(Vatican Radio) The challenges facing women in society and in the Catholic Church was at the heart of an event held in the Vatican on Sunday to mark International Women’s Day. The Voices of Faith initiative brought together religious sisters and lay women working on gender justice and equality in countries across the globe.
Also speaking at the event was a lone male voice: Nigerian Father Agbonkhianmeghe Orobator heads the Jesuit’s East African province and teaches at a Jesuit School of Theology and Institute of Peace Studies in Nairobi, Kenya. He believes that equal rights for women – starting with the education of young girls – is one of the most important issues facing African societies today.
Last May he wrote to the Nigerian president calling for his resignation over his government’s failure to find and rescue more than 200 schoolgirls still missing after their abduction by the extremist group Boko Haram. The Church, he says, should keep up the pressure for action to find the Nigerian girls, but at the same time, he adds, it must also be concerned about the lack of equality for women within its own ranks….
Fr Orobator says the Nigerian government has shifted focus onto other matter and simply forgotten about the girls who were kidnapped in the village of Chibok in north eastern Nigeria. The Church, he says, must continue to put pressure on everyone who’s involved at federal and government level by taking initiatives, writing and speaking out about this so that we don’t forget about these girls.
Regarding the conflict with Boko Haram, Fr Orobator believes very little of the conflict can be attributed to religion. The wider issues, especially in that impoverished north eastern part of Nigeria, he says, is the lack of investment in education and employment but religion is used as a cover for the broader social and political problems.
Speaking about his concerns for the lack of equality in the Catholic Church, Fr Orobator says the Synods on Africa also raised these concerns but, he adds, “we must also take action, putting our money where our mouth is.” He says he would like to see a situation “where the space is expanded to include the gifts, qualities and all competencies that women can bring into Church leadership, ministry and administration…”
Resistance to these reforms, Fr Orobator notes, is “deep and strong, mostly from the clerics” . He says there is “a strong sense of ownership that we feel and this has to be broken down to see that as a community we can only be whole if every voice and every competency is taking into account”.
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