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From the readings, reflect on how women can use religion to promote their agency, fight for equality  and  address how climate change affects them and their communities. Cite at least two examples from the readings

Religion in sub-Saharan Africa

“Religions in Africa are religions of living people – and not for the museum.”


The importance of religion in Africa

In Africa, Religion has a great impact on the
cultural life
of the continent. It is very multifaceted. It influences the entire life of the people and plays a central role for them. They love their religion. Celebrations are also very important to African Traditional Religion. African Traditional Religion belongs to the African ideology. Daily, it plays a decisive role for the inhabitants, as they are very religious and spiritual.
Religions in different parts of africa:

Christianity and Islam in Africa

Most people belong to either Islam or Christianity. About 1600 AD sub-Saharan Africa was reached by Christianity, which is the predominantly practised religion in most areas there. The first historical evidence of Christianity in these regions was found in Ethiopia. Islam spread via passages through the Sinai Peninsula and Egypt and through Islamic Arab and Persian traders and sailors to Africa 1 / 2(and so to the sub- Saharan- areas). Values of Islam are seen to have much in common with
traditional African life
(For example, the roles of men and women are clearly defined).

Christianity reached the sub-Saharan areas through trade, through explorers and also through missionaries and the administrators of colonies and passed through several stages of cultural integration.

The relations between Christianity and Islam in sub-Saharan Africa are complex. In some areas the relationship is harmonious, whereas in other countries there are many difficulties. In both religions, those groups that take an intolerant position seem to expand (because of the influence of radical groups). At the same time, the increased polarization has also stimulated more moderately minded Christians and Muslims to work together to strive toward peaceful coexistence and mutual respect. They have accepted the religious diversity on the continent as a part of the African reality.

Traditional Religion

The European Christians did not find infidels when they came to Africa. People there did not know the term “religion”. Religious buildings (for example, mosques or any churches) or written religious texts (as we can find them in the Koran or the Bible) did not exist. The people had been deeply religious and pious, adhering to their own rituals.

Today, these traditional religions are still practised as well as the two monotheistic religions Christianity and Islam which is the most common religion. People have a very high sense of the sacred. There are sacred objects, places and persons.

Traditional African Religion encompasses a wide variety of traditional beliefs. Even many people that are adherents of Christianity or Islam maintain some aspects of their traditional religions
and thus hold syncretistic beliefs or a mixture of both.
In Traditional Religions there doesn’t exist a defined difference between life and afterlife. Life moves from birth to death and to rebirth.
In contrast to Christianity and Islam, the African Traditional Religions also have other deities. The spiritual view of life represents the foundation of the Traditional Religion in Africa. Human life is always related to the after-life.
In this context it should be mentioned that God is regarded as a Higher Being and as the reason of all things. This worldview affects African life at a very basic level.

Traditional Religion in African society

While in some countries (such as Ghana, Togo, Benin) public adherence to African Traditional Religion is appreciated, in other places (like Somalia) the traditional forms of religion have been suppressed in public life. That is why in many African countries people identify themselves publicly with either Christianity or Islam, but privately practise Traditional African Religions at various stages in their lives.


Relative to the presence and also the practice of certain rituals of Traditional Religions, there are many differences in the diverse countries of Africa. Certain persons are said to be magicians, who are able to heal other people with herbs, but can also injure them. Bad magicians are extremely feared. The belief in witchcraft is also quite common among African communities. It is impossible to determine how many people give any credence to witchcraft and mystical journeys (e.g. into the underworld), but the indications are that many do so.

The role of women in African Traditional Religion

Women are very significant in Traditional African Religion. They are regarded as the producers of life and as the mothers of humankind. Through the women human life is directly linked to God. God has created the woman and in turn she has become the creator of human life. Because of this, every woman has a very special relationship to God with whom she shares the process of creating life but also the misfortunes and death. When a tragedy happens, the women are blamed.

In almost every African village, there exist medicine-men or – women, who are considered as friends of the village. A healer must diagnose the nature of the disease, discover the cause of the sickness and apply the right treatment. Physical and spiritual methods are applied. The healers also protect people from witchcraft. In general, women serve as mediums and diviners (both spiritual beings). Those women relay messages from the “other world” and are highly respected in the community.
Women play important roles in personal rituals associated with birth, puberty and death. They are “ritual specialists” and the upholders of community norms and


The symbolism of the rituals indicates the essential cultural meaning of mature womanhood. Throughout sub-Saharan Africa, fertility remains high and stable. This cannot solely be explained by a lack of development or ineffectiveness of family planning programs, but by the religious belief system that operates directly to sustain high fertility. The essence of the traditional belief system is the importance attributed to the succession of the generations, with the old tending to acquire even greater and more awe-inspiring powers after death than in this world and with the most frequent use of those powers being to ensure the survival of the family of descent.
And so there exists the “cult of ancestors”: Many Africans venerate the spirits of their ancestors.

Many festivals derive from African traditional religions and many of them are in honor of the ancestors and the most important divinities. It is very common that well-dressed women sing and dance during the celebrations of these festivals. Furthermore, the ritualistic dances and the singing of the women warm the hearts of the gods.
But women are also seen as spiritual sources of danger because of the “polluting nature of blood”. That is because of the special significance of blood. The blood of menstruation and of childbirth is the “pollution” and the
women have to be separated from the “clean” women. Menstruating women are not allowed to touch religious things and they are banned from the shrines and other places where rituals are performed. During her period, a woman is not allowed to have sexual relations and in some rural areas she mustn’t cook for her husband.

The attitude of the Catholic Church towards African Traditional Religion

For a long time the Christians, especially the Catholic Church, did not want to deal with the traditional religions in Africa. Direct contact with followers of African Traditional Religion had to wait until the papacy of John Paul II who had shown not only his appreciation of
and cultures but also respect for and interest in traditional religions.

Interreligious dialogue portrayed African Traditional Religion and Culture in good light. Pope John Paul II introduced a new dimension to the dialogue with the followers of the Traditional Religion. He sent a message to the whole world: “The adherents of African Traditional Religion should […] be treated with great respect and esteem […]”.

So much has been achieved in the dialogue with African Traditional Religion, but there are still “many rivers to cross”.

Daniela Meusel


Chidi Denis Isizoh, Dialogue with African Traditional Religion: The changing attitude of the Catholic Church,

Africa-Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia,

Dr. Martha Th. Frederiks, Let us understand our differences: Current trends in Christian-Muslim Relations in sub-Sahara Africa,

Stephen Ellis & Gerrie ter Haar, JO-Abstract-Religion and politics in Sub-Saharan Africa,

Kenneth Kojo Anti, KKAnti: Women in African Traditional Religion,

John C. Caldwell & Pat Caldwell, JSTOR: Population and Development Review, Vol.13, No.3 (pp. 409-437),
(1987,Zugriff:29.12.2009) Agnes Loteta Dimandja,The Role and Place of Women in Sub-Saharan African Societies,
(2004,Zugriff:29.12.2009) Williams Edia, African Culture And Women: African women’s role in Society and Governance, -society-and.html
(2008, Zugriff:29.12.2009) Gerrie ter Haar & Stephen Ellis, Verbunden mit der Welt der Geister,
, (2008,Zugriff:30.12.2009)

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Legal notice

GENDER & SOCIETY, Vol. 29 No. 6, December 2015 982 –1008
DOI: 10.1177/0891243215602106
© 2015 by The Author(s)

Women’s religious authority in a
sub-saharan setting:

Dialectics of empowerment and Dependency

Victor AgAdjAniAn
University of Kansas, USA

Western scholarship on religion and gender has devoted considerable attention to wom-
en’s entry into leadership roles across various religious traditions and denominations.
However, very little is known about the dynamics of women’s religious authority and
leadership in developing settings, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, a region of powerful
and diverse religious expressions. this study employs a combination of uniquely rich and
diverse data to examine women’s formal religious authority in a predominantly christian
setting in Mozambique. i first use survey data to test hypotheses regarding the prevalence
and patterns of women’s formal leadership across different denominational groups. i then
support and extend the quantitative results with insights on pathways and consequences
of women’s ascent to formal congregation authority drawn from qualitative data. the
analysis illustrates how women’s religious authority both defies and reasserts the gen-
dered constraints of the religious marketplace and the broader gender ideology in this
developing context.

