The idea of a Women Programme is as old as PROCMURA.
It was the opinion of the forefathers of the Islam in Africa Project as early as September 1959, that a Women’s Programme would foster relations between Christian and Muslim women and thereby encourage them to communicate effectively on issues that concern them and their environment.
In spite of this determination, it was, however, not until 1970 that a pilot project was initiated in Northern Nigeria under the leadership of Coby Van der Steen of the Netherlands Reformed Church. Coby, who at the time was given the title “Women’s Adviser” was charged with coordinating women’s activities. Despite being very active in Nigeria and wanting to expand her work to other countries, she was constrained by the slow development of Area Committees around Africa. She therefore could not expand the work to different countries even if she had wished to do so.
The continental Banjul conference
During the 7th General Council meeting of PROCMURA in Nairobi, in 1987, the Council instituted measures to reactivate the Women’s Programme and to make it broad based to cover the entire continent. The reactivation of the programme took place in Banjul, Gambia, in 1989 when PROCMURA held a continental women’s conference. The conference conducted a mapping out exercise which identified leadership of the programme at Area Committee levels and planned grass-root programme activities. After the Banjul conference, the Women’s Programme took off in earnest and has since then grown from strength to strength.
The programme, in line with the vision of its foremothers, has two focuses:
– to assist Christian women in understanding their Muslim neighbours with the view of relating constructively with them.
– Let Christian and Muslim women meet for joint consultations, workshops, and seminars of issues of common concern to women in general, and to Christian and Muslim women in particular.
Women as peace-solution-makers
Reasons for conflicts are often many and varied. In some situations, religion is used as an element to support conflict while sometimes it is the main factor in conflicts. This fact is due to either inherited negative feelings about the other or ignorance about each other’s beliefs, which usually leads to misunderstanding and misconception of the other. Yet we are all human beings and despite our religious differences, we have to live side by side each other on the same planet, in the same community, and in some cases in the same family. On matters of religion, especially Christianity and Islam, it is noticeable that women constitute a significant majority and more easily interact with one another without taking into account their religious differences. It is well established that in conflict situations, however, they and their children suffer more than anyone else in the society; they lose husbands and sons. Sometimes the women and their daughters are subjected to a wide variety of inhumane treatment including rape.
In order to have a better understanding of the other and their beliefs, the PROCMURA Women’s Programme holds training sessions, workshops, and seminars for Christian women (lay and ordained) on the basic tenets of Islam and how to cooperate and collaborate with their Muslim counterparts in order to live in peace and work towards peace in the wider society.
Peace and Peaceful coexistence
As stated before, women suffer the most and are the most vulnerable in situations of conflict. It is clear that they all need peace in their environments in order to avoid sorrows and pains. Women are known to be good peace brokers when it comes to conflicts. We are aware that in Nigeria, and in other places, women protected each other and others during communal conflicts. It is of paramount importance for both Christian and Muslim women to address issues of peace and peaceful co-existence in order to come up with resolutions on capacity building to promote such noble values. Women can contribute and advocate for peace and peaceful coexistence and offer an interfaith (Christian and Muslim) approach to the peace issue. The Women’s Programme provides the platform for women to team up and have a common voice on the issue of peace that would produce some effective results. The programme gathers these women to look at the indispensable value of peace in both Christian and Muslim traditions and how these can effectively be put into practice.