In Colombia, women use new faith to gain equality
Pentecostal women are demanding more of their husbands and themselves as they move beyond civil war.
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"In the Afro-Colombian culture, men like to exert control," says Mr. Rodriguez, who converted eight years after his wife.Skip to next paragraph
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He stopped drinking, smoking, dancing, and seeing other women. Above all, he says he learned to defer to her more often because the Bible states that men and women are equal before God. "I had to learn, through being Christ-centric, that I have to respect her wishes. Now we have the same goals."
"Now he is the husband of the pastor," says Zuñiga, winking.
Many couples say that both their relationships at home and their roles in the church helped them to transition in Sincelejo when they suddenly found themselves in the midst of extraordinary role reversal.
Before, men in the countryside were the ones with the money and authority. But most aren't trained for anything but farming, so here in the city they rely on the woman's knowledge of cooking, sewing, or cleaning to make ends meet. It has been an emasculating experience for many, and in many cases led to abuse, drinking, and abandonment.
"My husband had to go back [to the countryside] because he couldn't find work. Now I am the one who works," says Marelis Padilla, a member of Zuñiga's church, during a recent fast in a closed room on the church grounds. It has been tough, but she relies on the teachings of the Bible. "We understand the role of men and women as equal," she says. "I would not have assimilated as well without it. There would be many more fights."
Many scholars say that the liberation ends there, that women's empowerment has not led to the type of Western feminism that has demanded equal access in the workplace or society. But in war-torn areas of Colombia, where people have to struggle to survive, women say the confidence that they have derived from their faith has put them in a position to take on roles outside the home and church.
Pentecostals have often been criticized for being insular, focusing on spirituality without taking participatory roles in government and secular life that they see as corrupt, says Hector Pardo, a pastor in Bogotá and past president of the Colombia Evangelical Council. "We closed our eyes to the world," he says.
Far too many still do, says Zuñiga. But when she opened her church, she realized immediately that focusing on the spiritual was not enough. They joined the efforts of international aid groups and other churches, such as the Catholic Church, which has taken a lead in humanitarian efforts for the displaced. "We stopped just praying the word of God," says Zuñiga. "If someone needed food, we couldn't just pray for them; we had to give them food. That is what we learned."
Responding to people's needs
Remanso de Paz church quickly opened a social services agency across the street in a small, square cement storefront. Its focus is training the displaced – in conjunction with the government – to do everything from planting vegetables in small pots to crocheting and assembling computer hardware.
Now Zuñiga is forming an artisans' group to help boost employment. Men will participate, but only the women will serve on the board of directors.
The church also belongs to a network under Justapaz, a ministry of the Mennonite Church in Colombia, which promotes training programs and nonviolent justice, such as documenting atrocities. The ministry named Remanso de Paz a "Sanctuary of Peace" for its commitment to peaceful reconciliation.