Keywords: religion; women’s leadership; gender ideology; sub-Saharan Africa

Women’s rise to formal leadership roles in religious institutions in Western settings has attracted considerable scholarly attention. In
the United States, where this topic has generated the most interest, much

AUThOR’S NOTE: the support of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver national institute of
child Health and Human development (nicHd) grant # r01Hd050175 for data collec-
tion is gratefully acknowledged. i am thankful to cecilia Menjívar for valuable comments
and suggestions. correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Victor
Agadjanian, Foundation distinguished Professor, department of Sociology, University of
Kansas, Lawrence, KS 60045, USA; e-mail: [email protected]

602106GASXXX10.1177/0891243215602106Gender & SocietyWomen’s Religious Authority

mailto:[email protected]


research has examined ordination of women in various denominations,
which started in earnest in the nineteenth century and has both reflected
and ushered in major changes in religious organization and activities (e.g.,
Bednarowski 1980; Dodson 2002; Lehman 1985; Ruether and McLaughlin
1979). This scholarship has produced research focused on women’s lead-
ership in marginal religions (Wessinger 1993), women’s leadership in
mainstream denominational traditions (Wessinger 1996)—and other top-
ics (e.g., Chaves 1997; Nesbitt 1997; Schmidt 1996; Zikmund, Lummis,
and Chang 1998). Using diverse theoretical perspectives and a variety of
data sources, this research documents and analyzes women’s growing
entry into religious leadership, the broader societal changes that promote
this entry, and the consequences of increased women’s leadership for reli-
gious congregations and for society at large.

Fewer attempts have been made to examine women’s ascension to for-
mal religious leadership in contemporary developing settings, especially
for sub-Saharan Africa, a region of massive religious complexity and
vigorous and multifaceted social change. The literature on religion and
gender in such settings typically focuses on the effects of women’s reli-
gious participation on their informal authority within the religious realm
(e.g., Bano and Kalmbach 2012; van Doorn-harder 2006) and their status,
opportunities, and engagement outside of it (e.g., Agadjanian and Yabiku,
forthcoming; Brusco 1995; Coleman 2010; Rinaldo 2013), but glosses
over women’s formal involvement in religious organizational leadership
and the challenges and barriers surrounding this involvement. Using a
combination of unique quantitative and qualitative data, this study helps
to fill this important gap by examining patterns and mechanisms of wom-
en’s formal religious authority, that is, organizational authority sanctioned
through formal appointment or election, in a predominantly Christian sub-
Saharan setting. Quantitative analyses demonstrate considerable denomi-
national variations in women’s presence among congregation leaders, yet
also the limits of that presence regardless of denominational type.
Qualitative analyses elucidate women’s pathways to formal religious
authority as well as constraints that the patriarchal gender ideology con-
tinues to impose on women church leaders.


My broader theoretical approach is inspired by the cross-national
scholarship on how women employ religious doctrinal and organizational
tools in their struggles for equality and advancement. This literature uses

984 GENdER & SOCIETY / december 2015

both historical and contemporary cases to argue that religious piety and
religious organizational engagement are used by women to transform the
religious realm from within, by reinterpreting and repositioning religious
teachings and norms so as to enable and promote women’s agency and
empowerment (e.g., Avishai 2008; Bartkowski and Read 2003; Chong
2008; Dodson 2002; González 2013; Khurshid 2015; Mahmood 2005;
Prickett 2015; Rinaldo 2013; van Doorn-harder 2006).

More specifically, however, my conceptualization draws from the body
of interdisciplinary studies that analyze causes, processes, and conse-
quences of women’s engagement in formal religious leadership in the U.S.
and other Western settings. This research shows that the roads to religious
leadership in Western settings have differed across denominations, reflect-
ing unique denominational norms, rules, and circumstances. Thus, main-
stream Protestant denominations and progressive groups within Judaism
became increasingly amenable to women’s formal leadership roles as
early as the eighteenth century, with a particularly rapid expansion of
these roles in the twentieth century (Charlton 1997; Chaves 1996; Larson
1999; Lehman 1985; Marder 1996; Nadell 1998; Zikmund, Lummis, and
Chang 1998). Women’s entry into leadership positions was also histori-
cally more common in non-mainstream religious movements, such as
Quakerism, Shakerism, Spiritualism, Christian Science, and Theosophy,
which are typically characterized by deemphasizing a masculine deity and
the doctrine of the Fall, denial of the need for formally ordained clergy,
and asserting women’s roles outside the sphere of marriage and mother-
hood (Bednarowski 1980; Larson 1999; Plant 2003). In contemporary
Pentecostal churches, despite these churches’ generally conservative,
patriarchal theological and social narratives, women often rise to positions
of considerable influence and authority through charisma invigorated by
God’s calling, especially in churches with no fixed ordination rules
(Lawless 1993). Finally, the Roman Catholic Church has historically
banned ordination of women as priests and this ban has persisted despite
a growing critique from both within and outside that denomination. Yet,
even the Catholic Church has seen a dramatic expansion of laywomen
ministry (Ecklund 2006; Flinn 1996). Catholic women’s rise as de facto
congregation leaders has become possible in part due to an increasing
shortage of priests (Wallace 1992).

In spite of the expansion in women’s religious leadership, research
has shown persistent barriers to women’s ordination even in more pro-
gressive denominations (Lehman 1980; Marder 1996; Nesbitt 1993;
Tucker 1996). According to Chaves (1996), increased women’s ordination


has reflected religious organizations’ adjustment to external political and
institutional pressures, in particular, those involving women’s rights and
gender equality, but also internal organizational and sociocultural charac-
teristics of different denominations. Whereas these external and internal
pressures helped pave the way for women’s entry into religious leadership
positions, they also often clashed with the religious organizations’ internal
goals and priorities. As a result, women’s formal leadership, while no
longer opposed in principle, often remained limited to subordinate roles
(Chang 1997; Chaves 1997; Nesbitt 1997; Schmidt 1996; Sullins 2000),
and women’s leadership posts often revert to men after women leaders
leave the church scene (Baer 1993; Wessinger 1993, 2)

Analytic Approach

I formulate several hypotheses about women in congregation leader-
ship in the sub-Saharan setting under study. First, I hypothesize that
women’s presence in formal leadership positions would be most promi-
nent in ideologically more liberal and organizationally more flexible
denominations (hypothesis 1). Next, I consider the size and gender com-
position of congregation membership, hypothesizing that regardless of
denomination women would be more likely to lead smaller congrega-
tions (hypothesis 2) and congregations with a higher women-to-men ratio
of members (hypothesis 3). Because the wealth of a congregation is an
important marker of its leader’s prestige, men should be particularly
reluctant to cede leadership to women in more established, affluent con-
gregations. Therefore, I expect that wealthier congregations, regardless
of other characteristics, would be less likely to have a woman leader
(hypothesis 4). With respect to urban–rural differences I propose two
competing hypotheses. On the one hand, assuming that the urban envi-
ronment connotes greater overall gender equality, urban congregations
should be more likely to have a woman leader (hypothesis 5a). On the
other hand, however, if urban congregation leadership commands greater
prestige, it should be more attractive to men; we therefore would see
fewer women among congregation leaders in urban areas, net of other
factors (hypothesis 5b).

With regard to differences between men and women congregation lead-
ers, I focus on leaders’ formal religious training, typically in a Bible school
or another theological program, and their ranks in the church hierarchy.
Thus, I hypothesize that women leaders should be less likely to have
received any formal religious training net of other characteristics (hypoth-
esis 6). Finally, I also expect to find women leaders underrepresented in

986 GENdER & SOCIETY / december 2015

higher-ranking positions (e.g., bishop, superintendent, priest, pastor, or
minister) even in churches where such positions are not formally closed to
women, regardless of other congregation characteristics and of leader’s
formal religious training (hypothesis 7).

I test these hypotheses using survey data and then complement the
statistical tests with insights from qualitative data on how women’s formal
authority is established, exercised, and constrained across different
denominations. Among its other contributions, qualitative analysis allows
me to distinguish and compare two subtypes of women’s authority of
office: office authority that women achieve on their own and office
authority that they gain by virtue of association with husband church lead-
ers, that is, by sharing their husband’s authority or inheriting it after their
husband’s death.


The data come from the district of Chibuto in southern Mozambique,
an impoverished nation located in Southeast Africa. With a population of
about 220,000, Chibuto is in many respects typical for Mozambique and
the rest of the subcontinent. It is largely mono-ethnic Changana-speaking,
with patrilineal kinship system and bridewealth-based marriage: Upon the
transfer of bridewealth, married women’s productive and reproductive
capacities and outputs belong to their husband’s families. The district’s
economy is pivoted on low-yield subsistence agriculture: Although women
play a major role in agricultural production, they do not inherit land. The
area’s proximity to South Africa, Mozambique’s much more prosperous
neighbor, and to Maputo, Mozambique’s capital city, has made men’s
labor migration a vital source of livelihood for its population (De Vletter
2007). In this setting, mass men’s labor migration and the incomes that it
generates overall have helped to maintain the traditional gender ideology
by perpetuating women’s economic dependence on men (Loforte 2000).

