A group of faith-based organisations on 8 October 2020 launched a 70-day Joint Faith Action campaign to end gender-based violence and femicide in South Africa. Their aim is to work with faith communities to overcome harmful attitudes to women and girls, both within their own communities and in wider society. Mahadi Buthelezi reports.
A collective of faith-based organisations (FBOs) have observed a sharp increase in gender-based violence and femicide (GBVF) especially during the COVID-19 lockdown. In response to this crisis, FBOs and gender activists met in June 2020 to discuss how faith organisations could become key players in addressing attitudes and practices that perpetuate GBVF in South Africa.
This meeting culminated in the creation of the “Joint Faith Action to end GBV and Femicide: 70 Days from awareness to action and accountability campaign,” in which faith organizations actively address and counter the underlying drivers of gender violence within faith communities and in wider society.
Faith communities at the helm of the fight against GBV
Gender Based Violence (GBV) continues to affect women and children each day globally. South Africa is one of the most violent places in the world and is ranked 125 out of 163 countries for safety of women. Femicide in South Africa is five times higher than the global average.
The Joint Faith Action Campaign calls on the faith community to come together to find peace and healing for a country that is traumatised by GBVF. Faith communities, which enjoy immense respect as thought leaders in society must first eliminate all forms of gender discrimination within their own communities before they can credibly speak out against gender-based violence. Campaign spokesperson Nomqgibelo Mdlalose said that faith communities have a great potential to influence a positive response to the challenge of GBVF in wider society.
The collective formed a joint plan of action, comprising of four key areas: shifting the narrative; supporting faith communities to address GBV internally in faith communities; equipping faith leaders and their institutions to become gender and GBV competent; and supporting faith communities by helping them to implement concrete actions to transform and create GBV competent, safe and inclusive faith communities. This in turn equips faith communities to become actively engaged in GBV activities in the wider communities. It also promotes greater coordination and collaboration among FBOs, which in turn heightens their impact.
Collaboration to amplify a message of transformation
The 70-day campaign was launched on 8 October and encompasses a variety of faith traditions that have taken a public stand against all forms of gender discrimination and violence. The campaign seeks to mobilise other faith-based groups to join the FBO collective in fighting for an end to violence against women and girls. Their activities include showcasing successful actions and examples, tracking and supporting current and new cases, dialogue and harnessing research-based evidence for advocacy.
The campaign will culminate in the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, an international initiative that runs annually between 25 November and 10 December.
The campaign seeks to give voice to the work of various focus groups that are working to educate and transform communities by putting an end to discriminatory gender practices and attitudes. A prominent messaging campaign also seeks to mobilise wider involvement, by bringing various stakeholders into the campaign and calling for greater accountability and action to put an end to GBVF.
The goal of its collaborative work is to create greater awareness among faith communities so that they can actively address the underlying drivers of GBVF within their own organizations and in society. The campaign feeds into the South African Government’s National Strategic Plan for Gender-Based Violence and Femicide — a government-driven strategy to address the gender violence in South Africa — by involving as many stakeholders as possible.
The intention is to position the Joint Faith Action Campaign as an inclusive collective of FBOs and worship communities across South Africa that are committed to addressing this scourge.
The collective also plans to help faith communities to implement concrete actions such as the creating of support systems of skilled personnel for faith communities, build on available checklists for gender competent churches and engage with GBV organisations more widely.
No effort is too small. Every faith-based organization has the potential to effect change and contribute to a society that treats its women with greater dignity and respect.
Anne Githuku-Shongwe, the UN Women’s South Africa Multi-Country Office representative, attended the campaign launch. She quoted cultural anthropologist, Margaret Mead, encouraging FBOs to continue their efforts to eliminate this scourge: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”