Mission Issues

Thinking and re-thinking missionary issues

The position of women in Africa

Today is National Women’s day in South Africa. By making this a public holiday in South Africa, the government is obviously trying to focus on the rights of women to be treated with equal respect as men and to eradicate all forms of discrimination against women – a laudable desire indeed. However, looking at the people in the communities where we minister in Swaziland, another picture arises. And I am sure the same can be said for most of the rural areas in South Africa and probably in many other countries in Africa as well. While girls are in their parents’ home, they have to bow before the authority of their fathers and other males in the family and once they are married, they have to bow before the authority of their husbands. I can fortunately say that there are quite a number of families that we know very well where it does seem as if there is real respect between the husbands and wives. In most, if not all of the cases, the men are Christians who also wish to live out their faith in the way in which they relate to their spouses and families.
I cannot speak on behalf of the whole of Africa, but in sub-Saharan Africa where I have visited a number of countries or have contact with churches, by far the majority of church members are women. It is as if many men tend to think that Christianity is below their dignity. This becomes a problem in a certain way, as the Christian women feel that they should submit to their husbands but at the same time their husbands sometimes expect things from them which is in stark contrast to the women’s faith in Jesus Christ.
The women of our church (this is very common in Africa) have a women’s conference every year, where the female members of the church from all over Swaziland gather for a weekend (usually in September) to discuss issues which are relevant to them. My wife got so frustrated with these gatherings at one stage, because year after year the theme would be something like: How to live as a Christian in a married relationship. It just seemed as if no final answer could ever be formulated.
In these times of HIV and AIDS, the problem becomes much more severe. What does a Christian woman do if she suspects that her unbelieving husband is involved in extra-marital affairs? What does she do if her husband is working on the mines somewhere in South Africa, only comes home once in every two or three months (or even once in six months!) and she knows that he is having sex with prostitutes at the mine hostels?
In August 2006 a large number of Reformed churches gathered in Nigeria for a consultation, where they discussed, amongst other things, the church’s attitude towards HIV/AIDS. A question was posed: Would the churches protect a woman if she suspected her husband of infidelity, and would they support her in her refusal to have sex with him in those circumstances? Eventually a resolution was adopted which said that both men and women have the right to refuse sex with a spouse, should they suspect the other partner of infidelity. Different people were then asked to respond to this decision and it seemed as if I was the only one who did respond (or at least who questioned the decision), because I later found out that special reference had been made to me in a report about this meeting. My main concern was not whether the woman had the right to refuse sex with her husband should he be involved in extra-marital affairs. My concern was what would happen to her, should she refuse. In Africa a term which is being used more and more, is domestic rape. When reading books and articles written especially by women in Africa, it becomes clear that this is becoming a tremendous problem. In short, when reading these articles and listening to the voices of many of these women, I doubt whether the decision by the Nigerian church is feasible.
Increasingly we find that devoted Christian women are succumbing to the effects of HIV/AIDS, not because they were untrue to their husbands, but because they were unfortunate enough to be married to a man who lived an adulterous life.
Can a government’s decision to have a public holiday which focuses on women’s rights change this? I doubt it. If the men of Africa do not submit to the authority of God, then I cannot see how this will ever change.


Thursday, August 9, 2007 - Posted by | Africa, HIV & AIDS, Mission, Swaziland, Theology, Women


  1. Well this is the nitty gritty of it, isn’t it? Changed hearts are the only thing that really does any good. Here in America the religious right wants to repeal the abortion laws, making it illegal, but until our culture changes or individuals change and submit to G-d, abortions will occur.

    You were placed in a difficult position, and like you, I would have had the SAME concern about the women refusing their husbands. Certainly there are no easy answers and anyone who tries to sell us that there are, is lying.

    Choosing righteousness is terribly difficult in this world. Temptations are everywhere and it would be great if we could just legislate morality (which we do to a degree with laws against murder and stealing) but it doesn’t prevent the transgression, it just punishes it, if and when the perpetrator is caught. I’m not saying there shouldn’t be laws, but they can go only so far in stemming the tide of any horrible consequence of sinful actions.

    You are living in such a battlezone (I’m sure this is no news to you) but I’m sure your presence there is having a wonderful effect, even during times when you feel there is spiritual gridlock.

    I want to say that I absolutely love and appreciate how real you are in your writing and the telling of your experiences. You come across as not only sincere and committed to G-d and your faith, but humble and accessible. Your congregation is so blessed to have you. I have become so interested in your ministry that I began Googling “Swaziland” and began learning about your country. Wow, is it TINY! LOL

    Do you plan to take pictures of your church or countryside? I would love to see more of your area there. I’m a visual person so it always helps. 😉

    Comment by Maya | Friday, August 10, 2007 | Reply

  2. Hi Maya, thanks once again for your positive remarks. I appreciate it.
    We have a website where we have more about our work. Go to http://www.swazimission.co.za and then click on the “English” tab which will open a new page. Start by going to the “Interactive map”. You will see that Swaziland has four districts. I am working in the Shiselweni district in the south. Click on this part of the map and a new map will open with an indication of the different places where we have branches within this area (Dwaleni, Makhosini, Hlushwana, Matsanjeni and Big Bend). I am mostly working at Dwaleni and this is also the place where we started our AIDS ministry, although it has now expanded to Matsanjeni, Lavumisa and Ezikhotheni (the last two are not indicated on the map yet).
    Some of the photos are thumbnails which will expand into larger photos when you click on them (but not all, yet).
    When you’re through with the map, you can click on the “AIDS Ministry” button where you will also find a lot of information as well as photos and links. Let me know what you think.

    Comment by Arnau van Wyngaard | Friday, August 10, 2007 | Reply

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