Although Mozambique has a large Muslim minority, Chibuto district,
as much of Mozambique’s south, is overwhelmingly Christian. Before
Mozambique’s independence from Portugal in 1975, the area’s religious
landscape was largely defined by the Roman Catholic Church and by what
I define as traditional Protestant and Evangelical churches (hereafter, tra-
ditional Protestant churches). The Catholic Church was the quasi-official
church of the Portuguese colonial empire. Protestant missions, such as
those of the Presbyterian, Methodist, Anglican, and Baptist churches, and


the Church of the Nazarene were also established during the colonial
years and played an important role in forming the indigenous educated
elites that later led the national liberation struggle (Cruz e Silva 2001).
Despite the pre-eminence of the Catholic Church and considerable influ-
ence of traditional Protestant churches throughout most of the twentieth
century, these churches have lost much of the colonial-era clout and, with
it, much of their membership after the nation’s independence (Morier-
Genoud and Anouilh 2013).

The Catholic and traditional Protestant churches’ relative decline was
paralleled—and largely caused—by the growth of Pentecostal and
Charismatic churches. The rising tide of Pentecostal and Charismatic
Christianity, reflecting broader processes of postcolonial development, is
a subcontinent-wide phenomenon (Garrard 2009; Kalu 2003). Despite (or
maybe because of) its magnitude, standard definitions and classifications
of this array of churches remain elusive (Anderson 2002; Garrard 2009).
here, I distinguish between generally older, African-initiated or heavily
Africanized churches on the one hand and more recent, global neo-Pente-
costal churches on the other. The churches of the former variety sprang up
and propagated in southern Africa since the first half of the twentieth
century. Zionist churches and Apostolic churches have been particularly
influential among them. These churches first penetrated Mozambique
from South Africa, often introduced by returning migrants, but they truly
blossomed after the independence, and especially after the onset of neo-
liberal economic reforms in the early 1990s, finding a rich pool of poten-
tial converts among disenfranchised peasant masses nominally (and often
forcibly) affiliated with Catholicism and traditional Protestantism. While
formally and vocally distancing themselves from local pre-Christian
beliefs and practices, both Apostolic and Zionist churches have de facto
embraced the traditional notions of illness and misfortune as caused by
evil spirits and correspondingly adapted miracle healing as a weapon to
fight those spirits (Pfeiffer 2002).

The appeal of Zionist churches, centered on prophesying, tongue-
speaking, and divine cure powered by the holy Spirit, was particularly
strong and, accordingly, their numeric rise was especially spectacular.
Thus, according to Mozambique’s 1997 general census, in the nation’s
south Zionists made up 40 percent of the population, or three times the
share of Catholics. Even after a slightly lower percentage (35 percent)
recorded in the 2007 census, Zionists remained the largest denominational
category (Instituto Nacional de Estatística 1999, 2009). Without delving
into the theological and organizational complexity of Zionists, I should

988 GENdER & SOCIETY / december 2015

note that this conglomerate encompasses a large number of churches and
is internally diverse and often ridden by fierce, even if veiled, ideological
clashes and organizational rivalries (Agadjanian 1999). Apostolic
churches, the other denominational block in that category, can be classi-
fied as African-initiated Charismatics. While sharing many features with
Zionist theology and practices, Apostolics are more institutionally intro-
verted and have a distinctively corporate, rigid, and hierarchical organiza-
tional structure which stands in stark contrast with generally loosely
organized Zionist churches. Although Apostolic churches have not seen a
numeric and demographic growth comparable to that of Zionists, they
nonetheless have a noticeable presence on the area’s religious scene
(Agadjanian 2012).

Finally, in the last few decades, Mozambique, as much of the subconti-
nent, has seen an increasing proliferation of newer (neo-)Pentecostal
denominations, such as the Assemblies of God and, more recently, transna-
tionals like the Brazilian-origin Universal Church of the Kingdom of God
(van de Kamp and van Dijk 2010). First implanted in urban areas and
catering to the urban working and lower-middle classes, these churches
have now been vigorously spreading into the countryside. These churches
(to which I hereafter refer simply as Pentecostal) refute what they see as
Zionists’ utilization of de facto traditional, ancestor spirit–based healing
practices and, in response to the expectations of their ever more demanding
audiences, go beyond Zionists’ narrow focus on physical cure by offering
a wider array of social and economic wellness-enhancing solutions.

Regardless of denominational affiliation, location, and size, each con-
gregation typically has one supreme leader (Jehovah’s Witnesses being an
exception). These leaders may or may not have any formal religious train-
ing and may occupy different ranks in their respective church hierarchies,
for example, bishop, priest, pastor, minister, deacon, evangelist, or coor-
dinator (animador in Portuguese).


The study uses a combination of quantitative and qualitative data col-
lected between 2008 and 2014. For the statistical analysis of women’s lead-
ership in the district’s religious congregations, I use data from a survey of
religious congregations of Chibuto district (hereafter Chibuto congregation
census) conducted by the collaborative research team of Arizona State
University (USA) and Eduardo Mondlane University (Mozambique) mainly


in 2008 for the project “Religious Organizations in the Fight against hIV/
AIDS.” As part of the project, all religious congregations located within the
district boundaries were enumerated and then in-person interviews were
carried out with their formal leaders (i.e., individuals appointed or elected
to head the congregation) or their deputies if the leaders were unavailable.
In total, representatives of 1,126 congregations were interviewed, with a
nearly 100 percent participation rate. An interview lasted approximately 45
minutes, on average, and covered the characteristics of congregation leader-
ship and membership, characteristics of congregation facilities, basic doc-
trinal and organizational aspects, and community-based activities deployed
by the congregation (additional details on the census design and content are
available from the authors upon request). I exclude three Muslim communi-
ties from the analysis; I also exclude one community of Jehovah’s Witnesses
because the nature of leadership in this denomination is vastly different
from that in other churches. The basic characteristics of the surveyed con-
gregations are provided in Table 1.

As part of the project, to complement the congregation census data, the
research team conducted numerous focus group discussions and individ-
ual in-depth interviews with both leaders and rank-and-file members of
various congregations belonging to different denominations and located

Table 1: Characteristics of Religious Congregations, Chibuto
Congregation Census (N=1122)


Denominational category (percent)
Catholic 8.2
Traditional Protestant 15.7
Apostolic 10.3
Zionist 47.8
Pentecostal 18.0
Location (percent)
Urban (district headquarters) 18.6
Rural 81.4
Type of congregation facility (percent)
Built facility with tile or metal sheet roof 16.5
Built facility with reed/grass roof or no roof 43.3
No built facility 40.2
Number of attendees at last regular service (median) 19.0
Women-to-men ratio of last regular service attendees (median) 2.7
Number of congregations 1122

990 GENdER & SOCIETY / december 2015

in different parts of the district. These data covered a wide range of topics
paralleling the content of the census. For the current analysis, I rely on data
obtained from congregation leaders only: four focus group discussions (one
in the district headquarters and three in different rural areas, each including
5-7 participants) and 24 individual interviews with leaders of various rural
and urban congregations (some of whom also participated in focus groups).
Both focus group discussions and individual interviews used in this analysis
dealt with participants’ religious career trajectories, the nature and range of
their activities, general and gender-specific challenges that they face in
exercising those activities, and their strategies in navigating those chal-
lenges. Finally, the quantitative and qualitative data are supported by fre-
quent and prolonged field observations of church services and other events
in numerous congregations of different denominational types. These obser-
vations were conducted throughout the entire span of data collection.

I start the analysis with descriptive statistics from the congregation
census data that outline the women’s involvement in church formal lead-
ership positions (i.e., positions legitimized through appointment or elec-
tion) across different types of denominations. I then fit a multivariate
binomial logistic regression model predicting the likelihood of a congre-
gation being led by a woman from the denominational type and other
characteristics. Next, I fit logistic regression models predicting the char-
acteristics of congregation leaders; in these analyses, leader’s gender is
the predictor of interest. Finally, I use qualitative data to explore women’s
paths to and experience of formal leadership positions. Because of the
length limitation, I do not include quotes from the qualitative data and
instead summarize participants’ narratives succinctly to illuminate my key


Analysis of the Chibuto Congregation Census

Table 2 shows women’s share among congregation top leaders by
denominational category from the census. Section A shows the percentage
of women among congregation leaders. Section B displays the same per-
centage only for congregations headed by a leader who occupies a higher
rank in the church hierarchy, such as bishop, superintendent, priest, pastor,
or minister. Forty-eight percent of all congregations were headed by such
leaders; in the other 52 percent of congregations, the leaders held a low rank
in the church hierarchy, for example, deacon, subdeacon, evangelist, or “coor-
dinator.” As can be seen in column A, almost one third of all congregations


were led by women. The share of women leaders was highest among
Catholics and traditional Protestants, but even among Pentecostals and
Zionists it was around the overall average. Apostolic churches clearly stand
out with a very low share of congregation leaders, under 4 percent. For
higher-ranking leaders, women’s share among Catholics, not surprisingly,
drops to 0 percent and among Apostolics to 2 percent; it also becomes
noticeably lower than the overall share of women among congregation lead-
ers in Pentecostal congregations. In traditional Protestant and Zionist con-
gregations, however, the difference between the figures in the two columns
is much less pronounced.

Column C of Table 2 shows percentages of leaders of the surveyed
congregations who have received some formal training (e.g., Bible school,
training seminars, etc.) by denominational type.1 Women leaders overall
have a somewhat lower share of those who had any formal training com-
pared to men leaders, but the gender gap varies noticeably by denomina-
tion: It tends to be wider in denominational groups with lower overall
share of leaders who had received a formal training, such as Apostolic and
Zionist churches. In contrast, in denominations where a relatively large
share of leaders received some training, the gap is small (Catholics) or
almost nonexistent (traditional Protestants).

To test my hypotheses, I fit multivariate models. Table 3 presents the
results of a logistic regression model predicting that congregation leader

Table 2: Percent of Women among Congregation leaders and Men
leaders Percent of Received Some Formal Religious Training, Chibuto
Congregation Census (N=1122)


A. Percentage
of Women

Leaders in All

B. Percentage of
Women Leaders in
Congregations Led

by a Higher-
Ranking Office
Holder (48% of


C. Percentage of
Women and Men

Leaders with Formal
Religious Training

Men Women

Catholic 41.9 0.0 27.8 20.5

39.2 38.4 22.6 21.7

Apostolic 3.7 1.9 5.9 0.0
Zionist 34.8 31.1 13.4 5.4
Pentecostal 30.4 20.2 14.3 9.7
Total average 32.3 27.5 14.9 10.8

992 GENdER & SOCIETY / december 2015

is a woman. The covariates are the denominational category of the church
(traditional Protestants is the reference), urban versus rural location of the
congregation, number of attendees at the last regular service, the women-
to-men ratio of attendees at that service, and a set of dummies for the type
of the congregation facility (a proxy, however imperfect, for congrega-
tion’s material and financial health). The results are presented as regres-
sion parameter estimates: A positive sign of a statistically significant
coefficient means an increase in the likelihood of a woman being at the
helm of a congregation associated with the corresponding predictor and
relative to the reference category; a negative sign points to a decrease in
that likelihood.

Mirroring the bivariate distributions in Table 2A, Apostolic congrega-
tions again stand out with a much lower probability of having a woman as
a congregation leader, compared to traditional Protestants and, in fact,
compared to any other denominational group. The difference between

Table 3. logistic regression predicting the likelihood of the congregation
leader being a woman, parameter estimates and standard errors, Chibuto
Congregation Census

Covariate Coefficient SE

Denominational category
Catholic 0.367 0.272
Apostolic –2.791** 0.550
Zionist –0.233 0.187
Pentecostal –0.392+ 0.224
[Traditional Protestant]
Area of congregation location
Urban 0.025 0.183
Number of people attending last regular service –0.017** 0.004
Women-to-men ratio among last service attendees 0.026** 0.006
Type of congregation facility
Sturdy facility (tile or metal sheet roof) –0.176 0.207
Precarious facility (no or reed/grass roof) –0.168 0.150
[No permanent facility]
Constant –0.091 0.198
Likelihood ratio chi-square 123**
Number of congregations 1118

NoTeS: Reference categories in brackets; Significance level: **p<.01, *p<.05, +p<.1,
two-tailed test.


Pentecostals and Zionists, on the one hand, and traditional Protestants, on
the other, is in the same direction, but only Pentecostals are marginally
different from traditional Protestants. The odds of a woman leading a
congregation are not statistically distinguishable between traditional
Protestants and Catholics. In general, these results, and especially the
contrast between traditional Protestant, on the one hand, and Apostolics
and Pentecostals, on the other, lend support to hypothesis 1.

With regard to other predictors, women tend to head smaller congregations
than do men: The size of a congregation, measured by the number of attend-
ees, is negatively associated with the probability of its leader being a woman.
The women-to-men ratio of attendees, on the contrary, shows a strong posi-
tive association. Both results support hypotheses 2 and 3. In contrast, congre-
gation material status (approximated, however imperfectly, by the quality of
the roof of the congregation main facility) is not related to the gender of the
congregation leader; thus, hypothesis 4 is not confirmed. Finally, no signifi-
cant urban–rural differences in the likelihood of women’s leadership can be
observed, controlling for other characteristics, possibly suggesting the mutu-
ally cancelling tendencies proposed in …

Jean Ait Belkhir, Race, Gender & Class Journal

Women, Climate Change and Liberation in Africa

Author(s): Filomina Chioma Steady

Source: Race, Gender & Class, Vol. 21, No. 1/2, Race, Gender & Class 2013 Conference

(2014), pp. 312-333

Published by: Jean Ait Belkhir, Race, Gender & Class Journal

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Race, Gender & Class: Volume 21, Number 1-2, 2014 (312-333)

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Women, Climate Change and
Liberation in Africa

Filomina Chioma Steady
Africana Studies

Wellesley College

Abstract: Women in Africa have been among the first to notice the impact of climate
change and its effects on the agricultural cycle, human and animal life; food
production and food security. As major custodians and consumers of natural
resources, the lives of women in rural areas are profoundly affected by seasonal
changes, making them among the most vulnerable to climate change. Their pivotal
role in any measure aimed at mitigation and adaptation is indisputable. Despite
Africa’s minimal emission of green house gases, it is one of the most vulnerable
continents to climate change and climate variability and is prone to ecosystem
degradation and complex natural disasters. (United Nations Environment Programme,
2006). This article examines women and climate change in Africa as an aspect of
Africa’s environmental problems. It is argued that the ideologies that drive the
exploitation of the earth’s resources are linked to the legacy of colonialism and its
aftermath of economic globalization. Both have important implications for continuing
oppression of the environment and people, with important implications for race,
gender and class. Particular attention is given to women in rural areas in Africa, who
are the main custodians of environmental conservation and sustainability and who are
highly threatened by environmental degradation and climate change. Yet, they are
often marginalized from the decision-making processes related to solving problems
of Climate Change. The paper combines theoretical insights with empirical data to
argue for more attention to women’s important ecological and economic roles and
comments on the policy implications for Climate Change. It calls for liberation that
would bring an end to economic and ecological oppression through climate justice
and gender justice.

Keywords: Africa’s vulnerability; women; natural resources; colonial legacies;
hazardous waste dumping; land grabs; biofuels; mining, deforestation; liberation,
gender justice, climate justice.

Filomina Chioma Steady is Professor of Africana Studies at Wellesley College,
specializing in gender and development studies. She was the Special Advisor on

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Women, Climate Change and Liberation in Africa 313

Women, Environment and Development to the 1992 Earth Summit held in Rio de
Janeiro by the United Nations. Her research interests include women and
development studies, environmental justice, medical anthropology; gender theory,
gender justice, Africa and the African Diaspora.

Address: Africana Studies (Gender Studies, Environmental Justice), Wellesley
College, 106 Central Street, Wellesley, MA 02781. Ph.: (781) 283-2565, Fax:
(781) 283-3672, Email: [email protected]

Climate emission challenge Change of of green the is twenty house probably first gases, century. the it most is one Despite important of the Africa’s most environmental vulnerable negligible
challenge of the twenty first century. Despite Africa’s negligible
emission of green house gases, it is one of the most vulnerable

continents to climate change and climate variability and is prone to ecosystem
degradation and complex natural disasters (United Nations Environment
Programme, 2006). The gender implications of climate change are being
increasingly appreciated since women’s economic and social roles bring them into
a total relationship to the ecology in African societies. At the same time, gender-
based discrimination marginalizes them from environmental benefits, training and
decision-making. This article examines women and climate change in Africa as an
aspect of Africa’s environmental problems. It is argued that the ideologies that
drive the exploitation of the earth’s resources are linked to colonialism and its
aftermath of economic globalization which have important implications for
continuing oppression on the basis primarily of race, gender and class. Particular
attention is given to poor women in rural areas in Africa, who are the main
custodians of environmental conservation and sustainability and who are highly
threatened by environmental degradation and climate change. The paper combines
theoretical insights with empirical data and comments on their policy implications
for women in Africa. It calls for liberation, namely, an end of economic and
ecological oppression through climate justice and gender justice.

As early as June 8th 1977, when the first trees were planted in Kenya by
Wangari Maathai and a small group of women, the link between deforestation,
desertification and climate change were made in Africa. This was long before the
world caught on to the idea of the dangers of climate change and held world
conferences in Rio in 1992 and later in Kyoto and Copenhagen. Environmental
concerns became linked with issues of gender equality, peace, security, democracy,
justice and liberation. The Nobel Peace Committee in 2004 recognized the broader
social and political links with the environment as well as the gender dimensions
when it granted the Nobel Peace Prize to the late Wangari Maathai of Kenya in

The connection between women and the environment were highlighted in the
1 992 Earth Summit in Rio, particularly in Agenda 21: The Program of Action from
Rio , of which Chapter 24 is titled: “Global Action for Women towards Sustainable
and Equitable Development.” Some of the gender dimensions and the broader
social and political links with the environment were recognized by Wangari

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314 Filomina Chioma Steady

Maathai in her acceptance speech for the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize:

Throughout Africa, women are the primary caretakers, holding significant
responsibility for tilling the land and feeding their families. As a result, they are
often the first to become aware of environmental damage as resources become
scarce and incapable of sustaining their families…. Using trees as a symbol of
peace is in keeping with a widespread African tradition. (From Wangari
Maathai’s Nobel Lecture, delivered in Oslo, 10 December 2004.)

Women and the Environment in Africa

As in many parts of the world, gender relations in Africa are largely structured
around dealings with the environment. This is particularly true is rural areas where
agriculture is the dominant mode of production. In 1 970 Boserup’s landmark study
emphasized the devastating role of colonial rule on women in African agriculture
and its reinforcement and introduction of new forms of inequality in the gender
division of labor in African agriculture. Women were marginalized and their labor
expropriated, a factor that led to the degradation of the environment.


Women in Africa provide the bulk of the labor in agriculture and are major
resource managers in rural areas of Africa. They are overwhelmingly responsible
for subsistence food production, procurement of water, fuel and animal husbandry,
involving small animals. On account of these activities, women have acquired a
wide array of indigenous knowledge about farming and local resources that has
been passed down from one generation to another. Based on the division of labor
by gender, tasks involving the clearing of land or forest and preparing the beds for
planting are done by men Women typically do the sowing of seeds, planting of tree
cuttings, watering, weeding and harvesting. As a result, women spend more time
on agricultural work and are responsible for the more long-term, routine and tedious
aspects of the work.

Colonial rule introduced cash crops which were cultivated mostly by men.
Women’s workload in subsistence agriculture increased and often also involved
providing labor for the weeding, watering and harvesting of cash crops. Increase in
women’s workload and gender-based discrimination usually marginalizes women
from participation in training programs; in the development of agricultural policies
and derived little of the benefits of new agricultural knowledge or inputs.
Recognition of these discrepancies has received growing attention in the
development literature and have played a role in some of the changes in agricultural
policies and practices towards greater gender sensitivity and equality (FAO, 1985;
Sontheimer, 1991; Jommo, 1993; Timberlake, 1985).

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Women, Climate Change and Liberation in Africa 315


Trees and forests have important ecological functions that go beyond serving
as carbon sinks to absorb the excessive carbon emissions, primarily from
industrialized societies. For people for whom forests form the basis for their
livelihood, deforestation can be devastating. Loss of tree cover increases the
burden of obtaining forest resources and water, increases soil erosion and decreases
agricultural productivity (Williams, 1993). Many people living in rural areas in
Africa depend on the forests for subsistence resources including food, firewood,
fiber timber, material for crafts, animal fodder, medicinal herbs and so forth. In
many African societies, it is women who collect forest resources for the subsistence
needs of their households. Men are usually involved with tapping trees for rubber
and palm wine and for harvesting palm kernels and coconuts that involved
climbing. Men were also responsible for cutting down of trees and tend to care for
large trees in general. Over the last three decades or so, there has been recognition
of the social diversity of forest users which include traditional forest dwellers,
farmers and pastoralists (Williams, 1992, 1993; Chavang, 1988; Lewis, 1990).

Women’s roles in community forestry has been amply documented as well as
the role of women in using and managing forest resources. As a result, many
forestry projects in Africa have sought to include women’s participation for reasons
of forestry development but also as a way of mitigating the impact of deforestation
on Climate Change (Mathai, 1 988). In Kenya, the Greenbelt Movement has planted
trees as a response to deforestation and their activities have expanded to include
other countries in Africa. A study of eight countries in Africa examined constraints
to women’s participation in forestry and strategies were developed to overcome
these constraints. Women are essential for community forestry and agriculture in
Africa. As Williams points out:

In Africa, most farmers are women. Declining agricultural yields increase
women’s workload, as they must work more to obtain enough yields to feed their
families. Where women raise small stock, decreases in woody vegetation make
it more difficult for women to feed their animals. Declining agricultural activity
directly affects household nutrition and incomes (Williams, 1993:179).

In many countries of Africa, such as Zanzibar, Sudan, Cameroon, Kenya and Mali,
deforestation is affecting household livelihoods. For an example, in Zanzibar, trees
were cut down to make room for clove tree plantations. As a result, women work
greater distances to get firewood and poor households spend up to 40% of their
income on fuel. Although women and children collect an estimated 60 to 80
percent of all domestic firewood supplies in Africa, it is now well documented that
women do not cause deforestation since they usually collect firewood from
branches and dead wood. Most deforestation in Africa results from clearing land
for agricultural, commercial or construction purposes (FAO, 1988; Williams, 1 993 ;
Khatibu & Suleiman, 1991; Lewis, 1990; Jommo, 1993).

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316 Filomina Chioma Steady


There is growing evidence that there will soon be a shortage of water that will
affect all regions (Myers, 1991). The Global Consultation on Safe Water and
Sanitation noted that some 80 countries, supporting 40% of the world’s population
already suffer from serious water shortage and water scarcity is accelerating (Yoon,
1993). It is a well know fact that Climate Change affects fresh water supplies as
a result of the pollution from increasing floods; acidification from sea level rise;
increased shortage of fresh water and an increase in water-borne diseases, such as
cholera (International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Report, 2012). By 2020,
between 75 and 250 million of people are projected to be exposed to increased
water stress due to climate change.

By 2020, in some countries, yields from rain-fed agriculture could be reduced
by up to 50%. Agricultural production, including access to food, in many African
countries is projected to be severely compromised. This would further adversely
affect food security and exacerbate malnutrition (Yoon, 1993).

Scarcity of clean fresh water is a problem for women in many areas but is
particularly acute in arid and semi-arid areas such as in the Sahel and where drought
is a constant threat, such as in parts of East and Southern Africa. According to the
International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) arid and semi-arid land areas in
Africa are increasing. By 2080, an increase of 5 to 8% of arid and semi-arid land
in Africa is projected under a range of climate scenarios (International Panel on
Climate Change Report, 2012).

Women’s role in the management of household water supplies as well as their
roles as agricultural and fisheries workers are key factors in the ecology of water
resources. They are also critical in the control of water pollution in relation to
household use and in agriculture and fisheries. Women’s economic and social roles
brings them into a total relationship to the ecology and not just to domestic water
supply. In most African societies, women play a dominant role in collecting fresh
water for household use, aided by children. For centuries, they had drawn water
from the rivers or other sources and carried it home in buckets or jogs on their
heads or backs, walking long distances, sometimes up to twenty kilometers (Yoon,
1993). WEDNET and women’s indigenous knowledge.

The Women, Environment and Development Network (WEDNET) in Africa
stated approach starts with a critique of development in Africa and emphasizes that
“far from bringing the expected widespread benefits, postcolonial development
strategies in Africa have only resulted in socio-economic crisis; a seriously
compromised resource base and environmental degradation.” (Jommo, 1 993 ; With
regard to the faulty colonial policies in Africa, see Dumont, 1966, 1980, French
agronomist who wrote several books about the dangers of environmental
degradation in Africa resulting from colonialism and its legacies.) The fact that
women’s multiple domestic roles places a double burden on them in confronting
environmental degradation is compounded by the context of poverty in which the
majority of the rural population in Africa lives.

As a result of the division of labor based on gender women are allocated tasks

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Women, Climate Change and Liberation in Africa 31 7

requiring continuous, sustained, time-consuming labor and environmental oversight
to a greater extent than men. It is no wonder that women are among the first people
to notice environmental degradation, sound the alarm, and try to mitigate or adapt
to the consequences. In addition, women have been the most vocal activists in
challenging environmental violations. At the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio and the
2002 Rio plus 1 0 Conference on Sustainable Development in South Africa, women
from all countries in Africa, as members of Non Governmental Organizations such
as Women, Environment and Development Organization (WEDO,) Development
Alternatives for Women in a New Era (DAWN) and Association of African Women
for Research and Development (AAWORD) against international economic policies
such as Structural Adjustment; the dept burden and economic globalization that are
resulting in destruction of the environment; impoverishment and that threaten the
social fabric of society. They also called for access for women to fertile land, clean
water and other resources (NGO collaborative meetings and consultations with UN
officials at the Earth Summit of 1992 and Rio plus 10 of 2002).


Some of the challenges of agriculture, forestry and water are linked to access
to land, a factor that has gender implications. In most patrilineal societies, which
are prevalent in Africa, men control the distribution and access to land. Women
have to work on land usually allocated to their husbands, fathers or sons. As a rule,
land is communally owned in most rural areas but access to land may be determined
by patrilineal rules of descent, a major factor in social organization. Usually men
and women work on the land together according to the gender division of
agricultural labor. With the introduction of cash crops, primarily cultivated by men,
women took on the major task of subsistence agriculture with an increase in their
workload. They may also work, without much benefit, on lands where cash crop
is produced. Where land is scarce it is not unusual for women to practice
intercropping by planting food crops in between trees. Privatizing land that was
previously owned communally owned can have an impact on water resources.
Shifting communal land ownership of water resources into private hands has
significant implications in terms of access, preservation, conservation and
accountability (Boserup, 1989; Jommo, 1993; Dixon-Mueller, 1985).

