What does your faith say about women as Earthkeepers?

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SAFCEI hosted a Regional Interfaith Dialogue on Tuesday, 10 August, asking the question: What does your faith say about women as Earthkeepers?

The event was attended by 45 faith leaders from South Africa, Malawi, Uganda, and Zimbabwe.

The Dialogue was timed to link with National Women’s Day in South Africa and UN Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, both of which were celebrated on 9 August.

A trio of dynamic women speakers was preceded by SAFCEI’s Climate Justice Coordinator Gabriel Manyangadze, who provided background information for both events.

Women’s Day is a commemoration of the 1956 march on Pretoria by women who refused any longer to carry the “dompas”, a document that limited their access to resources and areas and was designed as a means to control the work, activities and rights of South Africa’s black population.

Indigenous People’s Day brings attention to the original caretakers of the land who were systematically dispossessed and often killed by a system of dominance based on commercialism, greed and complete disregard for the spiritual wisdoms and ways of people who lived in harmony with each other and with nature.  Gabriel told us about the world’s 7000 languages, many of which belonged to Indigenous Peoples and were often not recognised as having any significance. Languages, ways of life and ancient teachings have been buried along with our elders, while the collective actions of humanity continue to ravage the earth, laying it waste for future generations.

Saydoon Nisa Sayed, speaking on her Muslim perspective, said: “Islam teaches its followers to take care of the earth. Muslims believe that humans should act as guardians, or khalifah, of the planet, and that they will be held accountable by Almighty Allah, God for their actions. This concept of stewardship is a powerful one, and was used in the Islamic Declaration on Climate Change to propel change in environmental policy in Muslim countries.” Ms. Sayed represents Southern Africa on the African Union Interfaith Dialogue Forum Steering Committee and is an educator and activist.

Saydoon also said the UN theme for Indigenous Peoples’ Day, Leave no one behind, was an inclusive term referring to both men and women. In the Quran, humanity is called upon to care for the earth and for all living creatures.

Dr. Nontando Hadebe, recently appointed as International Coordinator for Side by Side Gender Justice, presented the African Traditional perspective. Dr Hadebe said in the context prior to colonialism and Christianity, women were central and we had to take the disruption of history into account. Earthkeeping is the desire for the flourishing of life, the environment is framed in a feminine language such as the proverb: “The land is the mother that never dies.” Stories from nature have always formed the basis of teaching opportunities, and generally one can say that women have tended the land while men were tasked with tending livestock.

The Christian perspective was presented by Sebia Kwaramba, a woman’s empowerment activist, FLEAT Zimbabwe member and member of the Zimbabwe Council of Churches. Sebia pointed out that the ministry of Jesus had centralised women such as Mary, Mother of Jesus, and Mary Magdalen. She said that despite the Biblical instruction to humanity in Gen 2:15 to “Keep the Earth”, many Christians had been silent about our endangered planet.

She concluded: “This situation presents women with an unparalleled opportunity to fulfill our biblical calling as Stewards of the environment.”

By Berry Behr, SAFCEI Faith Leader Liaison