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DAY THREE: International Conference on Woman, Marriage and Celibacy in Africa

By Amadi Eziokwubundu SJ

The third and final day of the conference was no less interesting. The series of presentations for the day began with Dr Ingiyimbere Fidèle of Arrupe Jesuit University, Zimbabwe. His presentation titled “Célibat féminin et droits de la personne” (“Single Women and Rights of Person”) offered a philosophical exploration of the place of the individual in choosing to or not to marry. Ingiyimbere juxtaposed the African conception of marriage and the perspective of the international human right.

He noted that while marriage confers social status, seen as “noyau de la vie” and essentially communitarian in Africa, it is not the case when viewed from the angle of international human right, which, among other things, holds that a woman my chose to remain single. Furthermore, analyzing the various arguments for and against marriage by African women, Ingiyimbere attributed the reason for such phenomenon to the affirmation of the “I”. While cheering auto-affirmation of the African women, he warned that it is also prudent to exercise moderation.

In his presentation titled “Femmes célibataires et non consacrées dans la Bible: regard alternative” (“Single and Non-Consecrated Women in the Bible: An Alternative Look”), Dr Loïc Mben of ITCJ offered, nine characteristics of biblical single and non-consecrated women (such as Martha and Mary Magdalene). He said that being single does not mean solitude and that contemporary African single women are called to the service of God. Being married or single is not “a criterion for judgement on the quality of a person,” he said. Mben further added that Martha and Mary Magdalene and other women in similar category lived in their social context which did not tolerate them, but they found their happiness. Given the social norm at that time “they were perhaps ‘out of place’ to the society, but not in the eyes of God” he concluded.

Mirabel Nagei, a teacher and doctorate student in theology, spoke on “Le martyr des femmes catholiques célibataires en Afrique” (“The Martyrdom of Single Catholic Women in Africa”). She lauded the effort of women, who, either for the pursuit of virtue or religious vocation, live a celibate life. She said these women “live the beatitude” and experience a kind of daily martyrdom.

Prof Sheila McNamee, USA, took the participants at the conference on a journey of making and remaking marriage conception through her presentation titled “Le Processus de construction et de reconstruction du sens du mariage et du célibat” (“The Process of Constructing and Reconstructing the sense of marriage and celibate life”). McNamee noted that faced with the controversy around the issue of women, marriage, and celibacy in Africa and the world at large, the tendency is usually to look for an ‘agreement’. But the want of quick and easy “agreement compromises differences,” prevents a deeper appreciation of the issue and thwarts the quality of solution that is offered, she said. We need, therefore, to open to the possibility for a clash of idea so that we can have a richer sense of what marriage and celibacy mean, she added. For McNamee, the process of constructing and reconstructing the meaning of marriage, single motherhood and the nature of women must begin from interaction at the micro level. It is through this, as Dr Jean Messingué noted in his presentation, that a richer knowledge of how popular culture influence thoughts and actions. Bringing this knowledge into constructive debates will be useful in answering the question that Messingué asked the participants: How is the idea of celibacy and sex constructed within a society? The response to this question ought to be such that valorizes life and not stifle it.