Today we want to celebrate the culmination of a wonderful collaboration: namely, the publication of Covid-19: African Women and the Will to Survive. The collaboration at the heart of this special journal issue is between first, the West Africa chapter of The Circle for Concerned African Women Theologians (‘The Circle’) and second, the Bible in Africa Studies/Exploring Religion in Africa series, based at the University of Bamberg, in Germany.
The publication is open access and available here. The reference is Bible in Africa Studies 31/Exploring Religion in Africa 8 (2021).
To give a little more background…
The Circle is a wide-reaching network of African women theologians. It was founded by scholar and activist Mercy Amba Oduyoye. (The Shiloh Project conducted an interview with Mercy Oduyoye and Joyce Boham in late 2018. Please see here.)
At the heart of The Circle is the aim to encourage, support, guide, and promote women theologians in writing and publishing. But its concerns are also very much wider and deeper than this. Circle members acknowledge and understand the multiple discriminations at work in their various African contexts. These discriminations are made, for instance, on the basis of sex, gender, poverty, HIV status, as well as in terms of access to health and reproductive care, to education, and to legal and political representation. And all these discriminations impact disproportionately on women and girls.
The Circle, in the face of this, provides safe spaces, mentoring, and forums for discussion and solution finding. Equipped with solidarity, advice, and support, many go on to empower, motivate and sustain their families and their wider communities – be these scholarly, or faith, or educational, or workplace communities.
The Bible in Africa Studies/Exploring Religion in Africa series (BiAS), meanwhile, is a peer-reviewed, scholarly, open access series promoting research on religion in African settings. The series is led by Professor Joachim Kuegler, one of our 2019 activists. Joachim is Professor of New Testament Studies at the University of Bamberg. He has a long-standing commitment to advancing scholarship in and about religions in Africa. He has supervised numerous postgraduates and hosted many scholars with specialisation in this area.
Joachim writes, that exchanges with African students and scholars at his department in Bamberg are “based on the principle of pluriform equality” and further, that “[u]sing the opportunities offered by a rich country (Germany) we try to give academics from Africa a chance to display their talent in exploring the Bible in a contextual life-oriented way.”
BiAS has been a superb venue for publishing and disseminating scholarship on religion and theology in African settings.
This BiAS publication shows what can happen when two different groups of scholar activists work together. The initial spark came from gender-specialist Joyce Boham (another 2019 Shiloh activist), who directs the Talitha Qumi Institute of Women in Religion and Culture in Legon, Ghana. Joyce opened a conversation about gender justice in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic. Joyce’s colleague at the Trinity Theological Seminary, Dr. Mark Aidoo, an academic of the Hebrew Bible, endeavoured to take the conversation forward with her. (You can see Mark at work in his classroom here). Next, Joyce and Mark called for contributions, primarily from Circle members in their region. Contributions of many kinds poured in – academic articles, empirical studies, reflections, exegeses, poems… These were then edited by a team that also included Professor Helen A. Labeodan, immediate past general coordinator of The Circle, and Dr. Rose Mary Amenga-Etego, an academic at the University of Ghana.
This publication arose from this combined effort, and it offers multiple and diverse theological responses to and reflections on the Covid-19 outbreak and pandemic. All contributions are by African scholars and authors. Some contributions are academic, some experiential, and others creative, or impressionistic.
Reflecting the ethos and commitment of the Circle to nurture and promote the publications by and about African writers, this issue contains the writings of some established but, predominantly, of emerging theologians. For some contributors, this is their first publication in an international series.
The Circle, furthermore, is committed to social justice and positive change. Covid-19 has, like other crises, thrown into relief social injustices and gendered inequalities. While the pandemic has, indeed, been global, taking a toll on all parts of the inhabited world, striking both rich and poor, the burdens in its wake have not been borne equally. Lockdowns and economic downturns have hit those already afflicted by poverty hardest – and here the nations of Africa are disproportionately represented. Many African citizens have lost their livelihoods and access to education. Where women and girls are concerned, the bulk of caregiving and home-schooling has fallen to women; most of the children no longer receiving an education and forced into marriages are girl-children. With domestic abuse accelerating, the majority of victims are female. Hence, Covid-19 is a worldwide pandemic, but it is also a pandemic with particularly severe consequences for the economically vulnerable and for women and girls.
Taken together, the contributions in this publication offer a snapshot of (mostly) West African responses to a testing time.
We celebrate this publication and what it represents in terms of effort, collaboration, resourcefulness, and resilience. Please take a look and please help us spread the word.