Women of faith who are African or of African descent held a powerful recent gathering, “Ubuntu: Remembrance, Diversity, and Advocacy in Unity Now!” in which they shared their call to action with a sense of Sankofa, or a season of now while looking back and forward. The event was organized by the Pan African Women’s Ecumenical Empowerment Network (PAWEEN) and Pan African Women of Faith (PAW).
Photo: Paul Jeffrey/WCC
17 December 2021
Ubuntu refers to behaving well towards others or acting in ways that benefit the community. For some, Ubuntu is something akin to a soul force—an actual metaphysical connection shared between people, and which helps us connect to each other. It is akin to spiritual oneness and unity in diversity.
“The conference brought renewed Ubuntu strategies and tools for expanding the PAW/PAWEEN table and in the follow-up reflections and actions after the conference,” said Rev. Dr. Angelique Walker-Smith, a member of the World Council of Churches (WCC) central committee. “This included expanded use of digital tools and increased use of diverse languages. English, Portuguese, Spanish, and French were the languages used at the conference, for example. Increasing the voices of younger women perspectives and intergenerational transnational perspectives were and are also encouraged.”
In their underscoring litany, the women reflected: “We are troubled by the experiences of the past and present that have dared to marginalize and reject our presence and voices. Therefore, we are called to action to deepen our historic resolve to change this narrative.”
As advocacy was one of many facets of the work, some guest speakers expressed appreciation at the efforts of prayerful women who are African or of African descent in fighting for justice.
Congressman Jim Clyburn, the majority whip of the US House Representatives from South Carolina, offered welcoming remarks and underscored the importance of advocacy. “We are in the midst of an existential battle for our democracy…” he said. “The right to vote and the integrity of our elections are under attack all across the country.”
This observation, in addition to his affirmation of the advocacy work of the women with the PAW/PAWEEN Grassroots Advocacy Work Group and their partnerships, based in his district and region, were welcomed. This included the Bread for the World Offering of Letters on global maternal and child nutrition.
Other prominent topics in the conference were inclusivity and gender-based violence. This included observing Thursdays in Black. In a theological reflection paper submitted to the Scholarship and Public Theology Work Group of PAW/PAWEEN, Dr Doras Juman offered “A Critique of Pan-African Women of Faith and a Vision for Inclusive Global Theological Education.”
Juman noted that, during the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a dramatic increase in violence against women and girls. “Colonial rules and the actions of many African leaders have continued to affect the resources and institutional settings that are directly linked to economic development and poverty eradication,” wrote Juman. “While women of African descent are already driving Africa’s transformation and contributing to a global reset, gender discrimination and male dominance continue to prevent women from ascending into key leadership position that shape policies that directly affect women’s lives.”
Who we are as women
Personal and vocational accounts also added to the depth of the event and were encouraged to be shared going forward with the new digital tools that debuted at the conference. This was introduced by the Rewriting the Narrative PAW/PAWEEN Work Group.
Vanessa Barboza shared a powerful personal reflection on her path as an Afro-Brazilian Christian. “It’s an account of who I am, what my origins are, the cultural, religious, and economic context in which I was raised,” she said. “It talks a little about my academic trajectory, presenting the support network that allowed me to follow this path. It recalls my journey of faith in Christ, in service to others, and in activism for dignity for all, especially for racial equity.”
Participants also learned about the Zau Project, created to join forces in the struggle for the visibility of the ideas, writing, thoughts, and creativity of black Christian women who share the struggle and affirmation of the decoloniality of the faith. Through this project, women also seek to encourage appreciation and respect for life, and ways of coexisting with nature.
The PAW/PAWEEN Resource and Capacity (Relationship) Building Work Group was responsible for inviting leading partners of the PAW/PAWEEN work. This included inviting Heather Taylor, new managing director of Bread for the World, and Dr. Kuzipa Nalwamba, professor of Ecumenical Social Ethics at the Bossey Ecumenical Institute and WCC program executive for Ecumenical Theological Education, to share updates.
A shared journey
Another partner organization of PAW/PAWEEN is the African Union Diaspora Office. Angela Naa Afoley Odai also contributed to the theme of “A Shared Journey with Multilateral International Organizations,” and gave an overview of Diaspora Legacy Projects.
Following Odai, H.E. Hilda Suka-Mafudze, the new African Union ambassador to the United States, reflected on her core mandate to enhance and maintain existing bilateral ties that strengthen democratic institutions; advance trade, investment, and knowledge sharing; and promote peace, security, and mutual relation.
There was also an invitation to a new partnership with the new UN Permanent Forum of People of African Descent. Dr Amara Enyia, chair of this forum’s Preparatory Working Group, commended three major engagement and empowerment frames of amplification, enlightenment and advocacy, and the role of multilateral organizations of the women’s work.
A webinar led by the Advocacy Work Group on “Haiti, Black Farmers, and World Food Day,” featured Marie Yolaine Toms, a Haitian-born humanitarian who founded Community2Community, describing how her organization works with communities, focusing on health, education, economic development, and environmental stabilization.
“NGOs, businesses, and governments can work together for the betterment of the people,” she urged.
This webinar also included Rev. Yvette Blair, a food and land justice advocate based in Dallas, Texas, who shared how her doctoral research seeks to disrupt the systems and structures that promote marginalization, poverty, food injustice, and famines.
“It really looks at how we look at the interaction of faith, food security, displacement, and gentrification because they are related,” she said.