"A woman's place is in the kitchen." "A woman can't keep a secret." "A woman can never build a country." "A boy is a pillar; a girl is a wild cat." "A woman is her own worst enemy." "Only women commit adultery."
These are among African sayings that both men and women repeat, and, most likely, have counterparts in other cultures.
But now these sayings are being put to positive use as fodder for reflection and action in a new manual that explores all forms of violence against women.
The 58-page manual, titled "Rise Up and Act" (in French, "Leve-toi pour agir"), has just been launched from the Women's Desk of the Nairobi, Kenya- based All Africa Conference of Churches (AACC).
Editor and contributor Danielle Rahaingonjatovo, a Lutheran from Madagascar, unveiled the resource during the Nov. 19-22 AACC Women's Pre- Assembly, which drew some 200 women from across Africa to Yaounde, Cameroon, prior to the AACC's 8th Assembly here Nov. 22-27.
The resource "Rise Up and Act" was conceived during the global Ecumenical Women's Decade (1990s) and born in the global Ecumenical Decade to Overcome Violence (2000-10), both coordinated through the World Council of Churches.
It "encourages the mobilization of women regionally and subregionally to declare all forms of violence against women a sin," said Rahaingonjatovo, who is the AACC Women's Desk Coordinator for East Africa.
The manual includes stories of women - rich and poor, intellectual or not - who have suffered violence, whether physical, social, cultural, structural, political, economic, in the home or "even in the church," she said.
It includes cartoons, games, puzzles, a copy of the global convention against violence against women, Bible studies and, yes, the sayings from countries across Africa as a way to open eyes and promote discussion and action in congregations, seminaries, small groups and other settings.
"All the rest is up to us what to do with it," Rahaingonjatovo said, who noted that "in Madagascar the book has been translated into our own language, and we have added specifics from our own culture."
"We women in Africa are not sleeping or just lamenting our fate, we are acting," she said. "This book is a tool to work to truly eradicate violence against women."
"Rise Up and Act" and "Leve-toi pour agir" are available for U.S. $8 including postage from the AACC Women's Desk, P.O. Box 14205 Westlands, Nairobi, Kenya.
The Pre-Assembly included two related presentations. Speaking on "Women and Armed Conflicts," Pastor Mirana Diambaye of the Protestant Church of Christ the King, Central African Republic, described the breadth and depth of violence that women suffer in war.
She challenged churches especially to speak out against the widespread practice of rape by armed forces, saying "churches haven't acknowledged the extreme humiliation women have had to endure. The church should offer moral, psychological, physical and social healing to our sisters who have had to endure it."
Diambaye urged women to study the political and economic power plays that fuel conflicts, help build cultures of tolerance and reconciliation, work to strengthen democracy and good governance and link hands across borders to press their governments to stop all trade in weapons.
Speaking on "Violence Against Women," Wasye' m. Musyoni of Diakonia East Africa, Nairobi, Kenya, reinforced Diambaye's presentation, saying that "rape is not about sex, it's about anger, the need to dominate and degrade women. It has become a ritual of war. It is used to terrorize and tear apart communities and humiliate their men."
Violence against women occurs in a context of systems that keep women subordinated, Musyoni said, continuing, "Silence also keeps the system alive. A minute of silence is respect but when it goes on for centuries it's nothing but indifference and has to be broken."
"We want churches to speak out," she said. "As women we need to construct hierarchies that equalize power (between men and women), work for women's economic power and address the need for women to be part of political power (structures). We need to work to build women's self-esteem and construct institutions to help women who suffer from violence."