Meet Jessie Ben Fubara-Manuel
Jessie Ben Fubara-Manuel is an ordained Elder of the Presbyterian Church of Nigeria. In this interview, we talk about patriarchy, gender equality and her role in the World Council of Churches.
Why did you choose to come to New College after a long career in HR?
I run a charity called the Norma Jean Foundation whose goal is to build inclusive communities. Through this work, I have become the Gender and Disability Advisor for the Presbyterian Community Services and Development, a charity of the Presbyterian Church of Nigeria.
For the last 6 years, I have also been the Nigerian focal person for the World Council of Churches-Ecumenical HIV and AIDS Initiatives and Advocacy (WCC-EHAIA). The WCC-EHAIA seeks to develop church competency in response to HIV issues. We work with church leaders and deliver training and seminars to theologians.
I know that I am always going to be involved with faith-based organisations, but I didn’t have the theological language and adequate knowledge to engage with our audience.
I am so grateful that I gained a Church of Scotland (World Mission Council) Scholarship to come and study at New College. My course is giving me the tools and the language to engage with theological leaders. It also offers me the chance to see how another country deals with the issues of disability and gender equality.
Can you tell us about your role as a campaigner for gender equality?
My involvement with gender equality was born out of my lived reality. I live in a context where everything is either informed or conditioned by patriarchy.
It’s not that men hate women, it’s just that they are so moulded by culture and tradition that they are unable to question their assumptions and biases. They are unable to deconstruct patriarchy because they cannot see it for what it really is. That’s why women must undertake this process of deconstruction. I always advocate that women must see themselves as agents of God in the liberation of women.
However, my efforts to empower women have often been met with resistance. Women opposed me when I started my charity and began travelling extensively. They would say things like: “You are not being a good wife. You are not being a woman! Do you want to break people’s homes by telling women to be empowered and autonomous?” They were speaking out of fear of patriarchy and not from their real selves.
How did you personally process living in a patriarchal culture?
I am fortunate in that my father affirmed us all as daughters and always told us we could be anything we wanted to be. He made sure I had my first degree before I got married because he didn’t want me to be subservient. I also married a wonderful man who is a feminist.
Writing has also been a vehicle through which I challenged the dominant culture. In 2007, I wrote My Mother’s Tradition an article questioning the role of women in perpetuating patriarchy. Shaving the head of a newly widowed woman, kicking out a teenage pregnant daughter. Women perform all these acts - I was urging them to stop.
I also challenged the way scripture is being used to oppress women. To me, that is not obedience to God it is obedience to hateful laws. It is easy to read scripture out of context and outside of God’s character. Scripture is enriching and empowering, it is full of hope. I have always had to read it with fresh eyes and have had to re-appropriate these truths without the imposed filters of patriarchy.