Thursday, March 11, 2010

International Women's Day in Zambia

International women's Day, which is sponsored by the United Nations and is observed worldwide, is one of a small number of national holidays in Zambia. It happened Monday, March 8. No school, all public offices and a lot of businesses closed. There was a parade and celebration in Kitwe, with many participants--the YWCA, Girls Brigade, women's service clubs and church groups, women's student groups, professional women's organizations, all with banners and some with uniforms or coordinated colors. A band played, and it was festive and inspiring. Speakers identified areas of concern, including violence against women, HIV/AIDS, lack of representation in the political arena, need for more educational opportunities for girls. They also spoke of women's leadership in community improvement and social services. On the radio, BBC featured many stories about issues affecting women and about women's projects in Africa. (There is a special British Broadcasting Company FM station with an emphasis on news and stories of interest to Africa. It broadcasts 24 hours a day and is my radio station of choice here.)

At MEF, the chaplain asked if the women faculty, staff and students would plan a special observance to commemorate International Women's Day at chapel time scheduled for Tuesday, the day after. When we started thinking about it, I mentioned that there was a Bible story that might be a good one to share in the service, a story about courage and hope that features five sisters (Numbers 27:1-8). As Moses was leading the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt, on their way to the promised land, a long and arduous journey, many people began to grumble and complain. Some of them rebelled. Among the people was a family with five daughters and no sons. The father died. By custom and law, daughters had no inheritance rights. These brave sisters, one of whom was named Noa (my granddaughter's name), went to Moses, Eleazar the priest, and the Assembly and asked for their father's portion, the property he was due among his clan when they settled in the new land. Moses took their case to God, and God instructed Moses to give the sisters property as an inheritance, and to do so for other families where the father dies without a son but with a daughter.
We all agreed that this story certainly fit with the theme of International Women's Day, which was "Women's rights, women's opportunity, progress for all." The students decided to have someone read the scripure and then to enact it in a skit (which they called a sketch). Different students volunteered to play the parts, and they went off to decide how to portray the story. I was asked to offer the reflection, and the choir of girls called "Joyful Noise" said they would choose a couple of songs that went with the theme.
The skit was wonderful, and definitely the highlight of the service. It was an African portrayal that captured the essence of the story dramatically. The sisters wore long traditional African dresses, with shawls to cover their heads signifying mourning. They came in carrying water and burdens on their heads, and swept the floor and talked about the loss of their father. Then they worried about their fate, since they would be left dependent upon uncles or other male relatives. They decided to go before Moses, in a humble way, but with a clear request. Moses was a tall, thin woman student who had used white cream to create the appearance of a beard, had a stick as a staff and walked slightly bent over. Everyone clapped at her creative portrayal. The sisters knelt down before Moses when they made their request (traditional African gesture of respect for great authority). Then Moses knelt before the altar, behind which another student was crouching to be the voice of God. Moses raised his arms and told God what he had been asked to do, and the voice of God pronounced the ruling. Moses went back to the sisters and the assembly, and all cheered and clapped. It really made the story come alive! Then we had the music and the short reflection and more music and that was our final commemoration of the holiday. I taught a class on community social work right afterwards, and we drew on the story to illustrate women's empowerment and how support of numbers working together helps in a change effort.

Someone was taking pictures at the chapel service, at the top of this entry there's a good one of Moses and another one of the five sisters.

1 comment:

  1. Thankyou for your efforts Ann.
    The world truly needs more people like you.