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Commentary: Mozambican women step out in faith


United Methodist women in Mozambique gather in Maputo for the Mozambican Women's Seminar on the Social Principles, facilitated by Linda Bales (left)
of the United Methodist Board of Church and Society.
A UMNS photo courtesy of Linda Bales.












A UMNS Commentary by Linda Bales*
April 3, 2007 | MAPUTO, Mozambique (UMNS)


"Love is the most important action we take for ourselves and others. We cannot do our work without it," says Lidia Zacarias in her closing devotional. A UMNS photo
by Linda Bales.

The room was quiet as Lidia Zacarias began to speak quietly, sharing one of the most cherished chapters in the Bible - 1 Corinthians 13. 

"Love is the most important action we take for ourselves and others," Lidia said. "We cannot do our work without it."

The love passage served as a closing devotional during the Mozambican Women's Seminar on the Social Principles, which brought together 20 United Methodist women to study the denomination's biblical and theological positions on a variety of contemporary human issues. The March 14-16 event in Maputo was sponsored by the United Methodist Board of Church and Society.

The spirit of loving oneself and one's neighbor permeated the gathering as evidenced by spontaneous singing and a willingness to seek out God's word through Bible study followed by discernment on the critical social issues of the day facing women. The women came to pray, learn and act!

The primary issue addressed was HIV & AIDS.

"We have to do something about this!" declared a woman named Enia after listening to a conversation about men having multiple wives or partners - resulting in increased HIV infections. The session highlighted the trend that marriage has become a risk factor since many women are now contracting the virus from their husbands.

Challenging some of the cultural practices in Mozambique was among pledges made by these bold and courageous women and, no doubt, they will face opposition.

Other issues addressed were domestic violence, mental health, depression and suicide, women's rights and how to develop a political consciousness.

“Challenging some of the cultural practices in Mozambique was among pledges made by these bold and courageous women and, no doubt, they will face opposition.”

"This special seminar is a blessing and will transform our country and world. We say thank you," said Ilda Suzana, staff person on women's concerns for the Mozambique Conference.

The spirit-filled women face an uphill battle in their desire to correct some of the injustices happening in their country, given the dire statistics.

Mozambique has a population of 19 million and is twice the geographic size as California. On the Human Development Index, it ranks last out of all the countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, having a literacy rate of 48 percent and only 50 percent of its women educated. Life expectancy has dropped from 43 in 1990 to 39 in 2006 due to the AIDS pandemic. An estimated 1.8 million people have the HIV virus and more than half are women.

One reality facing the women is the lack of open discussion about sexuality and the transmission of disease. According to one participant, women can talk about sex, but when a man enters the room, the conversation stops. A related cultural taboo is the belief that sex is not discussed when a daughter-in-law and mother-in-law are in the same room.


 Linda Bales

While there are laws protecting women against domestic violence and guaranteeing inheritance rights, they are rarely enforced. Women are routinely discriminated against either through patriarchal systems in place or cultural practices denying basic rights.
Several of the seminar participants will visit the United States in April to meet with the Board of Church and Society and representatives of the Women's Division of the Board of Global Ministries. They also will speak in local churches in the Virginia Annual Conference - one of their partner conferences. 

Instituting a Department of Social Principles within United Methodist Women was an action idea identified at the seminar's conclusion. The department would sponsor ongoing training and education on the Social Principles for women throughout the conference with the hope of bringing higher quality of life to women, children and families. 

*Bales is program director of the Louise and Hugh Moore Population Project and children's concerns for the United Methodist Board of Church and Society.

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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