From Cameroun to the Pope: Reality Check Please

week, Pope Benedict XVI makes his inaugural trip to Africa after
nearly four years as the head of the Roman Catholic Church.  During
this trip, Pope Benedict will visit Cameroun and Angola to make
preparations for the upcoming Second Special Assembly for Africa of the
Synod of Bishops. 

"The what?" you ask.  We wondered the same thing and decided to do a little research.

first Special Assembly, held in 1994, brought together Catholic leaders
from throughout Africa to focus on some of the continent’s most
pressing issues.  Intended to be an "occasion of
hope and resurrection," the Assembly examined fundamental challenges to
the health and well-being of Africans, including poverty, international
debt, HIV/AIDS, ethnocentricity, and "the liberation of women."

At this point, we’d like to ask our readers to review the list.  See anything odd?  As
a group of Camerounian advocates working to protect the rights of women
and young people, we take umbrage with the Church’s statement that the
"liberation of women" is a pressing concern for Africa, on par with
some of the world’s most intractable problems. 

the Church suggesting women instead remain subjected to the entrenched
gender inequality rampant not only in Cameroun, but throughout the
world?  We ask Pope Benedict XVI to enlighten us on the Church’s position on this matter during his trip to Cameroun, if so inclined.

the bishops truly want to stem new HIV/AIDS infections in Africa, they
must recognize that women and girls are more vulnerable to new
infections than their male peers precisely because the "liberation of
women" has not yet been fully realized.  Young
women in Cameroun between the ages of 15 and 17 are more than three
times as likely to be infected with HIV compared to young men in the
same age category.  By the time these girls reach the ages of 23 and 24, they are more than five times more likely to be infected.

and women are more vulnerable to HIV/AIDS because they face violence
and sexual coercion; lack the power to negotiate sex or marriage; have
unequal earning power; and lack access to education, including
comprehensive sexuality education. More than half of all women in
Cameroun have been subjected to violence, and 43% have experienced violence by their spouse  further increasing their vulnerability. 

Throughout much of Sub-Saharan Africa, marriage has become a risk factor for HIV.  The Church’s preferred HIV/AIDS prevention program of "chastity" and "fidelity," reiterated by Pope Benedict yesterday,
unrealistic for the vast majority of women who are unable to negotiate
when they have sex or with whom, and is a dangerous prescription that
threatens to keep women and girls vulnerable while the world turns a
blind eye. 

the fact that abstinence-only education has been proven ineffective
time and time again, these policies and programs have continued at the
expense of women and young people.  Why? 

post-Assembly report states that "The concerns of the Synod Fathers
were all the more justified in that the preparatory document of a
United Nations Conference held in September 1994 in Cairo – on African
soil – clearly seemed to wish to adopt resolutions contradicting many
values of the African family." 

The conference referred to is the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), which took place shortly after the First Assembly.  Hailed
by sexual and reproductive health and rights advocates as a victory for
women around the world, the Conference’s Program of Action, agreed to
by 179 governments, asserts a woman’s right to control her body and
sets global goals for achieving gender equality and eliminating
violence against women. 

Program of Action also committed to reducing infant, child and maternal
mortality; and ensuring universal access to reproductive health care by
2015, including family planning, assisted childbirth and prevention of
sexually transmitted infections including HIV/AIDS.  ICPD
will celebrate its fifteenth anniversary this year, once again
coinciding with the Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops.  Coincidence?  Perhaps.  But perhaps not. 

call on our fellow Camerounians, Africans and citizens of the world to
make it clear to Pope Benedict XVI, that we refuse to relinquish our
"African values" of ensuring every woman and girl’s right to
comprehensive sexuality education; sexual and reproductive health
services; and a life free from gender inequality, violence and sexual

This post first appeared on Akimbo.

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  • invalid-0

    First unlike black americans in the states who believe that abortion is never wrong in relation to one being in poverty ….example bad schools, delinquent fathers, yet you don’t see anybody starving to death and they are living and breathing and a important part of society…The ironic thing about East Africa is you have 1000,000 of thousands that can be starving at one time or another but over three fourths of them will tell you abortion is wrong in any circumstance…your just another feminist who thinks we can’t control our sexual urges and abortion and contraceptives should be readily availble and forget about religion guiding your actions becuase your idea is better becuase people just dont have self control so let’s open the floodgates of perversiveness and blame the Catholic church for helping so many East Africans from starvation and are working on creating mothers and fathers who are commited to each other and raising their kids because frankly you have this thing in your head that people want abortions, contraceptives and to do what they feel on an individual basis and dont need a religious program telling them otherwise…isnt this what this is really all about and can you picture what d East Africa would be like if Catholism didnt exist there….if the Pope where just one day give into your demands and alllow abortion and contraceptives he would no longer stand for anything good and be just like everyone else….you have your own views and do what you feel with your money and by all the contraceptives you want and hand them out but stop trying to change the beliefs of millions of East Africans becuase you think you have a better answer

  • invalid-0

    Mad nasty men types commenting on this site recently. None of you can look past your own noses and see anything but wanting to control everyone and everything the way you see fit. It is sad we have to live in a world of hateful closeminded people.

