Together We Can: Collaborating with Religious Leaders to Combat Gender-Based Violence

The strength of the MenEngage Africa Network lies in its capacity and willingness to collaborate with others across all sections of society, with the goal of combatting the high levels of gender-based violence present in the region. In two recent awareness-raising campaigns, Sonke Gender Justice had the privilege of working alongside other activists and organisations who are also working to transform their communities and end violence against women and girls.

In Issue 4
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On the 14th February 2013, Sonke united with the global campaign “One Billion Rising” (onebillionrising.org) which drew together people from all over the world to dance and sing, and to rise up and take action against GBV. Sonke, and Dance4Life – a South African NGO that uses art and music with young people to create positive social change – gathered at dawn on the top of Table Mountain in Cape Town, South Africa in order to add our voices to the global call to end violence against women and girls.

In our ongoing quest to collaborate with a range of individuals, organisations and communities to prevent GBV, Sonke also reached out to many religious groups and leaders in order to reach the most vulnerable members of society, who often have no one to turn to other than their religious communities. Sadly, it has often been the case that religious leaders have played a negative role in discriminating against and stigmatising those who are survivors of GBV—asking women to stay silent when they experience rape or domestic abuse, and even encouraging violence against LGBTI persons. However, GBV is not a private matter only between husband and wife – it is a social and political crisis that has been exacerbated by unequal gender norms and hidden or ignored by governments and communities. Fortunately, there is a growing body of religious leaders willing and eager to speak out against violence against women and girls, and we were honoured to hear their voices and stand alongside them during our awareness-raising events.

International Women’s Day on the 8th March 2013 was also a day to commemorate, so Sonke Gender Justice joined together with the Western Cape Religious Leaders Forum, the South African Faith and Family Institute, Central Methodist Church, Scalabrini Centre, Triangle Project and the Muslim Judicial Council for the “Ring The Bell” campaign. Supporters came together across all faiths and religions in order to end the silence surrounding GBV and to pledge a change in the role of religious communities in supporting survivors of gender-based violence and prosecuting their perpetrators. Especially with the withdrawal of funding to women’s shelters in South Africa, places of worship such as churches, mosques and synagogues must increasingly act as safe spaces for people of all genders and sexualities to take refuge from the violence that they experience in their lives.

The Muslim Judicial Council stated that “As a Muslim community, we have the responsibility of sharing these ideals with the rest of humanity in order to liberate our society from the scourge of moral decline. The MJC and Jamiatul Ulema SA support the various national initiatives in bringing about genuine change in the attitudes to combat violence against women and children”. The ‘Ring The Bell’ campaign brought together thousands of people around the world to pledge to be an active voice in their community and to speak out against violence.

These two hugely successful and widely-publicised events show what we can achieve through collaboration, and how important the role of religious leaders is in providing support and leadership on positive social change. Together we can end gender-based violence in all societies.

by Emily Miles