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Female Anglican bishop a first in Africa

By Phathizwe-Chief Zulu Associated Press | Last updated: Dec 12, 2012 - 3:40:07 PM

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Ellinah Wamukoya
MBABANE, Swaziland (AP)—As the Church of England weighed whether it will allow women to become bishops, the Anglican Church ordained its first female bishop in Africa.

Ellinah Wamukoya, 61, was consecrated Nov. 17 to serve as the church’s bishop in Swaziland, a tiny, impoverished nation surrounded by South Africa that is the continent’s last absolute monarchy. Speaking to the Associated Press, Bishop Wamukoya said she wanted to bring integrity to the church.

“I am going to try to represent the mother attribute of God,” Ms. Wamukoya said. “A mother is a caring person but at the same time, a mother can be firm in doing whatever she is doing.”

Ms. Wamukoya also acknowledged that she represents a historic change for the Anglican Church on the continent, where other denominations don’t allow women to serve as bishops. Recently, the Southern Africa diocese elected a second woman, Margaret Vertue, to become a bishop in the Cape Town area of False Bay.

“It is also humbling and challenging because I know that the whole world is looking up to me to see if I would deliver and to what level I am going to deliver,” she said.

The Church of England voted against allowing female bishops throughout the church, as some dioceses already do. A majority of the church’s governing General Synod was ready to say yes, but a two-thirds majority was needed for approval of the measure.

It has been 36 years since the church’s General Synod declared it had no fundamental objection to ordaining women as priests, and 18 years since the first women were ordained. Meanwhile, sister churches of the Anglican Communion in Australia, New Zealand, and the United States already have women serving as bishops.

In Swaziland, the government had yet to congratulate Ms. Wamukoya and did not attend the ceremony marking her appointment, despite being invited. However, Swazi feminist and gender activist Doo Aphane said Ms. Wamukoya’s appointment represented a special moment for women in her country and beyond.

“It is victory for women both in Swaziland and Africa, because she is not given the task because she is a woman but because she is capable,” Ms. Aphane said.