Women Hold up Half the Sky
edited by Denise Ackermann, Jonathan A. Draper and Emma Mashinini
P O Box 2400
3200 South Africa
Tel: (033) 3459897 Fax: (033) 3459897
Women Hold up Half the Sky
Finally from Betty Govinden, comes the question: "Is it not time - the Kairos - to spell out the Gospel, the real good news, so long kept secret, to all women on earth?" Govinden, one of those who represented the Anglican Church at the Rustenburg conference of churches in 1990, shows that while many churches have taken to heart the need to act against apartheid and racism, they have avoided dealing with the women in their own congregations and allowed discriminatory practices to flourish.
Referring to that controversial statement of the '80s - The Kairos Document - in which black South African Christians challenged the pro-apartheid white churches, she now asks, is it not the Kairos for women?
This book review appeared in M2M Issue 1, June 1992 p. 40
At the heart of the book are the personal experiences of several women who confess themselves "called", but for whom the church has not yet made provision for them to act out these calls officially. The stories of Wilma Jacobsen, Nangula Kathindi, Pheobe Swart-Russell, Margaret Briggs and Thoko Mpumlwana are heart rending and vitally important to the book. It is their desire to serve in the church, to give of themselves and to persevere despite the intransigence of the hierarchies, that gives weight to everything discussed in this book.
Another fascinating insight comes from Bishop Michael Nuttall who speaks of the moving experience of receiving communion from the hands of a woman - Rev Mary Au, from Hong Kong. Au was given special permission by Nuttall to celebrate communion at the chapel of St Mary's Diocesan School for Girls in Kloof in October 1990. Nuttall, who confesses himself to be "cautiously open" to women's ordination, says liberation for both women and men moved forward a step with that experience.
Draper and West, who are both lecturers in the theological studies department in Pietermaritzburg, have contributed essays that are enormously useful for the serious student of theology who needs tools to cope with the Bible and its perceived anti-woman bias. Draper's study shows that the New Testament church's treatment of women moved increasingly far away as time went by from Jesus' egalitarian and extremely respectful approach. West shows how methods of reading the Bible affect interpretation and consequently how Christian women - and men - perceive their role in the church. His essay, while academic, is very enlight-ening.
Walker and Wittenberg contribute a graphic history of the church, which tells the story from the women's point of view. For example, the Exodus starts when two midwives Shiphrah and Puah disobey the Pharaoh, with the result that the man who will lead the Israelites out of captivity (Moses) is not put to death. Both Walker and Wittenberg also contribute two of the most fascinating essays that look at Mary, the mother of Jesus. Wittenberg shows the pivotal role played by this woman in the liberation of a nation, thus making her vital to history and not just as the mother of some one important. Walker shows that veneration of Mary has often helped women in deeply oppressed societies to discover a sense of self worth and religious identity.
However, as the editors consulted more widely about what to include in the book they became aware
that the issue was much deeper than simply ordina-tion. And so, the 32 resulting essays span the spectrum from rethinking Christian theology and re-evaluating the Bible through the historical role of women in the church and spirituality to the contribution of women to the struggle for justice in South Africa. The essays also span the academic and the deeply personal. In doing so they forge a bridge between these two often mu-tually exclusive spheres of life.
It is difficult in the space of this review to do jus-tice to every essay. But the ones that for me stand out strongly are those which don't just simply repeat what we have come to know is true about women's experi-ence. These essays go that further creative distance in giving the reader something extra to think about. Par-ticularly noteworthy here are essays by Natal Univer-sity academics Jonathan Draper, Gerald West, Gertrud Wittenberg and Megan Walker.
The title needs explanation, while poetic it is still a little obscure: "Women Hold up Half the Sky" is a provocative Japanese saying and calls attention to the fact that women, while deeply involved in all facets of life and church, have been left out of the history books and the records of who achieved what. This book aims to reaffirm the important role women play in our society, and to allow them to speak for themselves about their frustration at not being taken seriously.
The book originated, as the authors explain, out of the ''anguish'' of many at the rejection of the motion for the ordination of women by the provincial synod of the Anglican Church in July 1988.
"Since in some ways, the Anglican Church has played an important role in the struggle for social and political liberation in southern Africa, this was a heavy blow for those women who had hoped that it would remove the barriers to women in the church also."
There is no dearth of literature dealing with women and religion. For years such books have pounded off the presses in the United States, Europe and Britain. And while many of these have been vital, they have lacked a very important dimension - the experience of women in Africa, Asia and South America.
That is why Women Hold up Half the Sky is so exciting. It is the first time in our country, in our unique con-text, that we have a wide variety of writings gathered to-gether in a single volume which contain the words of women in the church here in southern Africa.
Exciting essays on women and religion
BOOK REVIEW BY ANTHEA GARMAN