History of 'The Circle'
  • Inaugurated in 1989 in Accra, Ghana by 70 African women
  • Concerned about dearth of literature by African women
  • Presently has 15 chapters in 13 countries and small working groups in several other countries
  • Chapters Diaspora in Europe and North America
  • Solidarity chapters at Yale University, USA
  • Published 31 books by group authorship and several single authorship books
  • Established a center for women, religion and culture in Accra
  • Established women's resource center in Limuru, Kenya
    Future of the Circle
The concept of the Circle has attracted many women in Africa and there is such a desire to be associated with the Circle. However, only a few of them can and are willing to sustain and retain the original emphasis on research and writing.

Many would like to be associated with the Circle in order to read the writings of African women as well as, once in a while, have a forum by which issues of interest to them can be talked about by people who care and understand. The discussion on rites of passages, violence against women, and now HIV/ AIDS has created a lot of interest. For many women, the Circle is a safe place to reflect on and analyze these issues.

Many women in Africa do indeed want to write but the daily chores and struggles often consume them. Very few have access to a computer or even a typewriter. Many have no reference books and one of the biggest problems is often completing the bibliographical references. All of the above justifications for the growth in numbers of women associating themselves with the Circle are important. The Pan African meeting of 2002 agreed that the scourge of HIV/AIDS demand that the Circle activity should go beyond research and publication to action as a way to protect women's lives from death.

Future Plan
Given the fact that all Circle women are not full time researchers or academicians, we can only focus on trying to achieve small, but qualitative research. The Pan African meeting to take place in August 2002 reviewed our work and management. We took seriously the lessons we have learnt from the last thirteen years. And we have structured the Circle work differently. See the newsletter section and the 2002 annual report for more information.

A Promise For Tomorrow
Our history, short as it may be, has a promise for tomorrow. For many of us the promise is that of a brighter future for our daughters and ourselves. Our daughters will read books written by us. For all of us, men and women alike, the future is a promise of continuity and growth, our covenant with generations still to come. The future for the Circle comes alive to us by our realization that something exciting has been happening to our continent and to us. We have seen our names in print and read each other's writings. We have clearly seen that the stories of women in Africa are our lives and those of our foremothers. They speak to our hearts and to our bodies. The give us the impetus to hold a dialogue with each other and with God. Our reflections have opened up opportunities to ask questions to God, about God and about our humanity and the essence of our being. The determination by African women to address the dearth of theological writings by women from the continent has given birth to Women's Communal Theology. It has given birth to solidarity of African women with us and with our global sisters. The most important learning is that the motivation for Africa women's commitment to doing theology comes as a result of the inner conversion by concerned women theologians. It is not motivated by a need to confront; impress or even wins the church or other religious institutions. If this were the case, we would give up because many do not read our works. Our goal is to make Theology in Africa fly by equipping it with the missing wing. A bird with one wing does not fly. African Theology without the story of the faith of the women of Africa is handicapped. The distinct gift that we bring to the Theology of Africa is to repair the imbalance. The Circle Theology has posed questions to the content of the Theology taught in centers of learning and practiced in religious spaces.

As women of Africa we came to a realization that our own liberation partially depends on us. We have broken the silence and we are speaking for ourselves. We must stretch our theological imagination, our reading of the Holy Scriptures to take cognizance of our presence as women of Africa. We discovered that we are heavily attached to our traditions and cultures and that we must name these as subjects of analysis and critique within the field of Theology.

It is while doing this Communal Theology together across genders, cultures and religious boundaries that we discover and affirm our humanity across the borders. We have actually found out that that we have no option but challenge the culture of patriarchy so dominant on our continent. It affects the way we treat one another as women and the way we handle ordinary and specific situations including the God-talk.

Finally, after a decade of writing, the next decade must also include a review of the impact or lack of it in regards to the writings we have produced. It will be the task of other theologians to critique our work but we ourselves will have to begin to critique each other's work and formulate alternative and new theories. So far we have enjoyed journeying together, agreeing with each other and now it is time, like teen-time usually is, we need now to seriously start to develop some of our individual analysis of the same issues that show that we are growing in our interpretation. This has begun but it must grow during this second decade for the Circle of the future.

BREAKING THE SILENCE: THE CIRCLE'S PAN AFRICAN CONFERENCE ON HIV/AIDS

Introduction to the Conference
About 140 Circle members from 25 countries met in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, from August 4th to August 8th 2002. Several committees including the coordinating committee met on August 4th 2002 to review the work of past years and to consolidate and organise the sharing of leadership during the conference.

The urgency and grave situation of HIV/AIDS in Africa necessitated the Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians to bring forward to August 2002 the Pan African seven-year Conference scheduled for August 2003. The Circle also changed its agenda. Instead of the expected agenda that would have customarily analysed the work of the four study commissions done between 1996-2002, the coordinating committee and a selected group of members carried this aspect of the agenda out one day prior to the conference (cf. Appendix 1). This method then left space for the Pan African conference to entirely devote time to HIV/AIDS.
The Conference theme was Sex, Stigma and HIV/AIDS: African Women Challenging Religion, Culture and Social Practices. The deliberations of the conference will define the agenda of the Circle for the next five years, 2002-2007. What follows is a report of the preparations and proceedings of the meeting, as well as information about the participants, the titles of their research papers and the summaries of the work done in plenary and groups.

Goals of the Conference
  1. To provide a safe space for in-depth learning about the challenges that HIV/AIDS poses to women within the African social, cultural and religious context.
  2. To provide collegial space and opportunity for Circle members to present to each other their research on HIV/AIDS from a women's perspective, with a view of preparing some of that research for publication.
  3. To use the Ethiopian context as a field for learning about how women are affected by history, religion and culture in Africa.
  4. To create a safe space for practical learning about stigma and HIV/AIDS and to use collective solidarity to make individual and collective commitment to break the silence on stigma and sexuality.
  5. To enable Circle members to hold a business meeting and make decisions for the Circle's future including the selection of new leadership to continue the work of the Circle.
  6. To give an opportunity for Circle partners to participate and gain first-hand knowledge of the Circle.
  7. To celebrate the achievements of the Circle.

I. THE CIRCLE TRANSFORMS
NEW STRUCTURE, A PLAN OF ACTION

New Organisational Structure and Vision for the Circle (cf. Appendix 5)

Following consultations during the planning committee meeting and the conference, the gathering of the Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians in Addis Ababa August 4-8, 2002 developed a new Structure and Plan of Action. The new structure includes a General Coordinator and three Linguistic Research Coordinators.
General Coordinator
Prof Isabel Phiri of Malawi was appointed General Coordinator. She will serve one non- renewable term of five years and then circulate to other members. The General Coordinator's role is to:

  1. facilitate the visibility of the Circle;
  2. network with outsiders, partners and friends of the Circle;
  3. raise funds for the whole Circle;
  4. maintain unity of the Circle as a whole.

Linguistic Research Coordinators

Hélène Yinda of Cameroon, Dr. Dorcas Akintunde of Nigeria and Rev. Felicidade Cherinda of Mozambique were appointed coordinators for the Francophone, Anglophone and Lusophone regions respectively.
They will serve one non-renewable term of 5 years. Their role is to:

  1. maintain communication within the linguistic Circle;
  2. liaise with the chief coordinator;
  3. mentor writing within the linguistic Circle;
  4. promote the vision of the Circle and welcome new members;
  5. liaise with Circle chapters;
  6. help in updating database, website and dissemination of information to members and their chapters.

Roles and Responsibilities of Circle Members

At the Chapter level:
Chapter leaders will:

  1. initiate and coordinate chapters of the Circle;
  2. communicate with the relevant linguistic coordinator;
  3. coordinate meetings to discuss papers for publication.
General Circle Membership and their mandate
  1. Commit to research and writing;
  2. Stimulate theological dialogue, reflection and critical analysis from the perspective of women both within the Circle and beyond;
  3. Commit to do research with, rather than merely about, grassroots women and ensure to acknowledge them in the outcome of research;
  4. Keep the Circle coordinators apprised of changes of addresses etc., so that a correct database can be maintained;
  5. Help in the distribution of Circle publications and their promotion;
  6. Be willing to volunteer their time, skills, and resources in order to enhance the work of the Circle e.g. editing papers submitted to conferences, editing Circle books, contributions to website, etc.

Circle Plan of Action

Recommendations for Circle work for the next five years, 2002-2007:

Research and Writing
  1. Continue research and writing about HIV/AIDS, including stories of those living with AIDS.
  2. Explore the possibility of other publication forms, e.g. videos, oral histories.

Educational Programming and Curriculum
  1. Train counsellors for HIV/AIDS work
  2. Incorporate HIV/AIDS training in Ministerial Formation courses in the Theological Institutions. Support and participate actively in the WCC plan of action in:
    1. training theological faculty;
    2. training both current seminarians and alumni to use AIDS curriculum;
    3. re-reading and re-interpreting the scriptures from an African woman's perspective.
  3. Incorporate HIV/AIDS training in gender courses in colleges and universities.
  4. Promote safe sex practices through educational programs and workshops in the home, faith communities, and society.
  5. Promote of good health and nutrition and regular medical checkups.
Religious and Cultural Traditions
  1. Advocacy to counter harmful cultural and religious practices and retrieve positive ones.
  2. Honour women's bodies and increase women's self esteem.

Communication

  1. Regularly update the membership database
  2. Encourage the use and maintenance of the Web Site
  3. Maintain and circulating the Bibliography of Circle Member publications.
  4. Encourage the development of Circle newsletters.

