Vulnerability and capability in Kenya : towards an African women's public theology.
This thesis concerns African women’s experience of comprehensive vulnerability, and a proposal to develop an African Women’s’ Public Theology to enable the church in Africa to adequately respond to that vulnerability. The research involved a case study of 126 women in the Kenyan district of Meru South undertaken through interviews, focus groups and participant observation, and revealed that women experience vulnerability in eight key areas, namely, Domestic violence, Inheritance, HIV and AIDS, Education, Health, Female Genital Mutilation, Polygamy and a lack of control and access to property. The thesis argues that this constitutes a comprehensive experience of vulnerability that has five fundamental causes, namely, Patriarchal traditions and customs; Poverty; Policies and law; Religion and the church; and Internalisation. The thesis then examines an appropriate response from Christians and the Church to this experience of comprehensive vulnerability. It notes that many of these concerns are voiced by African Women’s’ Theology, but that in order to adequately deal with the experiences and causes of women’s vulnerability identified in the research there is a need to engage the field of public policy, constitution and law making to really make a difference. An engagement with the male theologians, Duncan Forrester, Jesse Mugambi and Charles Villa-Vicencio provides the impetus to develop a public theology, whilst at the same time the thesis offers a gender sensitive critique of these attempts. Any public theology needs a social theory in order to engage the public sphere, and this thesis examines the work of the feminist philosopher and jurist, Martha Nussbaum in promoting the Human Capabilities Approach. We examine her formal proposal of ten fundamental human capabilities that should be supported by states and governments. Her work is affirmed for three important reasons, namely, it deals with the reality of women on the ground as revealed through the field research, it provides a public way of dealing with this vulnerability that is not based on one faith tradition, and yet thirdly, it is congruent with a Biblical faith that promotes Human Dignity, Freedom and Justice. In drawing the research to a close the thesis proposes an African Women’s Public Theology with the following seven characteristics. African Women’s Public Theology (i) is a member of the family of African Women’s Theologies, (ii) is grounded in the reality of the lives of African women, characterized by comprehensive vulnerability; (iii) claims the right for women to do theology in the public arena; (iv) works self-consciously in an inter- disciplinary manner; (v) challenges the church to be more active in seeking social justice, with an emphasis on gender justice; (vi) focuses on women’s capabilities – what they are actually able to be and to do; and (vii) challenges the hitherto male-dominated public theologies to take seriously the concerns, wisdom and passion of women seeking gender justice in Africa.