International Journal of Sociology and Anthropology Vol. 2(6), pp. 126-139, June 2010
Available online http://www.academicjournals.org/ijsa
ISSN 2006- 988x ©2010 Academic Journals
Full Length Research Paper
The role of women in the Church in Africa
Department of Philosophy Religion and Theology, Maseno University, Kenya. E-mail:email@example.com.
Tel: +254 722-77020, +254 733-703603.
Accepted 3 February, 2010
This paper gives a general view of the role played by women in African instituted churches. It touches
several roles of women in different instituted churches keeping in mind that there are so many African
instituted churches some will be used to represent the general role played by women. The paper also
will explain how women were viewed in the Old Testament, New Testament and Letters of St. Paul. This
will give a background as to how women have been prominent in the churches throughout history.
Interviews have also been conducted on the churches that could not be available this was to find out
the general role played by women. The paper will centre its emphasis on the role of women in the
African instituted churches, it will also touch some impediments that are facing women in some
independent churches such as the Nomiya Luo Church in Kenya. This church that tries to bar off
women from participation. This is caused by men's attitude towards women who are looked at as
inferior, incapable and are in perpetual pollution due to their nature of being biologically females.
Key words: Women, Church in Africa.
The theme of the woman is a particularly disputed topic in
contemporary political, theological and social debate.
Three relevant and universal documents declare the
fundamental equality of the human beings. The Bible,
The Vatican II and The Universal declaration of the
human rights. Let us see:
"All baptized in Christ, you have all clothed yourselves in
Christ and there are no more distinctions between Jew
and Greek, slave and free, male and female, but all of
you are in Christ Jesus" Gal. 3:28. "And you are all
brothers and sisters" Matt. 23:8.
The Vatican II
"Men are plainly not equal in physical, intellectual and
moral powers. But we should overcome and remove
every kind of discrimination which affects fundamental
rights, whether it be social and cultural discrimination or
based in sex, race, colour, class, language or religion. All
such discrimination is opposed to God's purposes. It is
really deplorable that the fundamental rights are still not
everywhere securely guaranteed as when women are not
allowed freely to choose a husband or adopt some other
state of life, or are denied educational or cultural equity
with men" Vat II. G. et Spes No. 29. The Universal
declaration of the human rights (1948).
"All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and
rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience
and should act towards one another in a spirit of
brotherhood and sisterhood". Yes, but the reality is very
far from the theory. In all times, cultures, places,
religions, churches, among others the woman has been
considered as "a bun fruit". Why is it? Any woman will say
that is "irrational fear of the blood". Maybe Myths, beliefs,
and rocentrism, chauvinism, economy, traditions, religion,
psychology, philosophy and even biological factors have
contributed to this situation. The particular conditions of
the African woman, due to the singular traditions and
especial situation of this continent makes the gender
issue very attractive and defiant. Questions like
polygamy, cliteridectomy, levirate, dowry, barrenness,
super-valuation of the women's role of production -
reproduction, are very disputed not only among feminist
circles but among all society.
The objective of this study was to find out the role of
women in the church in Africa.
The information contained here comes from two sources: first,
library research and second, field research conducted between
January, 2003 and 2004. Primary data was derived from first hand
information through personal
questionnaire and document analysis methods. Primary data was
the core of our data, which was supplemented with secondary data
from relevant library data gathered from published books,
unpublished books, articles, government records, archival materials
and local dailies.
In this paper, there is only space to stimulate further reading and
investigation. Particularly I wish to draw the attention about the
interesting role that many women are playing today in Africa in the
realm of the literature, Theology and new religious movements and
taking advantage of this to help in the conscientization of many
people in Africa, both women and men.
African woman, who are you? Who do tradition and religion to
which you are ostentatiously the chief client say you are? Who does
society say you are? And you African woman, who are you, what
are you and who do you think you are? Before we enter into the
manner of Woman in African church we are going to see briefly the
situation of woman in other times and places.