Africa’s Environmental Problems, Colonialism, Economic
Globalization, Climate Change and Liberation

The link between environmental degradation and Liberation is not as fully
recognized as it should be. Much of Africa’s environmental problems can be traced
to colonialism and the legacy of its policies that included extraction of resources for
export that devastated the land. Other environmental consequences include
deforestation, desertification, drought, shortage of fresh and clean water, shortage
of biomass for fuel, loss of soil fertility, loss of biodiversity and the impact of

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318 Filomina Chioma Steady

climate change. Colonialism had a devastating effect on African women as many
studies since Boserup’s classic study shows. Colonial agriculture subjugated
African women and appropriate their labor for exploitation (Boserup, 1975; Fall,
1999; Steady, 1981, 2002 among others).

Shiva’s critique of the patriarchal ideologies affecting colonialism credits’
Boserup’s astute observation of how women’s impoverishment increased during
colonial rule and notes the inevitability of patriarchal domination in the colonies:

Those rulers who had spent a few centuries in subjugating and crippling their own
women into deskilled, de-intellectualized appendages, disfavored the women of
the colonies on matters of access to land, technology and employment (Shiva,

According to Walter Rodney in his book How Europe Underdeveloped Africa:
“Africa is well endowed with natural resources but the situation is that Africa has

not yet come anywhere close to making the most of its natural wealth, and most of
the wealth now being produced is not being retained within Africa for the benefit
of its people…. Colonialism was not merely a system of exploitation, but one
whose essential purpose was to repatriate the profits to the so-called ‘mother
country’. From an African view-point, that amounted to consistent expatriation of
surplus produced by African labor out of African resources. It meant the
development of Europe as part of the same dialectical process in which Africa was
underdeveloped.” Rodney’s compelling explanatory thesis that colonial Africa fell
within that part of the international capitalist economy from which surplus was
drawn to feed the metropolitan sector resonate loudly with the environmental
challenges in Africa today (Rodney, 1981:20.

Economic globalization, the successor to colonialism, has been a mixed
blessing and has led to a ‘race to the bottom’ for most of the countries of the Global
South. It is the unfettered flow and accumulation of capital t the global level,
irrespective of the historical and territorial rights and constraints of nation states.
The key players are multinational corporations who have a stronghold on national
economies. They dominate economic production and distribution by controlling
capital and financial decision-making. The result is destruction of the environment.
Globalization, through Structural Adjustment Policies removes state subsidies for
the poor and increases marginalization and impoverishment in the Global South,
especially Africa (Dembele, 2002). Corporate globalization has its antecedents in
the trans-Atlantic Slave Trade and colonialism. It also continues to create wealth

for the few elites of the Global North and Global South and to promote the negative
aspects of patriarchy and capitalism in producing marginalized racial groups, with
important gender implications, especially for poor rural women in Africa who have
played important roles in ensuring environmental sustainability (Steady, 1993; Fall,
1999; Dembele, 2002; Pheko, 2002).

There is overwhelming evidence that corporate globalization, through its
exercise of economic power and domination has reinforced polarization between
and within countries along socio-economic, racial and gender lines. The Global

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Women, Climate Change and Liberation in Africa 319

North/Global South divisions are among are among the most dramatic and are
manifested in policies affecting the environment, trade, immigration and refugee
policies, domestic migrant workers, refugees and asylum seekers. Ordinary women
and men, especially poor women in rural areas, pay the social and human cost of
globalization, especially those who historically and structurally have been racialized
and gendered into a subordinate position by the powerful ideologies of racism and
patriarchy, with destructive consequences for humans and the environment (See Sen
& Grown, 1986; Fall, 1999; Sethi, 1999; Center for Women and Development
Studies, 2000; Steady, 2002 among others).

The struggle for Liberation continues. Africa is faced with a number of
problems that are directly related to the unequal and exploitative nature of the
historical and current global political economy. The legacy of resistance that was
widespread during colonialism continues through challenges to corporate
globalization, structural adjustment programs and environmental devastation by
Multinational Corporations. Examples include 1) oil mining in Nigeria; 2) female
work in export processing in agro-industries; 3) deforestation and 4) International
dumping of hazardous waste.

1. Oil Mining

Oil mining companies, like Shell, operating in the Niger Delta of Nigeria have
been destroying the environment with impunity as they exploit the wealth of that
African nation (Adeola, 2009). In trying to attract foreign investments African
governments, including Nigeria, have not been enforcing the laws governing these
corporations. On the contrary, these companies are given incentives and tax
holidays without due regard to the damage to the environment and the resource base
on which people’s livelihoods depend. Oil leaching into the soil and streams as
well as oil flares, are common, and pollute and destroy marine life, the main source
of animal protein for these communities.

Nigerian women have been at the forefront of protests against oil companies
for their exploitation and destruction of the environment. These protests sometimes
result in the shut down of operations for considerable periods (Adeola, 2009).

2. Female Work in export processing in agro-industries

Female work in export processing industries has been increasing in Africa.
This is because multi-nationals move their export processing operations to Africa
from Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean where female labor has become more
expensive. Women are the majority of the labor force in agribusiness dealing with
food processing, flowers and in textile and garment industries, because their labor
is cheap and unprotected. In general, they experience long working hours, unsafe
and unsanitary working environments that are violations of conventions of the
International Labor Office and a violation of their human rights. In the flower
industries in countries such as Kenya, Ethiopia and Zambia women provide the
major labor force and use pesticides and other chemicals that result in spontaneous

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320 Filomina Chioma Steady

abortions, miscarriages, infertility and other reproductive problems.

3. Deforestation

The deforestation rate in Africa is four times the world average, due mainly to
logging activities that include commercial ventures and shipping timber to Europe
to make furniture for Europeans. Countries like the Ivory Coast, Ghana, and
Liberia have seen major losses of their forests. The case of Liberia is particularly
alarming. Two thirds of the forests of Liberia have been ceded to foreign logging
companies with no benefit to the people, despite promise of building schools,
clinics and providing employment. Although most African governments have
environmental legislation to halt deforestation, the problem continues at an
alarming rate. The efforts of the late Wangari Mathaai and the Greenbelt
Movement of Kenya to halt deforestation were often met with resistance from the
state and environmental female activists were often victims of police brutality.

4. International Dumping of Hazardous Waste

In September 2006, an oil tanker “Trafigura” based in the Netherlands secretly
and illegally dumped a considerable amount of toxic chemicals, mostly hydrogen
sulphide and components of organochlorides in various locations in the Ivory Coast,
resulting in deaths and injuries to hundreds of people, despite the Basel Convention
and the Bamako Convention against such actions. The practice of what has been
termed “Toxic colonialism” whereby countries of the Global South, especially those
in Africa are used as dumping ground is not new and sometimes occurs with the
complicity of the governments of Africa (Reed, 2009). As Gbadegesin notes: “The
dumping sites of toxic waste from Western nations can be found throughout Africa.
Some of these activities, like the Trafigura dumping are clandestine and others are
due to weak enforcement mechanisms and some are carried on in complicity with
the governments. Western companies are motivated by the low cost of disposing
of waste in African countries. The materials deposited vary from non nuclear
industrial waste from North America to uranium mining wastes from Colorado and
chemical and industrial waste (PCB) from Italy” (Gbadegesin, 2001:189).

A defense for dumping in countries like Africa was presented by Summers
when he was an economist at the World Bank. He agued that the logic of dumping
a load of toxic waste in a lowest-wage country was impeccable (Westra, 1993).
African scholars have described the dumping of nuclear waste on their continent as
“Toxic …

Information and communication technologies and gender in climate change and green economy:
Situating women’s opportunities and challenges in Zambian policies and strategies

Justina Namukombo

Zambia’s 2012 report on the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (RIO +20) identifies existing opportunities on the

country’s transitioning to green economy. The RIO +20 conference of 2012 has resulted in new momentum in addressing problems of

sustainable development. However, this article argues that there are practical challenges that require paying attention to, especially those

involving women. The article addressed one key question: To what extent can women participate in the transitioning process to green

economy in Zambia and what opportunities and challenges exists? The study used document analysis to answer the above question. National

policy documents were reviewed to understand interventions on environmental management. Whilst going through the documents, the study

used gender analysis frameworks (education, skills, roles in family and society, access to infrastructure) to bring out qualitative and

quantitative information on women. Using suggested green economy interventions in the literature as benchmark, qualitative analysis was

used to project possible participation of women in green economy activities and possible challenges to be faced. The study found that

participation of women will be limited despite existing opportunities because of challenges of access to information and communication

technology infrastructures, low educational levels and skills and financial constraints. As Zambia undergoes a transitioning process, these

limitations should be addressed in planned green economy policies and interventions to maximise benefits.

