be a part of the decision-making. We must continue to enroll in the process.”
Bishop Nhanala commended the work of the regional missionaries and encouraged conference participants to have confidence in their ability to effect change. “The negative in our societies can change because culture is made by the people,” she said. “We can make a change.”
Mozambique’s Minister of Gender, Women and Children, Cidália Chaáque Oliveira, also addressed the conference and heard the women’s reports from their language-based small groups. The women shared information about their organization’s work and talked about issues specific to their annual conferences and countries.
The issues raised by the women included:
- Maternal and child mortality
- Reducing stigmas, ending discrimination against families dealing with HIV and AIDS
- The need for increased services for families dealing with HIV and AIDS and other life-threatening diseases
- Poverty, including equitable pay for women performing the same jobs as men
- The need for property laws to protect women and children at risk for impoverishment after the death of a husband or parent
- The need for women leaders to mentor other women
The women shared stories about the work their groups were doing to help women earn money to support their families. Sewing and cosmetology classes, computer literacy courses and building fisheries are among the income generating opportunities African United Methodist Women organizations are offering to women in their respective nations. Some of the groups provide scholarships to help girls continue their education.
“When women tell their stories you often find that while they’re in different locations, the problems are basically the same,” said Finda Quiwa, regional missionary working with youth across Africa. “There’s an old saying that if you educate a woman, you’re wasting your money. So we are still looking at the challenge of women being held back because they don’t have access to education.
“But here at this conference, the presence of a woman bishop and this nation’s Minister of Gender, Women and Children are evidence that women can do better if they are allowed to perform according to their ability.”
Throughout the event, regional missionaries, African Central Conference women, and U.S. United Methodist Women leaders facilitated workshops designed to encourage participants to be confident, bold and unafraid to speak up for the needs of women, children and youth. Ms. Quiwa and Grace Musuka, regional missionary based in Zimbabwe, led workshops on “The Personal is Political.” Regional missionaries Elmira Sellu of Sierra Leone helped the women explore the characteristics of good leadership, and Dr. Catherine Akale of Cameroon led a workshop on successful practices of leaders. The Rev. Eunice Iliyah of Nigeria led the women in assessing organizational culture, and the Rev. Alzira Isaac of Mozambique led a session where the women exchanged best practices. U.S. Deaconess Garlinda Burton, founder of MotherWit consultancy group, led the “Making Your Voice Heard” workshop; and the Rev. Victoria Chifeche, executive secretary of United Methodist Women of Mozambique, and Salter led workshops on “Moving Forward as Leaders.”
Despite the challenges the women shared, the conference was filled with hope, joyous singing and spontaneous dancing as the women learned, planned and empowered themselves for service.
“There are a lot of smiles on the faces—some because this conference is a vision come to fruition,” said Harriett Jane Olson, chief executive of United Methodist Women in the United States. “So many times, Andris and I have spoken about what it would be like to have a meeting in African with all of the women coming together. This is a vision realized.”
Yvette Moore is director of communications for United Methodist Women.