Take note Church of England - first female bishop ordained in Africa

A growing number of women in Africa are attaining positions of power and influence.

The anger over the decision not to allow women bishops in the Church of England continues to intensify with scathing criticisms from those within and out of the church including the Archbishop of Canterbury.

But as the controversial decision was picked apart, a small story about the first female African Anglican bishop went mostly unnoticed.

Ellinah Wamukoya, 61, was consecrated on Saturday four days before the CofE voted against allowing women to become bishops. She will be the church’s bishop in Swaziland, her native country.

Her ordination comes two weeks after Fauzia Yusuf Haji Adan was chosen to be Somalia’s first female foreign minister.

In April, the Guardian’s Afua Hirsch wrote a critical piece of the “west’s lazy reporting on Africa” decrying the mass reporting of Africa in the mainstream media when war intensified: “Even worse is the situation when an impromptu Africa season is triggered by newsworthy events in Africa. A dramatic climax in a long-running war, preferably with the close involvement of a western power, usually leads to an African country being "discovered" by the international media.”

Looking at statistics from the Inter-Parliamentary Union and UN Women from January this year makes for more depressing reading for women in the UK.

According to the IPU, the UK is 48th in the world in terms of the number of female ministers, behind 25 African countries and 53rd, behind 15, when it comes to the figures for the number of female parliamentary represenatives. 

Of course the situation in Africa for women is not perfect like in many parts of the world including the UK, but the developments like this sometimes surpass our own – a fact we would do well to take note of.

Ellinah Wamukoya during her consecration.
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How tribunal fees silenced low-paid workers: “it was more than I earned in a month”

The government was forced to scrap them after losing a Supreme Court case.

How much of a barrier were employment tribunal fees to low-paid workers? Ask Elaine Janes. “Bringing up six children, I didn’t have £20 spare. Every penny was spent on my children – £250 to me would have been a lot of money. My priorities would have been keeping a roof over my head.”

That fee – £250 – is what the government has been charging a woman who wants to challenge their employer, as Janes did, to pay them the same as men of a similar skills category. As for the £950 to pay for the actual hearing? “That’s probably more than I earned a month.”

Janes did go to a tribunal, but only because she was supported by Unison, her trade union. She has won her claim, although the final compensation is still being worked out. But it’s not just about the money. “It’s about justice, really,” she says. “I think everybody should be paid equally. I don’t see why a man who is doing the equivalent job to what I was doing should earn two to three times more than I was.” She believes that by setting a fee of £950, the government “wouldn’t have even begun to understand” how much it disempowered low-paid workers.

She has a point. The Taylor Review on working practices noted the sharp decline in tribunal cases after fees were introduced in 2013, and that the claimant could pay £1,200 upfront in fees, only to have their case dismissed on a technical point of their employment status. “We believe that this is unfair,” the report said. It added: "There can be no doubt that the introduction of fees has resulted in a significant reduction in the number of cases brought."

Now, the government has been forced to concede. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of Unison’s argument that the government acted unlawfully in introducing the fees. The judges said fees were set so high, they had “a deterrent effect upon discrimination claims” and put off more genuine cases than the flimsy claims the government was trying to deter.

Shortly after the judgement, the Ministry of Justice said it would stop charging employment tribunal fees immediately and refund those who had paid. This bill could amount to £27m, according to Unison estimates. 

As for Janes, she hopes low-paid workers will feel more confident to challenge unfair work practices. “For people in the future it is good news,” she says. “It gives everybody the chance to make that claim.” 

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.