Anti-feminism, an old problem
Eastern religions denied to the woman the human nature and
attributed to them an animal nature, Mythra's cult excluded radically
the women. In Greece, the things were no better. Aristotle stated:
"The female is a male which for some accidental reason did not
attain its full development". Euripides said: "The woman is the worst
of all evils". And Aulo Gellio affirmed: "The women are a necessary
The Jewish environment
The Judaism was openly discriminatory regarding women. Women
were regarded as incapable of bearing witness, they remained
excluded from essential religious tasks of men (as well) they were
unworthy of participating in most of the religious feasts, neither
could they study the torah nor participate in the sanctuary service.
The woman was obliged to a permanent purification-ritual,
especially in dates regarding with the sexual (Menstruation and
birth). For the Jews, the birth of a female was a misfortune, the
Rabbi Simeon said: "All are happy when a male birth but all are
unhappy when female birth". And the Rabbi Jicaq: "When a male
births, he brings peace to the word, he brings the bread in his
hands, but when a female births, nothing is coming with her".
According to Rabbi Jehuda (second century A.D.) Jews should
recite the following prayer every day:
interviews, observation and
"Praised be God, that he did not create me as a goy (gentile)!
Praised, that he did not create me as a woman! Praised, that
he did not create me as an ignorant person!" Hauke (1988:
78) in his book Women in priesthood.
Instructing the female sex in the torah was not considered
obligatory and was even seen in part as improper. Rabbi Eliezer
wrote (Around 90 A. D.):
"He who teaches his daughter the torah is like one who
teaches her dissoluteness … may the words of the torah be
burnt before anyone delivers them up to women".
(Billerbeck, Kommentar III, C. F. Leidopoldt, Frau). Women are
often placed on a level with slaves and children in respect of
fulfilment of certain command-ments. This, more than anything else,
attests to the inferior position occupied by women, as compared
with men, concerning the law.
"Each time that I beat my wife, she has to thank me because
she is closer to the Salvation".
The book of Ecclesiasticus 42, 9 – 14 says
"Unknown to her, a daughter keeps her father awake, the
worry she gives him drives away his sleep: in her youth, in
case she never marries, married, in case she should be
disliked, as a virgin, in case she should be defiled and found
with child in her father's house, having a husband, in case she
goes astray, married, in case she should be barren. Your
daughter is headstrong? Keep a sharp lookout that she does
not make you the laughing stuck of your enemies, the talk of
the town, the object of common gossip and put you to public
shame. Do not stare at any man for his good looks, do not sit
down with the women, for moth comes out of clothes and
woman's spite out of woman. A man's spite is preferable to a
woman's kindness: women give rise to shame and reproach".
Saint Thomas Aquinas Summa Theological I. Q. 92 affirms:
"Woman is an occasional and incomplete being, a
misbegotten male. It is unchangeable that woman is destined
to live under man's influence and has no authority from her
And in more recently times, a philosopher said: "woman has long
hair, but short ideas" (Arthur Shopenhauer, 1999:89).
CHURCH THEOLOGIANS AND WOMEN
1) You are the devil's gateway. It is you who plucked the
fruit of the forbidden tree. You are the first who deserted
the divine law. You are the one who persuaded him
whom even the devil was not strong enough to attack. All
too easily you destroyed the image of God, man.
