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Women’s Rights

Ethiopia: Catholic bishop speaks up for women’s rights

Posted by ACN News on 2/10/2007, 2:08 pm
Message modified by board administrator 7/8/2008, 1:51 pm

ACN News 2/10/2007

Ethiopia. Catholic bishop speaks up for women’s rights
(With photo of Bishop Rodrigo Mejía Saldarriaga)

The bishop of Soddo-Hosanna, Rodrigo Mejía Saldarriaga, has spoken out in favour of women’s rights in Ethiopia. Speaking to the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), the Colombian Jesuit revealed that his diocese is promoting women quite deliberately through a range of educational measures. He explained that, although on the one hand women were highly regarded in the African cultures as the “source of life” – something that was not often the case in Europe – on the other hand they did not get the same educational opportunities as men. Even to this day, he said, many Africans would not understand why women should learn to read and write or be trained for a profession. For this reason his diocese has an office for the promotion of women, the purpose of which is to help women to form cooperatives and which at the same time offers courses in such subjects as sewing, cooking, and computers, thereby enabling them to earn their own living and to “feel independent in society”. African women are very hard workers, the bishop emphasised, adding that there has been a good response to these Church-run promotional programmes. The more strongly women were promoted in this way the more the awareness of their dignity grew in society, he said. The promotion of women was thus a “particular aspect of the work for justice and peace”.

Bishop Mejía Saldarriaga also spoke out against polygamy, which, he told ACN, disadvantaged women, and similarly against the genital mutilation of women, or so-called “female circumcision”. This still represented a challenge to many African cultures, he said, and he expressed his satisfaction that governments were now reacting and had recognized the psychological and health consequences of such female circumcision and were now doing something to stop it.

The bishop also emphatically welcomed the involvement of women as catechists in pastoral work. In the early phase of the missionary work only men had been used as catechists, he said, and had tended to function to some extent as “second priests”. Meanwhile, however, the Church had gained entirely positive experiences with female catechists who, he said, had “a particular approach to people that was friendlier and gentler”. For young girls especially, as for other women and for children too, they proved to be “good counsellors”. They had proved themselves to be reliable and, “as women usually do”, generally gave a better example in everyday life than the men. In this way they were “very credible”, the bishop explained.

According to Bishop Saldarriaga, one of the greatest challenges for the diocese is the steady growth of the Catholic Church in the region and the consequent demands of the pastoral ministry to the faithful. The work of the Church is made harder by the poor roads, especially during the rainy season. In his diocese, which is an overwhelmingly rural area, he considers himself lucky to have 50 priests working – a hearteningly high number, as he acknowledges – yet nonetheless this is still too few. As a result the involvement of lay catechists is especially necessary, he explained.

Overall, however, the bishop sees the immense poverty as the principal problem in the region. Although the soil is fertile the harvests often fail when the rains do not come. Additionally, there is not enough land to feed the population, he believes. Such poverty results in a deficient infrastructure, poor healthcare provision and a lack of educational opportunities for the people, he added. Nonetheless, the Catholic Church maintains numerous social institutions – for example there are 35 Catholic kindergartens, 11 primary schools and a number of hospitals in the diocese.

The diocese of Soddo-Hosanna has a population of 7 million, of whom some 236,000 are Catholics. These Catholics in fact represent some 38% of the Catholics in the entire country. All in all, Catholic Christians account for just 0.6% of the 70 million-strong total population of Ethiopia. Over half the population belongs to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. Yet,although Catholics represent only a tiny minority of the population, some 90% of the social institutions in Ethiopia are run by the Catholic Church.

To help the work of Aid to the Church in Need in Ethiopia please contact the Australiam office of ACN on (02) 9679-1929. e-mail: info@aidtochurch.org or write to Aid to the Church in Need PO Box 6245 Blacktown DC NSW 2148. Web: http://www.aidtochurch.org 

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