  • invalid-0

    What kind of parent knowingly brings a child into this world knowing that it is almost guarenteed to starve to death or die of diseases caused by malnourishment? My guess would be one that is lead to believe that preventing the pregnancy or aborting it would send them straight to hell when they die. So not only is the Catholic church in a way responsible for that child’s suffering, it is also partly responsible for the suffering of the parents that must watch their child slowly die of starvation or diseases cause by malnourishment on a daily basis. Explain to me exactly how that is a humane and pro-life outlook of the Catholic church Mr. McDonald because I would really and truly love to know!

  • invalid-0

    Is the Church suggesting women instead remain subjected to the entrenched gender inequality rampant not only in Cameroun, but throughout the world?

    The Church celebrates the effects of gender inequality. Gender inequality is what God wants, it is the natural order of things. To believe otherwise is to defy both nature and divine will.
    The sole purpose of women is to give birth to as many children as possible. The Church has been clear on this matter since St Augustine (354-430) who said “Any woman who acts in such a way that she cannot give birth to as many children as she is capable of, makes herself guilty of that many murders …”
    Clearly when women are treated better than the average dog by their husbands, their community or the prevailing religion they tend to get uppity and imagine some better life where they aren’t forced to give birth to 10 children and die in their 30’s. Liberated women might question why their husbands come home infected with AIDS and kill them, liberated women might be able to negotiate sex or object when they are raped. Liberated women might insist on contraceptives and have 2 well cared for children children rather than 10 they cannot afford to feed. They might learn to read and think for themselves. When women are liberated they question the authority of the Church and the Church cannot allow that.

  • invalid-0

    The Catholic Church is the second largest provider of funds for programs which benefit the poor, in the entire world. The first is the USA. This shouldn’t make a difference to an anti-Catholic bigot. In the US, abortion robs the lives of over 650,000 young women but the Catholic Church is considered anti-woman for opposing this genocide. Explain! 33% of abortion victims are black although they constitute only 12% of the population in the US. So exactly how is abortion good for the black community? Dr. Bernard Nathanson, one of the founders of NARAL,specifically outlined the ways he and other pro-abortion extremists misled the American population to believe that abortion was necessary and good for women. Google his name, but be prepared to be horrified.

    The real extremist are those seeking to convince women that something good can come from a woman executing her child, often for simply her own convenience.

  • invalid-0

    You are also bigoted as you imply that you think POC are stupid and have no agency in making their own reproductive choices. I have no doubt women of color choose to abort for similar reasons you bash other women for and scream that she’s “executing her child for convenience”. Then again, it’s always easier to condemn women as inherently selfish and patronisingly tell them what they should really be feeling about their situation than actually look at the reasons why they don’t want to bring a/nother child into their lives because an external party believes they’re all selfish they don’t live a life of endless sacrificing.

    I do not fool myself for one minute that if you give antis an inch, they won’t take a mile. I do not delude myself that if they succeed in taking away one right that women have fought hard for they won’t go after the others; the right to control their fertility, to own property, to work outside the home, to divorce, to vote, to education, to travel, and to make your own life without needing to define yourself by a man. These are rights gained only recently (last 200 years) if you look at it from a historical perspective. There are thousands of years of oppression behind that, and if you don’t think we can’t backslide then you need to take a real close look at the fundie movements worldwide and tell me what they all have in common.

    Your words are misogynist and absolutist. You need to remember that what oppresses other women will also oppress you. You and others like you will not get a free pass from the patriarchy because you spend your time sucking up to it. If you don’t know why, the clue’s in it’s name. It’s a patriarchy, and you’re not a dude.

  • invalid-0

    Are we all talking about the same blog, because I don’t see the word abortion included a single time in the blog. This is how the opposition distracts, throwing in the word abortion here and there, completely irresponsibly.
    This blog is about the vulnerabilities of women to HIV, violence, and other consequences of their lower status in many societies throughout the world, including Africa. The right for individuals to use condoms to protect themselves should not be trumped by the Catholic Church which uses ideology to try and justify their withdrawal of an individual’s choice to protect themselves. If you don’t believe in using condoms, this is YOUR CHOICE, but please stop making decisions for everyone else by invoking your God.

    You have the right to abstain, remain monogamous, use condoms, engage in sexual relationships, have children, refrain from having children, get married, not get married, these are all choices that every individual has a right to exercise.

    If you decide to follow the Pope and believe he is bringing the word of God to you, that is your choice, and I will respect that in terms of decisions you make for yourself, but how dare you think that you have the right to withhold lifesaving information from people because you don’t believe they deserve to know!