Because of your desert, that is death, even the son of
God had to die. Therefore cover your head and your
figure with sackcloth and ashes (Tertulian on the 'dress of
2) Why must a woman cover her head? Because the
women does not posses the image of God in herself but
only when taken together with the male who is her head,
so that the whole substance is one image. But when she
138 Int. J. Sociol. Anthropol.
In the Main Line churches a number of women are
currently rejecting the self effacement involved in this
definition of their religious roles and a number have been
ordained priests. It is necessary that the independent
churches too, authenticate the ministry of women by
giving them roles as clergy and in the decision making
bodies of the church. Currently, both the secular and
religious worlds are experiencing great changes with
regard to gender roles and women in the church are
speaking with a new voice and new urgency. The AICs
should not remain untouched by world events that have
touched deeply the lives of women since 1975. It is
imperative that existing issues be addressed with a sense
of urgency. Women are an integral and vital part of the
independent church movement. Their role in the
churches is an important force behind the vitality of these
groups. Mildred in quoting Hastings comments that: "The
quest of the Independent church was the quest for a
ritual, a belief and a realized community in and through
which immediate human needs, social, psychological and
physical could be appropriately met" (Ndeda 1997). This
is as much the quest of women as it is the quest of men,
if these demands are not addressed, the Church remains
static or will eventually die a natural death as it
usefulness will have been spent.
In looking at gender role in the traditional society, the
problem of social inequality between the sexes was a fact
in African social systems. This difference in gender was
making African women not to be understood hence
priority was given to men in religious professions, men
were dominant while women suffered social and religious
inferiority. Traditional African women played a great role
mainly in the domestic activities for instance provide food,
giving moral foundation for their children and maintaining
the family. Women were not allowed to attend meetings
not even accompanied men in some religious rituals
because they were considered people of low spirit and
weak to perform some acts simply because they were
physically below the level of men. Very few elderly
women would only be requested for an opinion on a
given issue but not decision. Among the Turkana in
Kenya some women were recognized performing some
healing rituals, they were called Ngamurok. These are
healing or nursing women whose powers were limited,
they only deal with simple healing and could not take
prophetic roles in the community. However, we cannot
limit ourselves to this understanding only. African
societies inform of gender role were classified into two:
Patrilineal or Patriarchal societies. Patriarchal was male
dominant: in these societies, men were dominating in all
structural systems in politics, social, economic and
religious structures. Women were subjected to powers of
men as domestic workers. In matrilineal or matriarchal
societies where women take upper hand in powers was
even limited till the period of Christianity in Africa.
When Christianity was first introduced in Africa by
missionaries, the first African converts mainly the poor,
slaves, women and children; why only women and not
men, because men were custodians of traditions,
customs and religion and laws. Men resisted Christianity
in order to remain in their traditional level of identity as
African leaders. Christianity was preaching equality which
was very strange thing to most African men and women.
Christian messages was liberating women, equality was
preached human solidarity, freedom. For women, life of
Mary the mother of God was inciting even to take the
Gospel message seriously. Women leadership in the
Bible were the examples like Deborah, Anna among
others because of these examples women felt mobilized.
They felt they were able to take and preach the Gospel
and act as prophetess, bishops, and priests among
others. In the case of independent churches in Africa,
some missionaries assaulted families in their preaching;
were against polygamy while in the Bible there were
many polygamist such as David, Solomon, Abraham to
mention but a few. This caused women to find fulfilment
elsewhere so that their hopes were fulfilled.
Beside that women whom their husbands left due to
Christian preaching took refuge to founding their own
expression through small gatherings which later sprang
into a church. As such women started participating fully in
the Church's ministry. In spite of all these, some
independent churches like that of Nomiya Luo church still
regard women incompetent and not worthy the church’s
ministry in spite of all that some women who are
enlightened have stood against such prejudices and hope
to encourage women emancipation out the church's
ministry. With this reflection as a man participating in the
church, women in all walks of life are hereby called upon
to keep on participating regardless of how men view
them. All these are because of their stereotyped negative
attitude towards women. Christ tells us in the Gospels
that we are all equal. The study wonders where men got
the mentality of taking women to be of a weaker sex. The
work of God can be done equally by all, bringing
salvation to all. African woman, who are you? Who do
tradition and religion say you are? Who do the chief client
say you are ostentatiously? Who does society say you
are? And you African woman, who are you, what are you
and who do you think you are?
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