Mobilizing African Sisters for Advocacy

Sister Eucharia Madueke, SNDdeN

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Sr. Eucharia Madueke, SNDdeN (center) leads a group of Sisters to the National Assembly in Abuja, Nigeria.

The Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur work with other religious communities and organizations to foster awareness and response to socio-economic and cultural realities which impact negatively the common good. In this spirit of collaboration, my province leadership missioned me early last year to serve the Africa Faith & Justice Network (AFJN), in order to mobilize and enhance the capacity of African Sisters for engaging in advocacy, in serving the people. AFJN is a Washington DC faith-based advocacy organization founded in 1983 as a response to issues of justice that Catholic missionary congregations witness on the ground in Africa. Inspired by the Gospel and informed by Catholic Social Teaching, AFJN seeks to educate and advocate for just relations and to work in partnership with the African people as they engage in the struggle for justice, peace and the integrity of creation.

euchairaTesting the Waters
I hold a common belief in the African proverb that a single bracelet does not jingle.”  In this ministry at AFJN, I am working to engage the enormous potential of African Sisters for creating change through education, training in advocacy, and strengthening associational relationships. African women are formidable agents of change. African Catholic Sisters have the potential to create change through leadership in providing those critical and essential services: education, healthcare, pastoral and social services for families, mostly women and children.

In April and May 2016, I tested the willingness of the Sisters in various parts of Nigeria to confront the structures of injustice.  In conversations with members of the Nigerian Conference of Women Religious and with other Sisters, I engaged individuals and groups in discussions to  expand ministries of service for changing the structures of injustice that impoverish our people. I also invited them to attend at Abuja the AFJN conference on Just Governance: The Nigerian Bio-Safety Law, GMOs, and Implications for Nigeria and Africa, followed by a one day Sisters’ Forum on Just Governance and the Common Good: Religious Vocation and Faithful Citizenship.  Sisters do not usually attend gatherings with political undertones but attendance at both gatherings was remarkable.  The Minister of State, giving the keynote address, remarked that the conference was special, noting the number of “women of God” in attendance.

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At the Sisters’ Forum, with over 60 Sisters from 23 religious communities, speakers encouraged the Sisters to see the issues of injustice as Nigerian Catholic Sisters, and not as individual Congregations.  Sisters reflected passionately on the issue of poor governance and the situation of women and children in Nigeria, and then committed themselves as a group to challenge those structures that harm women and children in the nation. They recognized their limited knowledge and capacity for justice ministry by requesting assistance to develop needed skills. Their eagerness to work together for change, even with an expressed fear of incapability, and their boldness to step into the future with courage showed their readiness to engage in advocacy and to effect change together as women religious.

Educating for Social Action
AFJN conducted 5 days of advocacy training from November 22-27, 2016.  Convinced of the power of education and their personal and collective responsibility to advance the common good, over 86 Sisters from 27 Congregations took the opportunity to reflect on their role in nation building, to explore the structures of injustice in Nigeria, to practice talking with authorities, and to build a network of Sisters for collaborative action.

Seeking Conversations with Authorities
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The Sisters attempted to hold an advocacy meeting with selected law-makers: the Senate President and his deputy and the Speaker of the House and the Federal Director of Police.  Despite many vain attempts to obtain permission from any of the law-makers, the Sisters were not deterred from making a visit. Unfortunately, security personnel at the National Assembly complex that housed the law-makers’ offices barred the Sisters from entering. With courage, the sisters refused to be intimidated by the security personnel; rather they positioned themselves beside the entrance to the National Assembly and peacefully and prayerfully delivered their message in public.  They asked that the law-makers protect women and children, promote sound development strategies, protect Nigerian land and water, as well as small farm holdings, stop excessive and irrational spending, and be accountable and accessible to the people they represent.  Speaking to the Police Director, who at very short notice, welcomed the sisters and thanked them for their visit to his office, the Sisters demanded that the police, in discharging their duty protect the vulnerable and respect the dignity of each person.

Movement Unfolding
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At the conclusion of the Conference, Sisters realized the importance of education to confront structures of injustice and the power of associational relationships which may enable them to speak the truth to the authorities, without fear of being targeted. Thirteen sisters representing different Congregations formed a steering committee to keep up the momentum of the Conference.  The movement is now legalized and its by-laws approved by the Nigerian Corporate Affairs Commission under the name Africa Faith & Justice Network Nigeria. AFJN will continue to journey with the group in their efforts to effect necessary change.

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