When women and other vulnerable members of many African societies gain a voice in their capacity to enjoy economic sustainability is enhanced and social justice becomes attainable. The improvement of women’s lives is essential to growth and development and should be a policy priority because equality and nondiscrimination are of intrinsic value. Yet women in many parts of sub-Saharan Africa have very little control over their lives through access to key institutions such as courts and markets. Nor do they have control over productive resources such as land and credit. Too often, women are forced to live in survival mode which reinforces the vicious cycle of hunger, poverty and despair.
Justina Simane, a church leader in Mozambique, is an example of a woman poised to bring change to her country through life-transforming programs that strengthen Mozambican women and their families. Mozambique’s struggle for independence from the Portuguese in 1975 erupted into a civil war that lasted until 1992. The war left the country with a crumbling infrastructure, a weak economy and astounding unemployment. Women faced more than their normal share of suffering. In spite of the challenges, women like Justina are making a difference in rebuilding the economy and reshaping the role of women in society. Justina trains women to run their own small businesses and to save money through microcredit loans. Microcredit is reshaping lives in war-torn Mozambique and proving that an investment in women is essential to development. Microcredit brings hope that families rise above from dismal poverty and isolation.
Women have always played a role in economic development in many African nations through subsistence agriculture. With increasing population growth and climate change that is intensified from one year to the next, Justina and others know that these traditional agricultural practices, which have been relegated mostly to women, cannot be the mainstay of the economy or provide the necessary means for national development.
Justina and the women around her are showing that given a chance to enhance their natural entrepreneurial skills through well-organized enterprises - from selling tomatoes to running restaurants - that they are able to sustain a virtuous cycle of higher human development and even food security. The hope of women like Justina is to see women seeking formal education, participating in decision-making and expanding production and human potential.
The vicious cycle of despair that is often the cause of the African woman’s entrapment is likely to get worse before it gets better. The responsibility to assist Justina in improving the lives of women, not only in Mozambique, but wherever needed, must be shared among local, regional, and international governments and institutions. If we are truly concerned about social justice, the environment, and life in its fullness, we must accept our responsibility as we are all implicated.
The United Church of Christ has 5,194 churches throughout the United States. Rooted in the Christian traditions of congregational governance and covenantal relationships, each UCC setting speaks only for itself and not on behalf of every UCC congregation. UCC members and churches are free to differ on important social issues, even as the UCC remains principally committed to unity in the midst of our diversity.