Romans 14 verse 19… Make Every Effort for Peace.

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Side by Side Zimbabwe launches 16 Days public campaign. 
Written by Grace Mugebe, Zimbabwe

Violence against women and girls, Gender-Based Violence, is it the church’s business? What really is Gender-Based Violence to the faith leaders and faith communities? Does Gender Based Violence (GBV) happen to people of faith? Does it happen in the church? If Yes, how best can the church be involved?

These are some of the questions informing this year’s 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence Campaign for the Side by Side Movement in Zimbabwe (Zimbabwe Gender and Faith Working Group (ZGFWG)). The group is made up of organisations which include; Christian Aid, Tearfund, TROCAIRE, CAFOD, Zimbabwe Council of Churches, Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe, Apostolic Women Empowerment Trust, PADARE and ACT Alliance Zimbabwe.

The ZGFWG working with ACT Alliance in Zimbabwe officially launched its public campaign on Friday the 30th November 2018 at the Anglican Cathedral Church in Harare under the theme “Faith for life….356 Days NO TO GBV”. This colourful event saw over 350 women and men from different faiths clad in their church uniforms (The Methodists, Anglican, Roman Catholic, Evangelical Lutheran, Pentecostals and Apostolic churches) converging to take part, learn and speak out against GBV. United Nations representative in Zimbabwe, Mr Bishow Parajuli, and the Swedish Ambassador in Zimbabwe addressed the occasion in solidarity.

The church has long been accused of being indifferent to GBV. Yet, reality on the ground shows that GBV is prevalent in the church and to people of faith. Testimonies from four young girls who are GBV survivors stirred emotions among participants, tears were shed and the stark reality of GBV was exposed. Two of the survivors experienced rape as a result of religious group practices and beliefs that allows marrying young girls to preserve purity. Social norms were also exposed as perpetuating GBV, as well as protecting GBV perpetrators, rather than supporting and protecting young girls. This was the case of one 15-year-old young girl who was raped by her sister’s husband and the sister denied that her husband could do such but rather blamed the young girl. All the girls who gave testimonies are currently receiving support from a local GBV service, coordinated by the organisation Musasa Project.

After the survivor testimonies, key actors in the sector were able to share their solidarity messages, realising the urgent need for action. These included the Zimbabwe Gender Commission Chief Executive Officer, Virginia Muwanigwa who welcomed the decision to engage faith leaders on addressing GBV and whose organisation is committed to supporting all efforts to achieve gender equality; Mrs Tendai Gudo of the Apostolic Women Empowerment Trust who acknowledged that GBV is highly prevalent in the apostolic churches, and has been normalised.

But women and girls of apostolic faith are saying enough is enough, GBV has to end. “Women and girls have a right to education, health, marriage choices and live violence free lives.” Reverend Ethel Moyo of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Zimbabwe also noted that: “As ministers of the gospel we need to be careful how we interpret the scriptures. The story of Esther for example can be used to justify young girls sexual abuse. When we preach let’s promote and protect everyone especially women and girls who have been at the receiving end of preaching that discriminates and condones abuse.”

365 Days ….it begins today 

The resonating call to action by all the facilitators and speakers was to urge everyone to commit to 365 days of action. The working group has already trained and will provide support to 30 faith leaders who are leading initiatives in their churches for the next 365 days. Furthermore working group members are working hard on different thematic areas which include ending child marriage, supporting the development of gender policies and strengthening the referral system. The group will take every opportunity to engage at all levels to end gender based violence.

Posted by: Rachel Tavernor | Friday, December 21st, 2018
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