February 14, 2005
Several years ago when the Carvers first visited Malawi, the church they were visiting scheduled activities to keep them busy from morning to night. Dave noticed that one day there was an hour for “African Culture.” When he asked what they would be doing during the hour to experience African Culture, an elder told him. “We will separate the men from the women. The women will gather firewood, get water from the borehole, weed the garden, tend the children, and cook our dinner.”
“What will the men do?” asked Dave.
“Well, there is not a lot for us to do. We will sit in the hut and talk about politics.”
That is exactly what transpired. Every once in a while Dave would peek out to see Sharon and the other women hauling firewood or hoeing the fields.
I would like to be able to report that much has changed in the past few years since that learning experience took place, but I am afraid that it has not. Women still bear the brunt of life’s workload, it seems. Now, some may argue that these roles go back to ancient times when men were the hunters and women the nurturers, but this is the 21 st Century. Hopefully, we have learned a bit about gender stereotypes along the way. It is true that around the world, women still bear the brunt of these everyday tasks, but I was reading the other day that in America, men now do 40% of the housework. Hopefully, Malawian men will follow suit soon.
I do not want you to get the wrong idea. There are plenty of people here in Malawi who have closed the gender gap. Tomorrow night we are having a couple over to dinner from our church. Thoko and Dean are both well educated accountants who have very good jobs in banks. Both have other jobs as well. Dean is the Music Director at St. James CCAP, and Thoko has a tailoring business that she runs on the side. Their marriage “chores” are very equitably divided. Unfortunately, they are not the norm.
The good thing is that people are becoming more aware here that women can have important roles in the government (My friend Elvie’s sister is the Minister of Justice for Malawi – the top law enforcement officer), and even in the church. Most CCAP congregations now have female elders and deacons, and there are even four women ordained to the Ministry of Word and Sacrament in the CCAP. That was a tough battle, but it has been won.
There are many aspects of African Culture that should be preserved, but this particular one could use some revision.