by Adventist Today News Team

Last week the East-Central Africa Division of the Seventh-day Adventist Church held an International Women's Congress in Butare, Rwanda, with 1,500 delegates from 11 nations. Jeannette Kegame, the nation's First Lady, was a keynote speaker and there was coverage both by news media in Africa and the Adventist News Network (ANN), the denomination's official news service.
 
Monday (August 12) The New Times, one of Rwanda's leading newspapers, published an editorial affirming the Adventist Church for "actively encouraging debate among its members about such an important public issue as gender equality." The editorial stated that "gender equality and women empowerment are critical subjects in modern-day society" and urged efforts to "advance these values" because it is "the right thing to do."
 
"Women have generally found themselves in a disadvantaged position compared to men and even in countries where they are increasingly taking their place they are playing catch-up," the editorial observed. "It is important that participants at the Adventist congress … return to their respective countries with a clear message: Sideline women at your own peril."
 
It is unclear to what extent the editorial writer was aware of the current discussion among Adventists around the world about removing gender discrimination from the ordination of clergy. The editorial came a few days after the release of the first papers about the issue from the General Conference (GC) Theology of Ordination Study Committee.
 
According to the ANN news release, delegates discussed "challenges facing women, including gender-based violence and obstacles to socio-economic development," as well as "living a purposeful life." It quoted Pastor Esron Byiringiro, the denomination's union conference president in Rwanda, that the location was chosen "because the country is a strong advocate of women's empowerment and gender equality." ANN explained that 56 percent of Members of Parliament are women, "the principle of gender equity and equality is enshrined in the Constitution [and] the country's laws protect women's rights to equal opportunity."
 
Similar Adventist congresses have been held in Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania in recent years. Part of the event was a large exhibit hall that displayed "homemade food, new technology, clothing and interior design" produced by women. The denomination's women's ministries department played a key role in organizing the event. The New Times ran a picture of Raquel Arrais, associate director of women's ministries at the GC, with First Lady Jeannette Kagame.
 
The Adventist Church is the largest Protestant denomination in Rwanda, with nearly one million adherents out of a population of 12 million. The denomination operates a hospital and seven community health centers in Rwanda, three secondary schools and the Adventist University of Central Africa, as well as a number of projects under the auspices of the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA).