The main aim of this thesis is to explore how Ushirika wa Neema Deaconess Centre contributes to the empowerment of women in the ELCT-Northern Diocese and fosters gender awareness in the church and community. It also explores challenges which the deaconesses face in the Chagga patriarchal society.
The collection of data was based mostly on semi-structured interviews. People were interviewed orally using some questions to guide the interviews. An interview schedule was prepared with a list or set of questions or issues which were to be explored during the interviews. The theoretical framework consists of Third Wave Feminist views of empowerment. The focus was on women’s empowerment which enables women to be critical and conscious about external realities and provides an awareness about their internal thought construction and belief systems that affect their well being in terms of gender justice and social justice, as well as the determination to use their physical, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual resources to protect their lives and sustain values that guarantee gender equality atthe personal, social, economic and institutional level.
The study revealed that Ushirika wa Neema Deaconess Centre provides women with opportunities, such as the means for independent income, for education, for professional training and for learning skills. These opportunities change women’s self-esteem, and raisetheir self-confidence and respect in the church and community. The study also showed that women’s agency at home increased to some extent because of engaging in income-generatingactivities. This helps women to give advice to family members on different issues and influence household decisions. In addition, the education offered to deaconesses at Ushirika wa Neema has contributed to enable them to qualify to be leaders in different institutions in the ELCT-Northern diocese. Deaconess in leadership positions practice participatory and inclusive leadership which includes collaboration and teamwork. This contributes to change the mindset of the Chagga patriarchal society that women can be better leaders like men.
On the other hand, it was found that there is tension between Chagga cultural values and the celibate life style of the deaconesses at Ushirika wa Neema which directly counters Chagga traditional social values of marriage and child bearing.
Conclusively, this study noted that the learning of different skills at Ushirika wa Neema makes women more independent and self-reliant. From the findings of the study it has been recommended that strategies and mechanisms for gender equality must be strengthened.