Publishing

An adhoc committee was nominated to look into issues of a publishing policy. Other areas to be explored include electronic publishing.

Institutionalisation of the Circle

The Circle so far has been functioning as a movement. There is a need to institutionalise the movement. Exploration on a constitution as well as a permanent voice will be agreed on over the next five years.

Funding
More strategic budgeting and fundraising is necessary especially to support the institutionalizing of the Circle and more programmed research.

Funding Concerns
Circle publications 2003 to 2007

  1. Academic books
    Six academic books are in the process of being prepared for publication in 2003. The books will be based on papers, which were presented at the Circle's Pan African conference in Addis Ababa in August 2002. Three books will go to the publishers in April 2003 edited by three teams from East Africa, West Africa and Southern Africa. One book edited by the Francophone team will go to the publishers in August 2003. Two books, one edited by the West African team and the Southern African team will go to the publishers in November 2003. It is important that these books be publishes as a fulfillment of the Circle's mission to research, write and publish.

  2. AMKA publication
    The Circle will continue to publish AMKA. Three AMKAs will be published in 2003 from the Addis Ababa conference papers, which were not included in the academic books. One of the AMKAs will be in Portuguese.

  3. Circle Newsletter
    A Circle Newsletter will be circulated in June and November each year. The newsletter will be translated into French and Portuguese. The Circle newsletter will be circulated to all registered members of the Circle and partners of the Circle. 10 Circle newsletters will be circulated between 2003 to 2007. This newsletter is key in keeping the Circle family together and informed of what is happening. The 1st newsletter will be circulated in April 2003.

  4. Circle Directory
    An updated Circle directory will be circulated once each year. The constant updating of the directory is important because it offers the opportunity to add new members and to keep up with new addresses for the members who have changed addresses. 5 Circle directories will be produced between 2003 -2007. The Circle data form is on the Circle Website. The first updated directory will be circulated in July 2003.

  5. Circle Profile Publication
    A profile publication will include a photo and a five line CV about each Circle member. This publication is necessary for conference, consultations, workshop, seminar organizers or possible employers. This will help to expose more Circle members to the world of conferences and it is hoped that the few prominent ones will not be overburdened with invitations as speakers at conferences, consultations, workshops and seminars. First publication will come out in 2004

  6. Annotated Bibliography
    The Circle is planning to publish an annotated Bibliography of the publications of Circle members. This publication will be very useful for theological institutions that want to use Circle publications in their teaching. First publication will come out in 2004.

  7. Essays in honour of Mercy Oduyoye
    The Circle has continued with the vision of publishing a book in honour of Mercy Oduyoye as the founder of the Circle. The call for papers will go out in the October 2003 Circle newsletter. The theme of the book will be : "Women and Health in Africa". This book will be published in 2004.

  8. Circle Website
    In March 2003 the hosting and updating of the Circle website was transferred from Geneva, Switzerland to Pietermaritzburg, South Africa. The Circle website address is http//www.thecircle-cawt.org
Conferences
  1. Linguistic Regional Conferences
    The Circle will hold regional conference during 2005. . The theme of the regional conferences will be : "Women and Health in Africa". This theme will allow the Circle to continue dealing with HIV/AIDS in the context of women's health. The Essays in honour of Mercy Oduyoye would be launched at each Regional Conference. Suggested dates, venues, and number of participants are as follows:
    • English : 50 participants (10 diaspora) Malawi - second week of July 2005
    • French : 30 participants (5 diaspora) Cameroun - first week of August 2005.
    • Lusophone : 20 participants (5 diaspora) Maputo - first week of September 2005
    Local Chapters will be encouraged to help shape and plan the papers to be presented at the conferences. This will help to improve the quality of researched papers to be presented at the conferences.

  2. Pan-African conference
    The Circle's Pan-African Conference in 2007 will be held at the Lutheran Conference centre, Kempton Park in South Africa. It is planned for 200 participants.
Circle chapters

The Circle chapters are being encouraged to continue with research writing and publication on themes that are relevant for their region, while maintaining the issues of gender and HIV/AIDS alive.

Circle Administration

At the Addis Ababa conference, the Circle developed a new Circle structure and decided to move the administration of the Circle to the School of Theology, University of Natal, Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, where the general coordinator is based. The School of Theology has since provided office space for the Circle to operate from. A Circle Administrative Assistant has been employed. Each linguistic regional coordinator will also be required to carry out administration duties to promote communication within their region. Hence the need for office equipment in the Circle budget.

Circle Bank account

The Circle financial account has been established within the University of natal. The banking details are as follows:

Bank :
First National Bank

Account Holder : University of KwaZulu Natal

Account Number : 6201 7326 168

Branch Code : 223 626

Branch : Durban Corporate

Swift Address : FIRNZAJJ

Physical address :
Rydall Vale Park
Douglas Saunders Drive
La Lucia Ridge
South Africa
4001


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