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From Climate Change to Child Abuse

Deaconess Mable Sichali


Jackie Macadam reports on the work of Deaconess Mable Sichali within the United Church of Zambia


“So much of my job is about empowerment and raising awareness – among men as well as women.”

Mable Sichali is a Deaconess with the United Church of Zambia. She’s also head of the community development and social justice department for the church and works with some of the poorest and most marginalised people in Zambian society.

“I deal with the issues that affect people on a fundamental level. I tackle social justice, gender based violence, child abuse, and our response on climate change!”

Mable and her team of 41 deacons and other workers are working with the hardest subjects and the least inaccessible people by using every method they can think of.

“We use self-help groups to try to empower everyone, but especially women, to become economically, socially and politically independent. When they are not relying on a man for their income, they can begin to tackle the wrongs in society themselves.

“In Zambia we have to face things like child and forced marriages, and trying to overcome the so-called traditions that have led to them.

“Zambia is very patriarchal. In order to change the culture first of all we have to bring about a social and behavioural change, especially in regard to sexual reproductive health. Sometimes the measure of a man’s masculinity is still tied up with the number of children he has – often by different women – and this opens up a whole raft of problems that tend to be borne by women.

“We need to change men’s attitudes towards sex in order to begin to combat HIV/AIDS, because this tendency to have children with multiple partners is a primary way to spread the condition among communities.

“We work with peer support a lot. We train people on particular subjects and try to involve everyone – men as well as women. The facilitators become a voice for those who have been victimised. They are the ones who can combat the distortion in the way people think and hopefully that will impact on how they act.

“Women need to be able to assert themselves if their husband is sleeping with other women and take steps to protect themselves.

“We also combat child abuse by bringing in protective policies in congregations.

“Now anyone who deals with children needs to sign a document to prove they are not abusers. We need to respect the voices of children.

“Another big problem we face is violence – there is lots of male on female violence and we are putting legal protections in place that women fleeing violence can access.

“There has long been an idea within the church that ‘God hates divorce’ and the church has been too quiet about domestic violence for too long. Women should not feel obliged to stay in an abusive relationship.

“In order to combat domestic violence we also offer pre-marriage counselling so that both partners can have a better expectation of what a good marriage could be like.”

Mable has been in Scotland for two weeks, attending a women in ministry conference and visiting the World Mission offices at the Church of Scotland offices in Edinburgh.

“The United Church of Zambia tries to combat the tribalism among our political leaders as well. There are 1060 congregations within the country and sometimes up to 5,000 members in a congregation. The Vice-President of the country is a member. We should be able to use this membership to change minds and cultures within the country.”



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