16 Days of Activism to end gender-based violence opens with webinar on building capacity of faith communities
(LWI) - The urgent task of equipping church leaders and building capacity of faith communities to prevent and respond to gender-based violence was the topic of a webinar on 24 November, jointly organized by the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), the World Council of Churches (WCC) and the Council for World Mission (CWM).
The event, supported by the All Africa Conference of Churches, marked the start of the annual 16 Days of Activism to end gender-based violence. The LWF has a long history of engagement in the annual campaign, which begins on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, 25 November, and ends on Human Rights Day, 10 December.
This year, the campaign focuses on the power of partnerships with the global theme of ‘UNITE: Activism to end violence against women and girls. Speaking at the opening of the webinar, LWF’s Advocacy Officer for Gender Justice, Sikhonzile Ndlovu noted that despite growing awareness of the problem, the scourge of gender-based violence continues to rise and to remain under-reported in countries across the globe. “It is vital,” she said, “that we deconstruct the oppressive social, cultural and religious norms that perpetrate this hidden pandemic.”
Dismantle patriarchal culture and traditions
Among the panelists discussing concrete ways of changing attitudes within the churches was Rev. Bafana Khumalo, executive director and co-founder of the South Africa-based Sonke Gender Justice network. A pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Southern Africa (ELCSA), he is well known for his work as a former member of South Africa’s National Commission for Gender Equality, as well as for his work with the government on HIV and AIDS prevention.
“As churches,” Khumalo noted, “we are complicit in the violence against women and girls in terms of our theologies, our symbols, our culture.” As long as we continue to “embed the understanding of men as the head”, he said, “the church will continue to be a patriarchal institution, creating an environment where abuse can thrive.” We can only become allies in the struggle to combat this problem, he added, when “we follow the example of Jesus in the gospels who breaks with tradition and culture to stand for the truth that everyone must be treated as equals, made in the image of God.”
Echoing Khumalo’s appeal for change in the churches was Daniela Gennrich, a lay canon in the Anglican diocese of Natal and coordinator for South Africa’s We Will Speak Out coalition. A survivor of gender-based violence herself, she works to equip faith communities to prevent and support survivors and is a member of the Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians.