Throughout the world, acts of injustice threaten the well-being and safety of individuals, their families and communities. No region in this world is immune to injustice. However, some regions of our world experience much higher rates of economic and social injustice than others.
In fact, according to WorldCentric, in 2000 over 29% of people living in extreme poverty were in sub-Saharan Africa. That’s means that over 323 million people in this region are living on less than $1/day (PPP* USD).
But why is this? Over, time the gap between the richest and poorest countries has significantly grown... from 35 to 1 in the 1950s to over double that-- 72 to 1 in 1992. WorldCentric believes that global exploitation coupled with oppression has made sub-Saharan Africa a breeding ground for corruption and injustice. According to Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, corruption is a severe problem in 40 of the 46 countries that make up sub-Saharan Africa.
Despite the corruption affecting sub-Saharan Africa, many Catholic Sisters in Africa are dedicated to changing the region's narrative. African Sisters Education Collaborative (ASEC) provides these Sisters with the education and skills they need to become leaders of change in their countries.
ASEC's Sisters Leadership Development Initiative (SLDI) program provides Sisters with technology, administration and finance training through one month workshops over three years. Through SLDI, Sisters gain the practical skills and confidence to build strong networks and take up leadership roles in their congregations and communities.
ASEC's Higher Education for Sisters in Africa (HESA) program provides opportunities for Sisters to access diploma, undergraduate and master’s level education. HESA is delivered through partnerships with higher education institutions in Africa and online in the USA. Alumnae of ASEC’s SLDI and HESA programs obtain the skills and credentials needed to advocate for the most vulnerable and persecuted individuals in the communities they serve.
Several ASEC alumnae are winning the fight against corruption and injustice in their areas of ministry.
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Fighting for the rights of children
Among these are Sr. Delvin Mukwana, a HESA alumna who is utilizing her studies of community development to create positive change in her community. Sr. Delvin was promoted to head the Association of Sisterhoods of Kenya-Catholic Care for Children in Kenya (AOSK-CCCK) Program upon graduating from HESA.
In this role, she is responsible for safeguarding and promoting quality care for children in line with the social teaching of the Catholic Church. Sr. Delvin used the skills she learned in school to facilitate the development of a child protection policy, which targets all Catholic child care institutions in the country. She says,
“I am who I am because of the formation received in my congregation and the education I have gotten from HESA through ASEC,” -Sr. Delvin
Empowering the Women of Africa
SLDI alumna Sr. Josephine Muthoni Kwenga, seeks to empower vulnerable women of Kenya. Subsequent to graduating from SLDI in 2015, Sr. Josephine wrote a grant proposal for her project “Women Peacemakers with Alternative Livelihood.” The project’s activities, relate directly to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal 16 (SDG 16), which promotes peace, justice and strong institutions. Her project empowers women in Nairobi slums and rural settings through economic capacity building activities, peace building initiatives, gender empowerment and collaboration with local officials.
Because of gender inequality, women and young girls in sub-Saharan Africa need extra support against corruption and injustice. That’s why so many Sisters’ ministries are centered around the protection of these vulnerable women and young girls. One practice that threatens justice to young women is that of female genital mutilation, or FGM.
FGM refers to all procedures that involve altering or injuring the female genitalia for non-medical reasons and is an overt violation of the human rights of girls and women. This fatal procedure strips girls and women of their autonomy, dignity and identity.
Recognizing FGM as a life-threatening barrier to equality, SLDI alumna Sr. Caroline Kimani, Societies of the Daughters of the Heart of Mary, is using the skills she acquired from SLDI to empower young girls to end this practice.
While attending an SLDI workshop, Sr. Caroline learned that one leads by empowering others. As a result of this lesson, she aims to empower the girls she serves as Directress of the Marie Adelaide Girls Rescue Center. The rescue center provides shelter, food, counseling and educational opportunities for as many as 24 at-risk girls.
Sr. Caroline hopes that by witnessing empowered women who fight for the rights of others, the girls will be able to say “no” to FGM, alligning with the UN’s SDGs reduced inequalities (SDG 10) and gender equality (SDG 5).
Healing from Human Trafficking Trauma
The same deeply-rooted beliefs of inferiority that underlie FGM also guide human trafficking in sub-saharan Africa, which accounts for 19% of the world’s enslaved population.
In Nigeria, SLDI alumna Sr. Emenaha Bibiana is the Coordinator for the Committee for the Support of Dignity of Women (COSUDOW) and is in charge of a shelter for trafficked girls and women who have returned to Nigeria to begin the transition back to a semblance of their past lives.
Sr. Emenaha is focused on cultivating a strong support network for the women and girls at her shelter. At ASEC’s 2016 alumnae meeting in Nigeria, she shared her expertise in human trafficking with participants, stating,
“It’s a very strong network and before you counteract it and fight it, you have to come up with another, stronger network.” -Sr. Emenaha
SLDI alumnae in Cameroon, Srs. Felicitas Ngum, Agnes Menjuh, Pamela Achingale, Mary Therese and Julienne Tonfack, Sisters of St. Ann, recently welcomed a young girl into their religious community upon her escape from trafficking. The Sisters provided the girl with shelter until she reunited with her family and are currently supporting her studies. This generous service recognizes the inherent human dignity of all individuals and indicates a commitment to justice as well as the United Nations’ SDGs of reduced inequalities (SDG 10), gender equality (SDG 5) and quality education (SDG 4).
Creating a Just Society
The impressive work of SLDI and HESA alumnae highlights the pivotal role that education plays in empowering individuals to create a just society. By equipping women religious with an education, they are able to promote justice, serve others and stand in solidarity individuals who are marginalized. With the liberation of each member of the global community bound to one another, these Sisters are helping to make justice a reality for all.
*PPP, or purchasing power parity is measured by finding the values in United States Dollars (USD) of a basket of consumer goods that are present in each country (such as pineapple juice, pencils, etc.). If that basket costs $100 in the United States and $200 in the United Kingdom, then the purchasing power parity exchange rate is 1:2.