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Mothers' Union Provincial Conference, Kenya
Stephanie Mooney, our Regional Development Project Lead for East and West Africa recently visited Kenya where she attended the Anglican Church of Kenya’s Mothers’ Union Provincial Conference. Here is an article she has written for the Church of England Newspaper about her trip.
I recently visited Kenya to attend the Anglican Church of Kenya’s Mothers’ Union Provincial Conference, which was opened and supported by the Most Revd Dr Jackson Ole Sapit. Arriving at the opening service of the conference, the auditorium was awash with blue and white. Every available seat was taken with people spilling out into the corridors and through to an outdoor space, in order to accommodate all 2000 participants from the Mothers’ Union.
What struck me about this gathering is that people had travelled from every part of Kenya to participate, and many of Kenya’s different communities were represented. Women from every walk of life were present. There were teachers, clergy, active soldiers, business women, and doctors, as well as stay at home mothers, including some who had left their homestead for the first time to attend the conference.
The conference was rich in diversity and the shared unity of women being in both the Mothers’ Union and the Church. The participants came together to worship, to be in fellowship and to discuss important issues, such as the challenges facing families, gender based violence and gender parity, and the need for peace and reconciliation. The theme for the conference was ‘a people who act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with our God’ (based on Micah 6:8b). An aim of the conference was ‘to encourage, inspire, sharpen, and also motivate us to reach out to our families, churches, communities and ultimately the nation with wholesome transforming love’.
In keeping with this aim, the women I met are actively working to improve the lives of individuals, families and communities and to share the Gospel message. I met women who, inspired by their faith, are challenging social practices like child marriage and the associated gender based violence, which is still common in some parts of Kenya.
A Mothers’ Union worker *Sarah, who is an ordained minister in a Diocese, shared how she was working within her community to prevent child marriage where possible. In her part of Kenya, child marriage can happen with girls as young as 11 years old and they are often married to men in their fifties and over as a second or third wife. Through the Mothers’ Union and the network that has been established in the community, *Sarah is notified if a marriage is likely to take place. *Sarah will try and talk with the family and if the wedding cannot be prevented in this way, then they will find a discreet way to get the young girl to safety and the care of the government. After a girl is brought to safety, the government will start working with the family. The family is not informed that *Sarah has helped to get the girl protected and she would be at risk if her involvement was discovered.
*Lucy, a member of Mothers’ Union, was married off at the age of fourteen. Her biggest dream was to complete her education and she had to stop this when she was married. She started attending church and was warned by her family that she was going astray. *Lucy was able to complete her secondary education and theological training, overcoming many challenges. She was the first married woman in her community to go back to school to completer her education. She faced ridicule in her community, and her husband made her suffer through harassment, beatings and rape. Lucy also had to look after her young family of five as she completed her studies. She ultimately left her husband when he threatened to kill her. Other young married women in the area have now also found the courage to attend school after marriage or leave abusive husbands.
The women I met are not always able to prevent a child marriage, or stop girls being ‘cut’ before their wedding ceremonies, or women being harmed or murdered due to domestic violence, and they feel a real solidarity with those affected. *Sarah and Lucy remain in their communities, providing support, fellowship and togetherness. The Church and the Mothers’ Union provides care for those who are suffering and they help share each other’s burdens, as well as celebrating and sharing hope as they persevere through life together. The conference brought together many brave, remarkable and inspiring women who gained much from each other’s company at the event, and I left feeling richer for my time with these women.