Slowly Expanding Opportunities Help Women Overcome Social and Professional Discrimination
May 11, 2016
Mission Co-Worker‘s Theology Course Helps Women Look Beyond Cultural Constraints
Living in Ethiopia can be difficult. Living in Ethiopia as a woman can be even more difficult. The culture here does not always view women, their worth and their capabilities, in the same way that many Western cultures view women.
Women and young girls in the countryside can often be seen carrying heavy loads of firewood or sacks of grain on their backs. This practice, year after year, coupled with malnutrition, can stunt the physical growth of girls and lead to severe medical problems.
Many women, even those living in cities, are illiterate and lack job skills. In my Bible study among Orthodox women who live in poverty, none of the women have marketable job skills. Some of the women in the Bible study spend their days scavenging for metal and plastic at the enormous garbage dump adjoining the area where they live. Often they go to the dump with a young child slung on their backs, earning enough during the day to buy a couple of loaves of bread. Two of the older women occasionally resort to begging on the streets because they are physically unable to do anything else. Another woman works in construction; for women, this usually means doing the hardest physical labor: carrying bags of cement mix or removing rocks from the site.
In his regular student “tea times” my husband, Rich, recently met with two young women taking his basic theology course at the Ethiopian Graduate School of Theology (EGST). Both are in a new program at EGST concentrating on “Gender and Health” as a specialty within the Master of Arts in Development Studies program.
One student, Wosene, told how she was attracted to “Gender and Health” because of her work as a nurse for two years in the refugee camps in eastern Ethiopia near the Somalia border. She spoke of how husbands treated their wives in the camps, often brutally hitting them when they felt displeased. She also treated many women for physical disabilities because they were required to work long hours carrying heavy loads.
Bontu, another “Gender and Health” student, told about being the oldest of several children. When her single mother died, she was expected to care for all her younger siblings, despite how difficult it was for her. Even though she sacrificed to help them, the younger boys did not respect or appreciate her because she was female. She described how sons in families are often catered to and lavished with love while girls are ignored or treated as servants. Bontu sees many of Ethiopia’s problems stemming from these unhealthy family dynamics and is dedicated to making a better life for daughters like herself.
Seblewengel is an articulate, intelligent Ethiopian who received her PhD from Ghana and is now teaching at the Evangelical Theological College (ETC) as well as occasionally teaching at EGST. Seblewengel grew up on a missionary compound with parents who viewed their sons and daughters as equals. Her education enhanced her self-confidence, and she enrolled at ETC to study theology. To her great surprise, a respected professor there allowed only males to enroll in his class. This was Seble’s first encounter with the idea that, while there is no limitation for men in ministry, some roles are not available to women. Since then she has wrestled with biblical passages about the role and status of women as she has wrestled with her denomination’s position on women in ministry. It has not been easy for Seble, but she maintains a servant’s heart as she serves her church in ministry open to females and looks with optimism toward expanding horizons for women in the church in Ethiopia.
The opportunities for women in Ethiopia are expanding with government support of women’s issues. However, life for women here continues to provide challenges that women in some other countries will never face.
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There is neither Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female; for all of you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Gal. 3:28)
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