What are we going to do with Jackie?

What are we going to do with Jackie?

Jacqueline Othoro will receive her PhD in 2011 from Africa International University. Her academic work is titled, Social Drama in the book of Esther: A critical analysis of conflict in the book of Esther using social anthropology. It is a story of many reversals.

Jackie “gets” reversals. A couple of years ago when she walked in and sat down with the leadership of a newly planted church, an amalgamation of two former churches, she became profoundly aware of the room full of men; all eyes on her. Without apology a leader from the “other” group said, “Oh dear, what are we going to do about Jackie?” That church had never permitted women on the Elders Court. Jackie’s lead pastor responded without hesitating, “Our five-person team comes in tact. Jackie is one of us.”

The tension passed but the reality is something that Jackie has faced herself and watched other women in leadership in Africa face. She is in the process of being ordained in the Anglican Church and will shortly receive her PhD. Why the need for credentials?

Ms Othoro says, “Women are still marginalized in Africa. For a married woman to get her ID, or national passport, tools she needs to travel, do business and vote in Kenya today, she needs her husband’s authorization. My own aunt, who was divorced for over 20 years, needed her ex-husband’s authorization before she was able to get her passport! We have a large number of women in our government today, and we have see change in women’s matters, but most of our female leaders do not challenge the status quo or strongly address women’s issues. When men speak they are called leaders and pace setters. When our women speak out they are called brash and manipulative. I believe credentials will give me authority and a voice to speak out, not just for women, but as a woman, and be recognized.”

When Jackie receives her degree she will be one of a handful of women who are Old Testament scholars on the continent. Most of these women are part of an organization called, Circle of Concerned Women Theologians in Africa. That circle needs to grow.

So what gives Jackie hope?

“I am proud when I see the young professional women who are coming along in areas previously thought to be male domain. They are urbanized women, many who are single, who have made a place for themselves and stand in their own right. I am proud of them. They work hard in the trenches and they see the importance of connecting and networking. We have had old structures for women in the past, but they were like lions without teeth. Actually they just marginalized women. The modern African woman is beyond that; she is giving the lion teeth and this gives me hope.”

“And here’s my final word for women,” says Jackie, “Stay in there and don’t give up. Stand up and be counted. Here’s why. A few months ago, I began to prepare to move on from the church I mentioned in the beginning, to join the staff of a sister church in the same city. When I sat with that same board discussing this new direction for my life, those same leaders said, ‘What are we going to do without Jackie?’”

The irony of the reversal is a story of hope.

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