Indigenous African Churches: Leading Climate Change Actions and Creating Safe Spaces for Women and Girls in Siaya County
Siaya County in Kenya is home to several Indigenous African Churches, including the Roho Maler and Legio Maria with more than three thousand members. With the foregoing debates around human rights violations in the church space, the government has taken steps, such as setting up a task force on church extremism, but more needs to be done by their parishes and other actors, beyond providing support to communities in difficult times.
Civil society interventions are crucial in this regard, such as the Rona Foundation’s Voice to Action project focused on empowering church leaders, widows and youth groups and advocating for co-management of natural resources and climate change actions – further addressing the root causes of social and environmental challenges.
This approach provides development actors with the human face needed in promoting behavior change within the rank and file in Indigenous African churches. It is important to note that their congregants – burdened by life shocks, losses, and mental health challenges post Covid19, and recent burdens of long drought & over taxation debates – need empowered leadership, also defenders of human rights.
Reason, Rona is working with their figureheads to undertake climate change actions and make churches safe spaces that honor and respect women and children in their environment. By doing so, the project is promoting a holistic approach to addressing social and environmental challenges, which is critical to achieving sustainable development in the these three areas.
Climate Change Actions:
The Roho Maler and Legio Maria churches in Bondo County have demonstrated their commitment to environmental sustainability by organising tree planting campaigns. And planting over 200 trees in their churches and homesteads. Now, over two hundred congregations are actively contributing to carbon sequestration, biodiversity conservation, and combating deforestation in Siaya. Through these initiatives, the churches are setting an example for the wider community and emphasising the significance of environmental stewardship.
Safe Spaces for Women and Girls:
Two churches have conducted sensitization forums on child safeguarding, gender equality, and human rights impacting about 200 congregants. These forums play a crucial role in raising awareness about the rights of women and girls, addressing gender-based violence, and promoting gender equality within the community. By actively engaging in these conversations, the churches are challenging harmful cultural norms, ‘stigmatisation’ of trees and advocating for a society where women and girls can thrive.
Addressing Waste Management and Sanitation:
One Roho Maler church have constructed a door pit latrine. While the Roho Maler and Legio Maria churches are making commendable progress in climate change actions and creating safe spaces for women and girls, it is essential to acknowledge the need for improvements in waste management and sanitation within their worship spaces. And with the cholera outbreak leading to closure of two churches in Wichlum beach due to the lack of toilets highlights a pressing concern that needs to be addressed by church leadership. By prioritizing waste management and sanitation, the churches can ensure the health, hygiene, and well-being of their congregants, particularly women and girls who may face additional challenges in such congested spaces.
Fr. Alois and Pastor Charles’ efforts in organising sensitization forums on child safeguarding, gender, and human rights, as well as actively participating in tree planting initiatives, serving as examples for others to follow.
However, it is important to recognise the need for these churches to address concerns related to waste management and poor sanitation within their worship spaces. By taking action in these areas, the churches can enhance the well-being and safety of their congregants while further contributing to environmental sustainability and social justice.
As Voice to Action project moves forward, it is crucial for other climate change actors, county government and church leadership, congregants, and the wider community to work collaboratively to ensure that indigenous African churches play a leading role in climate change actions and the creation of safe spaces for women and girls. By doing so, we can foster a society that is both environmentally sustainable and socially inclusive, where all individuals have the opportunity to thrive and contribute to a better future.
Anne Musungu, Communications Intern, Rona Foundation & Roseline Orwa, the Founder & Director of Rona Foundation, a grassroots organisation in Kenya that works to advance and protect widows’ rights, as well as provide support to orphans and vulnerable children. She is a lifelong Fellow of the Atlantic Social Economic and Equity Program at the London School of Economics for social and economic equity. An Aspen New Voices Fellow 2021, and a Storyteller with The Moth Africa. She tweets @Roseline Orwa.
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