Marriage has been known to be amongst the desirable accomplishments of any woman, who is considered established in the African community. Because marriage is viewed as sacred, it is perceived that a married woman is treated with respect and given much dignity. Quite often single women are pressured into marriage, and are also frowned upon if they are unmarried by their mid-twenties. A delay in marriage may be viewed as a disgrace to the family. This kind of pressure tends to leave women in undesirable situations because some may feel obligated to marry based on the need of acceptance by family and wider society. Unfortunately, some women are left open to being vulnerable and end up in abusive marriages, whilst trying to live up to the “married woman status”.
What if the pressure is coming from the church? At times, it is the very church, that ends up victimising women for not being married, thereby creating a dysfunctional relationship with emotional and psychological abuse between unmarried women and the church. Because of the patriarchal nature of our African culture and wider society, men in positions of power and authority in the church, such as the pastors, exercise inappropriate dominance over women in church. I have been in churches where women are offered positions in the church depending on their marital status. This thereby creates humiliating practices and unfair treatment that may not appear to be obvious on the part of men in so called positions of power. The African church simply must acknowledge the importance of individuals working in the church regardless of their marital status. A lot of churches tend to miss the point of why people come to church and how the processes within church interfere with how individuals choose to serve God, especially where individuals may be excluded for not being married. Churches miss out on gifted people that could be effective assets towards the running of the church, because they seem to be associating marital status with being divine or being godly, hence the (mis)understanding that a woman is not ‘whole’ until she has a husband. Can you imagine for a second, the emotions and feelings of rejection, and feelings of not being worthy that an individual may go through because of this? Would it be fair to charge the church with emotional abuse? What else may we charge the church?
Then there is the issue of Christians who believe that female subordination is the norm. It has also been my observation that some pastors seemingly expect women that are not their wives to submit to them, simply by them just being male and believing that they have authority (in some twisted instances, we have heard the stories of pastors who feel that they have authority even in another man’s household, but I digress…). We witness abuse of power, self-centeredness and domination in churches. We hear shocking and heart-breaking stories about women that have been abused or hurt by the church; and there appears to be a misconception about submission and a misuse of scripture in the afore mentioned circumstances. A lot of the time, the wellbeing, dignity and self-worth of women in these situations is certainly overlooked.
Here is an example relating to women and marriage, where pastors play a role towards facilitating dysfunctional or abusive marriages. We may find pastors playing influential match maker and encouraging marriages that are bound to have negative emotional or psychological impact behind closed doors. Women may feel pressured to agree with marriages for fear of being branded disobedient. The amendment of this attitude in the African church and by the pastors, requires a re-education centred on the impact of cultural attitudes, considering how these attitudes can be used as a tool to take away a woman’s dignity and ‘imprison’ a woman in a way that makes her appear relevant only if she married.