|History 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.
- 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
- Solidarity chapters at Yale University,
- 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
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
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.
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
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
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
THE SILENCE: THE CIRCLE'S PAN AFRICAN CONFERENCE ON HIV/AIDS
Introduction to the
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
Goals of the Conference
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- To use the Ethiopian context as a field for learning about
how women are affected by history, religion and culture in
- 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
- 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.
- To give an opportunity for Circle partners to participate
and gain first-hand knowledge of the Circle.
- 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
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
- facilitate the visibility of the Circle;
- network with outsiders, partners and friends of the Circle;
- raise funds for the whole Circle;
- 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
- maintain communication within the linguistic Circle;
- liaise with the chief coordinator;
- mentor writing within the linguistic Circle;
- promote the vision of the Circle and welcome new members;
- liaise with Circle chapters;
- 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:
General Circle Membership
and their mandate
- initiate and coordinate chapters of the Circle;
- communicate with the relevant linguistic coordinator;
- coordinate meetings to discuss papers for publication.
- Commit to research and writing;
- Stimulate theological dialogue, reflection and critical
analysis from the perspective of women both within the Circle
- Commit to do research with, rather than merely about, grassroots
women and ensure to acknowledge them in the outcome of research;
- Keep the Circle coordinators apprised of changes of addresses
etc., so that a correct database can be maintained;
- Help in the distribution of Circle publications and their
- 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.
Recommendations for Circle work for the next five years,
Research and Writing
Educational Programming and Curriculum
- Continue research and writing about HIV/AIDS, including
stories of those living with AIDS.
- Explore the possibility of other publication forms, e.g.
videos, oral histories.
Religious and Cultural Traditions
- Train counsellors for HIV/AIDS work
- Incorporate HIV/AIDS training in Ministerial Formation
courses in the Theological Institutions. Support and participate
actively in the WCC plan of action in:
- training theological faculty;
- training both current seminarians and alumni to use AIDS
- re-reading and re-interpreting the scriptures from an African
- Incorporate HIV/AIDS training in gender courses in colleges
- Promote safe sex practices through educational programs
and workshops in the home, faith communities, and society.
- Promote of good health and nutrition and regular medical
- Advocacy to counter harmful cultural and religious practices
and retrieve positive ones.
- Honour women's bodies and increase women's self esteem.
- Regularly update the membership database
- Encourage the use and maintenance of the Web Site
- Maintain and circulating the Bibliography of Circle Member
- Encourage the development of Circle newsletters.
An adhoc committee was nominated to look into issues of a
publishing policy. Other areas to be explored include electronic
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.
More strategic budgeting and fundraising is necessary especially
to support the institutionalizing of the Circle and more programmed
Circle publications 2003 to 2007
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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
- 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
- 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:
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.
- English : 50 participants
(10 diaspora) Malawi - second week of July 2005
- French : 30 participants
(5 diaspora) Cameroun - first week of August
- Lusophone : 20 participants
(5 diaspora) Maputo - first week of September
- 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.
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
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:
First National Bank
Account Holder : University of KwaZulu
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