This World Mission Sunday, get inspired by women reaching out across religious divides to heal their community. With Missio’s support, Sister Veronica has been leading the Women’s Interfaith Council since 2019. As a former educator, here she shares her perspective on the vital work of this project.
The mission and the vision of the organisation is to create a forum where Muslims and Christians come together to discuss issues and participate in peace building. It’s my job to ensure this is achieved. The council handles a wide range of problems in our society: health issues, environmental issues, political issues, education, economics. And, vitally, it sees that the rights of the women are respected.
Giving women a voice
We have come to realise that in African culture women are pushed behind. They’re not involved in decision making. But if you neglect half the population in decision making, things will not work well. In our organisation we have seen that it is important that women’s voices are heard. So, we ensure that women lead in decision making.
When women understand the importance of peace in the society, we will be able to achieve so much, because women are the ones that handle homes. They bring up their children, create that peaceful environment, and teach them how to relate with others. And they give them the right background, not to be involved in violence.
Many women and children in this area have been traumatised by violence. When we work with them, we need to bring specialists from the psychiatric hospital, who organise trauma healing sessions for them. But it takes funding to be able to provide that. If we are able to get funding, we will be able to help more people heal.
Training for life
Recently we visited a group of Muslim and Christian women whom we originally trained in 2017. Back then, we realised the Muslims and Christians live apart, so we thought of what would bring them together as women and build peace.
We found they had a common need for skills training, so we organised training in soap-making, bead-making… all those things. We always ensured that we carry out some activities in the Muslim community, so the Christians will come to the Muslim community, and some in the Christian community, so the Muslims will come there too.
Initially the women resisted but after a lot of dialogue they saw that it would help. It helped them to come together to bond and they were able to relate to each other. They went home to their friends, their families and said: ‘These people are not what we think: we have spent time with them and we saw they are good’.
From that initial peace building, we gave them capital; we bought them materials they needed to start their peace business. On their own, they then decided to contribute to it from what they make individually.
How to come through a crisis
Tragically, from last January to March, there was another crisis. The women lost everything again, because they carried their wares with them to the markets. When the crisis hit, they ran away; their houses were destroyed and some of them are still staying outside of the community.
Initially they explained that, after the crisis they stopped being able to relate to each other. Many of them lost their husbands and they are all young. But in time, they came to see that Muslims and Christian were all affected. They were able to say ‘We are together’. The Christian and Muslim women came back, saying: ‘Let’s bring our people back, despite what has happened. Every one of us was affected. Let’s forgive and move ahead’.
They started guiding themselves again. They invited us to events and they shared they want to start again, if we can assist them with capital, to start another business.
The unique role of the Council
We are the support. The Council now is giving us a platform, to give women hope. Whenever we organise anything, we ensure that it is equal representation from both the Christian and the Muslim side to break the fear between the two.
Many people thought that after this crisis Muslims and Christians cannot come under one roof again. We taught them that, no, there is hope in life. And the woman is supposed to instigate and encourage that hope. For those whose husbands were killed, they have to take care of their children. And if they withdraw, they cannot do it alone. Life is about sharing, and God has created us in a way that we must live together whether we like it or not.
When we go back to our scriptures they teach us about these kinds of situations. It is for us just to go back, understand them and know how to apply them. That’s the way we can live in peace.
Women are vital to a peaceful society
The role of women in peace building and interreligious dialogue is very important. Just as I said earlier, women are neglected. And they have a high population in the society. So when they are involved in interreligious dialogue, we will achieve what we want.
You can’t neglect a high percentage of people and talk about religion with only a few. Women are the ones with the children, so when they accept each other, they will bring up their children that way. We have a saying, ‘When you train a woman, you train a nation’.
Everyone has a right to live. And everyone has a right to worship what he or she believes in. And every religion talks about love and peace. There is no religion that talks about war.
Women need to be involved. In this African culture most of the time women are pushed at the background but we have to bring them forward. How long do we go with this? Women need to be there.
World Mission Sunday is celebrated in every Catholic community in the world. It’s a moment of grace to express solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Christ who are living in situations of poverty, violence and oppression. Every parish, school and community is invited to join this special event, and every penny, pound and prayer you give to Missio helps missionaries everywhere continue their work.