Youth Call On Churches To Take Lead In Addressing Issues of Sexuality and Gender Based Violence
The youth have called on the Church in Africa to be at the forefront of addressing issues of sexuality and gender based violence.
They feel that church leaders should not turn a blind eye to issues of sexuality, and need to provide the space for youth to discuss these matters.
Youth are also concerned that this being the 21st century, if the Church fails to equip the youth to handle these matters, the youth will equip themselves with knowledge from the internet.
This was the thrust of discussions during an online youth forum that was hosted by the All Africa Conference of Churches (AACC), for youth across Africa to engage on issues of eliminating gender-based violence, teenage pregnancies, and access to sexual reproductive health (SRH). This was the first forum held under the auspices of the AACC Youth for Gender Justice Forum, that has been created as a space for young people to share on issues that relate to gender justice and SRH from their own contexts.
The first forum was to identify emerging gender justice issues amongst the youth, who were drawn from the All Africa Youth Network.
In her opening remarks, the AACC Director of Gender, Women and Youth, Dr Lydia Mwaniki, acknowledged that issues relating to gender justice and SRH are “very controversial” in churches, but encouraged the youth to tread with caution, and do what it takes to bring transformation.
She pointed out that young people are the largest age group in Africa, yet the most exposed to SRH challenges and gender disparities. She noted that these challenges have increased during the period of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“it is also evident that the rise in population growth is a serious threat to Africa’s development, and youth have to be involved in these discussions,” she said. She said several things needed to be done- raising awareness among youth, adolescents and teens about these issues, peer mentorship among the youth, and advocacy (speaking out on behalf of the vulnerable youth and children with church leaders and governments).
In his theological reflection, the ELCT Youth Coordinator in Tanzania, Rev. Frank Mexon Mng’ong’o, focused on the story of Amnon, the son of David, who raped his own sister Tamar (2 Samuel 13: 1-22). From the story he inferred that the violence in society originated from Satan, who is the cause of all evils. As such, all gender based violence in our societies epitomized the spirit of evil.
He called for Africa to unite in fighting gender based violence, and to lobby policy changes to protect women and those abused in society.
Jill Anami, World YWCA SRHR and Mental Health Regional Coordinator for Africa, Kenya, decried the lack of commitment in the continent to scale up successful interventions in this area, especially for young women and girls.
“Research shows that comprehensive sex education is one of the least frequently taught topics in schools,” said Anami. She decried the fact that the great shift in focus to fighting the Covid-19 pandemic had negatively affected women’s health. There was reduced access to family planning services, increase in gender based violence with the pandemic cutting off the affected from essential protection and social networks, and economic stress leading to transactional sex and exploitation.
Damon Mkandawire, a gender champion from Zambia, stated that not only was there was a high rate of teenage pregnancies and adolescent birth rates in the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC), but most young people in the region started having sex at the age of 12 on average.
In her presentation, Dr. Pacis Irambona, a gender justice advocate from the Methodist Church in Burundi, said that it was difficult for young people to discuss gender and SRH issues especially in church.
“It is the reason why young people end up in compromised positions with regards to unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases, and other negative consequences,” she said. She noted that the Church must provide space and a platform for learning and sharing of experiences. “it should not be a taboo discussion among churches and communities,” she said.
Jantiku Jamare, the chairperson of Africa Region ACT Alliance Youth Community of Practice, Nigeria, noted that SRH is closely intertwined with the trio of health, population and environment, the three foremost challenging issues currently requiring global attention. He added that SRH is significantly influenced by sociocultural, political and religious considerations.
In the interactive session, it was clear that youth expect the Church to step up and play a pivotal role in SRH issues, based on reflections made.
Participants stated that the Church had to take charge in teaching and educating youths about sexuality. They faulted the Church for failing to provide the youth with the space to address these matters. It was noted that some pastors and elders were also a problem as some of them were implicated in scandals involving young girls, thus the need for the Church to take a stance on issues like this.
They called for the capacity building of pastors when they are in theological schools, to equip them with skills to facilitate engagement and biblical teachings amongst the youth.
Photo: Participants who attended the Faith Based International Youth Conference on Population and Development
at Desmond Tutu Conference Centre, 2019
Photo Credit: AACC