This year, for the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence, we have joined together as a faith-based coalition bringing together All Africa Conference of Churches, World Council of Churches – Ecumenical HIV & AIDS Initiatives & Advocacy, Ecumenical Disability Advocates Network, Organization of African Instituted Churches and Fellowship of Christian Councils & Churches in the Great Lakes & Horn of Africa to focus on ending violence against girls and women. The 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence was initiated by the first Women's Global Leadership Institute, held by the Center for Women's Global Leadership (CWGL) at Rutgers University in 1991. This year’s theme by UN Women is ‘Orange the World: Generation Equality stand against rape’.
As we read the signs of our times in the region, we realise that there has been an increase in sexual and gender-based violence against women, children and vulnerable people. Sexual and gender-based violence is evident in many different and often hidden contexts such as through domestic violence, emotional abuse, sexual assault and ‘child marriage’. In Africa, gender relations within the family are taboo in many churches and church communities which prevents the church from being a safe and protective place for women who are victims of or threatened by sexual and gender-based violence.
During these 16 days, we endeavour to launch the Thursdays in Black campaign as we all have a responsibility to speak out against violence, to ensure that women and men, boys and girls, are safe from rape and violence in homes, schools, work places and on our streets too. Thursdays in Black is a movement that invites men and women, boys and girls to join us towards a world free of rape, free of gender-based violence, and in pursuit of a society, church, and family marked by justice and peace. On Thursdays, we will stand together to join with thousands of others who dare to be counted as part of the global church’s move to resist all forms of sexual and gender-based violence.
One other critical area that we have observed is Child Sexual Exploitation which has also been on the rise in the continent. In Feb 2019, the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), published the findings of the “Out of the Shadows,” index to help to end sexual violence against children. Sexual violence against children encompasses both child physical sexual abuse (e.g, rape) and non-contact sexual abuse (e.g. exposure to sexual language and images). Child sexual abuse also involves the manipulation and/or coercion of young people under the age of 18 into sexual activity in exchange for things such as money, gifts, accommodation, affection, or status. The unfortunate thing is that the child or young person often does not recognise the coercive nature of the relationship and does not see themselves as a victim of exploitation.
Today, I want to call on the church to actively contribute to the elimination of violence and abuse. We are therefore urging our member churches to condemn sexual and gender-based violence and any form of violence against women, children and vulnerable people; to declare such violence a sin; to make constructive efforts to overcome the attitudes that predispose to such violence, including by the development of clear sexual harassment policies that clearly spell out consequences for such harassment; urge our members to protect children from harm, as enshrined and protected in the teachings of the Bible and in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and its optional protocols. Through the Churches’ Commitments to Children document we are all called to provide safe and open space for children’s participation in the life of our churches as well as in society, and to be more effective advocates and actors for the elimination of violence against children.