A decade after the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg in 2002, the world leaders again gathered at Rio de Janeiro in

Brazil to look at the future of the environment. This time one of the themes was green economy, sustainable development and poverty

eradication. Green economy was defined by the United Nations Environmental Programme as development that leads to social well-being

and social equity whilst at the same time addressing effects on the environment (UNEP 2011). On practical part, green economy is

development confined to low carbon, renewable and efficient energy technologies and environmentally friendly farming and fishing practices

(Fulai 2009). Currently, governments are looking at the option of green economy as a way to prevent and mitigate effects of climate change

and take on different approaches to development (Africa Progress Report 2014; UNECA 2012; UNESCO 2013).

Since then, most countries in Africa, Zambia inclusive, have been trying to contextualise the concept in local environmental interventions. In

Zambia, attempts have been made through articulation in the RIO +20 Report by convening meetings by necessary ministries like Finance

and National Planning, Ministry of Environment Tourism and Natural Resources and other stakeholders working in the area of environmental

protection. The article forms part of the broader efforts to understand how green economy initiatives can be interpreted and contextualised in

national policies and strategies and their implication. The article specifically focuses on implications of gender and Information and

Communication Technologies (ICTs) in climate change and green economy using Zambia as a case study. The Zambian Report on the United

Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (RIO +20) has already identified existing opportunities on the country’s transitioning to

green economy. For example, the existence of the Renewable Energy Strategy whose objective is to promote measures aimed at investing in

renewable sources of energy such as solar, biomass, wind and biofuels. National Climate Change Response Strategy (2011:ii) has a vision of

ensuring that the most vulnerable sectors of the economy are climate proofed. For example, development of sustainable land use systems to

enhance agriculture production and ensure food security. The National Climate Change Policy (2012:10–12) has put up adaptation and

disaster risk reduction–related measures in most vulnerable sectors like water, agriculture, forestry, energy and infrastructure. In the water

sector for instance, the aim is to enhance investment in water capture and storage such as dams, strategic boreholes and tanks, construct water

basin transfers and improve drainage.

The article explores the position of women in the green economy transitioning process of Zambia. The key question raised is: To what extent

can women participate in green economy initiatives? The analysis is performed using gender approaches to understand access problems for

women including those of ICTs. Women have been sidelined in most development activities because of their low educational levels, poverty,

sociocultural factors and access problems to physical infrastructure (Hafkin 2002). On the other hand, ICTs have been identified as having

potential to facilitate the transitioning process to green economy (Ciocoiu 2011; Young 2011). ICTs include a ‘variety of analogue and digital

technologies: telephones, radios, television and computers’ (Lotter 2007:3). Devices like radio, television and cellular phones can facilitate

access to information and enable participation in development activities.

In Zambia, ICTs are intended to be part of climate-resilient technologies in various regions of the country (Zambia Climate Policy 2012). The

Zambian national gender policy also intends to facilitate participation of women in development by promoting changes in patterns of

socialisation and gender division of labour (Zambia Gender Policy 2004). There is no doubt that women would face similar challenges they

have faced in prior development interventions. It is important to spell out these challenges and existing opportunities that are specific to

green economy initiatives. This is important as countries contextualise the concept in their environmental management policies and


Research methodology
The study addressed one key question: To what extent can women participate in the green economy transitioning in Zambia and what

opportunities and challenges exist for them in this process? The study used document analysis to answer the above questions. A number of

national policy documents were reviewed. Namely, nine national policy documents on environment were reviewed to understand

interventions on environmental management and how women participation has been addressed; two policies on gender and ICT to learn on

interventions aimed at addressing women needs and local reports on proposed ways of achieving green economy were also reviewed. The

process involved first purposively looking for local policies and regulations on environment, review documents (local and international)

including journal articles making suggestions on how to achieve green economy. The study also made an extensive review of statistics on

access and use of ICTs by women, access to education with specific focus on ICT subjects and other barriers which women face. Information

on suggested ways of achieving green economy is later used to project possible participation of women in green economy activities.

Document analysis has been used before in environmental and climate change studies. For example, Nhamo (2014:3) used document analysis

in his journal article ‘addressing women in climate change policies: A focus on selected east and southern African countries’. He critically

analyses climate change policy documents from selected countries to establish his empirical evidence on his topic. Document analysis is

therefore a credible method of data collection. However, it has challenges of biasness as the researcher will most likely not include

documents with opposing views to their study. Table 1 shows the policy documents used as sources of information. With these limitations in

mind, the study included international documents to supplement local sources of information.


Reviewed policy documents.

Findings and discussion

Zambian context: Climate change and green economy

Zambia has a population of 13 million people, and it is growing at a rate of 2.9% per annum. Women in Zambia make up 51% of the

population. According to the Zambian Living Conditions Monitoring Survey (LCMS), about 64% of the population live in poverty (LCMS

2010). Only 22% of the country’s population has access to electricity (Zambia Energy Policy 2007). Zambia is also endowed with vast

natural resources and 60% of its land is covered by forest. However, the country faces environmental problems. For instance deforestation

has been responsible for loss of about 250 000 ha – 300 000 ha of forest per annum (Zambian National Policy on Environment 2006). In

2000, Zambia is reported to have produced about 54 718 metric tons of carbon dioxide, and estimates are that between 2000 and 2030,

emissions are expected to increase from 54.718 metric tons to 216.8 million (Zambia RIO +20 UN report 2012). This has led to

manifestation of some effects of climate change. Based on country assessments and also international assessments, effects of climate change

have been brought to light. The Zambia Metrological Department report increases in frequency of extreme events like floods and droughts

over the four decades and emerging tendency of delayed onset and earlier ending of rainfall (Zambia National Climate Change Response

Strategy 2011). UNDP report on Zambia’s climate change profile indicates increase in annual temperatures by 1.3 °C since 1960 and increase

is at an average rate of 0.29 °C per decade (Zambia National Climate Change Response Strategy 2011). Table 2 shows the occurrence of

natural disasters for the indicated periods.


Occurrence of natural disasters from 1980 to 2009.

From the above described effects of climate change, there is no doubt that Zambia needs to work at any mechanisms that are believed to avert

this situation.

The United Nations RIO +20 Zambia report identified pathways for Zambia’s implementation of green economy. The basis upon which

Zambia is adopting the green economy agenda is the many environmental management policies and regulations that the country has been

implementing. To date, Zambia has about 33 legislations and a signatory to about 21 international conventions on environmental protection

(Environmental Council of Zambia 1994). In addition, the Sixth National Development Plan and Vision 2030 have articulated how

development will be made sustainable through implementation of many sectoral policies and programmes. In other words, Zambia has some

aspects of the ‘first’ green economy readiness as Nhamo (2013) described it. However, there is a need to postulate how women will be able to

participate in green economy initiatives in the context of the many challenges they have faced before including their recent access to and use

of ICTs.

In Zambia, the first initiative to explore on green economy began with the African Development Bank workshop cosponsored by the

Organisation for Economic Development in January, 2013. The workshop was on ‘Green Growth in Africa’ and was held in Lusaka, the

capital city. As a follow-up to the earlier workshop, Ministry of Finance and National Planning and Ministry of Lands, Natural Resource

Management and Environmental Protection jointly organised a workshop on ‘Inclusive Green Growth’ (IGG) from 04 to 05 July 2013. The

workshop was attended by 26 participants from government, private sector, academic and research institutions and civil society.

From the workshop, participants attempted to come up with a definition of what green economy or IGG meant in the Zambian context. IGG

was defined as ‘inclusive development that makes sustainable and equitable use of Zambia’s natural resources within ecological limits’

(Banda & Bass 2014:3). The workshop participants made suggestions on how in the Zambian context development activities could be

tailored in the green economy direction. The following suggestions were made:

investing in natural resources that can make money for the poor

investing in people’s capacity to combine green and inclusive approaches

long-term perspectives to build institutional and economic resilience as well as financing models that are more ‘patient’ for their


making business houses and civil society take the lead

focus on both projects and governance. That is working on the institutional framework: policy, finance and enabling environment

(Banda & Bass 2014:11).

The ultimate output of the workshop was to produce an operational Zambian IGG Strategy. Because this article relied on secondary sources

of information, it was not possible to establish if the strategy has been formulated. The suggestion is to carefully take into account women’s

contribution and the challenges they would face.

Apart from these recent articulations Zambia has been implementing a number of policies and has enacted a number of regulations with

regard to environmental protection. These could be used to start specific programmes and projects aimed at achieving objectives of the green

economy. Table 3 highlights some of the policies and regulations and their possible contribution to achieving IGG or green economy.



Policies and regulations on environmental protection in Zambia and their possible contribution to achievement of Inclusive Green

Growth or green economy.

Theoretical positioning of women in transitioning process

Having looked at the policies and regulations on environmental management and also suggestions being made on how to achieve green

economy, it is possible to position women in this transitioning process. This is presented as a framework in Table 4 by showing the extent to

which women can participate and the possible challenges that can be faced.


Theoretical positioning of women’s participation in green economy initiatives and expected challenges.

Gender implications of transitioning to green economy: Situating women’s opportunities and challenges

Women’s access to information and communication technologies and possible participation in green economy Access to information in Zambia is

through both the electronic and print media. Electronic media is through television, telephones, Internet/emails, whilst print media is through

newspapers, magazines and posters. Television services are offered by government and private sector. Three broadcasting stations are

operational: namely Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation (ZNBC), Trinity Broadcasting and Muvi TV. The government broadcasting

services (ZNBC) are found in every province of the country. The general challenge in the electronic media is limited coverage across the

country (Zambia ICT Policy 2006).

As of 2004, Zambia had three licensed mobile cellular providers: Zamtel, MTN and Air Tel. By the same year, Zambia also had 300

telecentres offering telephone and email or Internet. Access was in major urban centres with large coverage along the line of rail. Though

there has been increase in access to ICTs from 2004 to 2010, very few people own ICT assets. Table 5 shows increases in ownership from

2004 to 2010 between rural and urban areas.


Trend in access to Information and Communication Technologies assets from 2004 to 2010 in percentages.

Ownership in television sets slightly increased from 27.1% in 2004 to 29.7% in 2010. Increases were also experienced between the rural and

urban areas with urban areas having significant improvements. During the same period under review, 32.4 of the rural population had mobile

phones compared to 80% in urban areas. According to statistics provided by the Zambia Information Communication and Technology

Authority (ZICTA) on their website, as of third quarter of 2014, there were 9316 mobile cellular subscriptions and 3 362 056 mobile Internet

users and 23 fixed Internet subscriptions (ZICTA 2014). However, there are differences in access of ICTs between men and women. Table 6

shows these discrepancies.


Ownership of Information and Communication Technologies assets by sex.

As can be seen from the table, ownership amongst women of the most commonly used sources of information in Zambia (television, radio

and cellular phones) is poor. For example, the 2010 survey shows 31.7% of men having television sets compared to 23.1% of women. By

2010, only 42.5% women owned mobile phones compared to 51.5% males. Such poor access of ICT amongst women would limit

participation in interventions on green economy. The Research ICT Africa survey results (as cited in Gilwald, Milek & Stork 2010) for 2007

had similar findings. According to the survey, Internet is accessed and used differently between men and women. Apart from Cameroon, the

rest of the countries including Zambia had more men than women claiming to know what Internet is and having email addresses. In the

country-level analysis amongst the 17 countries where the survey was conducted, Zambia had about 71% of the men listening to the radio

compared to 45% of the women. For television, men almost double (48% against 26%) the number of women who are able to watch

television. About 58% of the men were also found to own a mobile phone or active Subscriber Identity Module card as compared to 37% of

the women.

Women education and skills and possible participation in green economy There has been differential access to education for men and women in

Zambia. This has resulted in more women not being able to read and write as compared to men. About 77% of the men are able to read and

write compared to 58% of the women (Republic of Zambia 2006). Data on access to education reported by the Zambia Living Monitoring

Conditions Survey show that overall, gross attendance rates increased for primary grades 1–7, from 105% in 2006 to 108% in 2010. The

secondary gross attendance rate (grades 8–12) increased from 55% in 2006 to 64% in 2010. However, in both years gross attendance rates for

boys were consistently higher than those for girls (LMCS 2010:63). Though participation and access to science, mathematics and technical

subjects has been improving between male and female pupils, some schools still have more males enrolled in these subjects. A survey

conducted in Zambia by the Forum for African Women Educationalists in Zambia on access and participation of girls in science,

mathematics and technical subjects highlight some of these discrepancies (FAWEZA Report 2011:33). Table 7 shows the numbers of girls

and boys taking science, mathematics and technical subjects in surveyed technical schools.


Girls and boys taking science, mathematics and technical subjects (combined).

In the context of climate change and green economy, it has to do with ability to use various ICTs and access digital information. It is about

understanding the use of ICTs and being able to operate them. For one to be able to use ICTs, computer skills, information literacy and

language will be very important. Because most women are less likely to be literate, this could be a barrier to use of ICTs. According to

UNDP (as cited in Huyer 2003), literacy is in various types: functional literacy which enables a person to perform daily life activities with

less difficulties, for instance, the ability to read newspapers, books and pamphlets. Functional literacy will enable one to operate a cellular

phone or Internet connection. Medium of communication in using ICTs is usually in English which most illiterate people are not able to

understand. This effect extends to the ability to read newspapers, books and pamphlets. With so many women not being able to read and

write, this means being left out of the whole system. Scientific literacy enables one to respond to everyday issues in an informed manner.

These include decisions on sources of energy, preservation and use of natural resources and ability of communities and families to make

appropriate decisions concerning resource allocation, diet and sanitation and community development.

Financial resources amongst women and their participation in green economy In Zambia, more female-headed households are considered poorer

than male-headed households (57% compared to 49%). Average monthly earnings between men and women also differ. In 2005, a Zambian

woman earned on average ZBK 196 453 (approximately $ 242) compared to a man’s earning of ZBK 354 453 (approximately $ 506) (LCMS

2006). Usually, women have less access and control over resources. For instance, resources in agriculture regarded important for production

like land, equipment and inputs are usually owned by men (World Bank 2004). Initiatives on green economy will require women having

access to various information on green economy and access to energy-saving technologies.


Despite the above discussed challenges, there are a number of opportunities for women to participate in climate change and green economy:

Women in Zambia constitute over 51% of the population. Initiatives should therefore target them as they will be assured of reaching

greater numbers.

In the agriculture sector, studies in Zambia have shown that women spend more time carrying out agricultural activities than men.

For example, women spend 53% of total hours in agriculture work compared to the 47% spent by men (World Bank 2004:19).

The poor in general are considered to have high dependence on nature for their livelihoods. Women are usually in worse condition

with regard to poverty levels. Initiatives on protecting the environment can therefore be more appealing to them.

Women in Zambia are also amongst populations that earn their livelihood from scavenging from dump sites. Projects on recycling

can therefore involve them.

Women are most likely to be involved in alternative sources of energy as they are the ones who use charcoal as a source of energy.

The article has reviewed suggested requirements for transitioning to green economy both at the international and regional level. Zambian

early perspectives on the concept of green economy have also been captured. That is, investing in natural resources that can make money for

the poor, investing in people’s capacity, long-term perspectives to build institutional and economic resilience, making business houses and

civil society take the lead and focusing on both projects and governance. In addition, Zambian policies and strategies on environmental

protection have also been reviewed with an aim of pointing out their possible contributions to green economy aspirations. Parallel to these

discussions, factors limiting the involvement of women in development in general have been discussed. These have been used to postulate

possible or no participation of women in the green economy interventions. The article argues that women participation in green economy

interventions will be limited as they have problems of access to ICT infrastructures, low levels of education, lack skills and have constraints

of financial resources. With these challenges, Zambian situation has been used to substantiate these arguments and the article argues that

green economy interventions should have in mind these limitations, for example, low education levels amongst women compared to that of

men, low enrolments in science, mathematics and technology subjects, low access to assets commonly used as channels of communication

like mobile phones, radios and televisions. However, opportunities have also been identified for possible participation of women in the green

economy initiatives: they spend more hours in agricultural activities and are users of unsustainable sources of energy like charcoal. This

makes them better targets for implementation of green economy activities.

I would like to thank the University of Zambia for giving me time off to attend the International Conference on Innovation for Sustainability

under Climate Change and Green Growth in Johannesburg, which led to the developing of the manuscript.

Competing interests

The author has no financial or personal relationships which may have inappropriately influenced her in the writing of this article.

How to cite this article: Namukombo, J., 2016, ‘Information and communication technologies and gender in climate change and green economy: Situating women’s

opportunities and challenges in Zambian policies and strategies’, Jàmbá: Journal of Disaster Risk Studies 8(3), a243.

Article information
Jamba. 2016; 8(3): 243.

Published online 2016 Apr 12. doi: 10.4102/jamba.v8i3.243

PMCID: PMC6014032

PMID: 29955317

Justina Namukombo 1,2


Department of Political and Administrative Studies, University of Zambia, Zambia

Department of Literature and Languages, Geography and Environmental Education unit, Lusaka regional centre of expertise on education for sustainable development,


Corresponding author.

Correspond ing author: Justina Namukombo, [email protected]

Received 2015 Sep 17; Accepted 2015 Dec 17.

Copyright © 2016. The Authors

Licensee:AOSIS. This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution License.

Articles from Jàmbá : Journal of Disaster Risk Studies are provided here courtesy of AOSIS

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