During the harsh days of apartheid, some parts of the religious sector played an important role in inspiring and mobilising people to fight for freedom. During those dark days, many people used religious organisations to help them find courage, comfort and hope when they faced fear, danger, and violence.
Our history is full of examples of leaders such as Mahatma Gandhi and John Langalibalele Dube who came from strong faith backgrounds and used religion to unite people to fight against economic and social injustices. It is no coincidence, therefore, that most of these faith leaders were at the forefront of fighting against forced displacement, pass laws, poverty and inequality.
After 1994, key sections of the religious sector have continued to play a critical role in addressing major issues our country, even though it has often required them to transform internally. For example, the approach to HIV and AIDS changed over time as new theological approaches to disease enabled the faith sector to advocate against stigma and for HIV to be treated like a disease, thus reducing transmission and increasing access to life-saving health care. Similarly, during the COVID-19 pandemic, religious leaders were called to assist government by using their influence to contain the spread of the virus.
There are many examples where faith leaders have played an invaluable role as a powerful positive force, harnessing our shared values to support one another and changing behaviours in the face of prevailing uncertainties. We are pleased that the religious sector is also one of the stakeholders that participated at this year’s Presidential Gender-Based Violence Summit.
The Summit was aimed at developing a social compact – a collective agreement to guide all sectors in society in building the South Africa envisaged in Vision 2030 of the National Development Plan. The social compact is expected to be finalised next year.
During a recent webinar on the role of the faith sector in ending gender-based violence and femicide (GBVF), a panel of experts agreed that faith leaders can play a leading role in championing GBVF prevention and promoting social cohesion in our communities.
However, the meeting also acknowledged that sections of the faith sector continue to promote patriarchal norms and misuse their sacred texts to reinforce the underlying drivers of GBVF such as theologies that undermine the dignity of women and the equality and inclusion of all genders. Nevertheless, some examples were cited where the faith sector is already engaged in diverse ways to address GBVF.
Collaboration and joint action amongst progressive faith actors is needed to transform the faith sector and build on its life-giving shared values to become a credible stakeholder in achieving an end to GBVF in South Africa.
The webinar was hosted by Government Communication and Information System (GCIS) in partnership with the German Development Cooperation (GIZ), Inclusive Violence and Crime Prevention Programme (VCP), We Will Speak Out South Africa and Faith Action to End GBV.
The panelists agreed that the GBVF epidemic is a societal issue that requires action from all sectors. They stressed the importance of participating in multi-stakeholder partnerships as well as becoming safe spaces for survivors. They argued that it is all of our duty to create safer and healthier communities. This includes ensuring that perpetrators are brought to justice, and that survivors are able to access respectful services on their journeys towards healing.
Research has shown that violence against women is in most instances committed by people known to them. This makes reporting difficult, but it is our duty to report all cases of rape, sexual assault or any form of violence, without fear or favour, to a local police station or call the toll- free Crime Stop number 086 00 10111 or Gender-based violence Call Centre at 0800 428 428.
Panelists reflected on the outcomes of the Presidential Summit on Gender-Based Violence and Femicide (GBVF) held in November 2022. Under the theme Accountability, Acceleration and Amplification Now, the Summit considered challenges and progress made in the implementation of resolutions proposed during the 2018 Presidential Summit. Participants committed to strengthen cooperation and intensify the struggle against gender-based violence and femicide through implementation of the National Strategic Plan (NSP) on GBVF.
It is encouraging that some of the resolutions from the 2018 Summit have been met. The NSP itself is a realisation of one of the resolute. It is a roadmap towards achieving a South Africa free from gender-based violence and femicide.
Furthermore, in 2022, President Cyril Ramaphosa signed into law three pieces of legislation to strengthen the criminal justice system, promote accountability across the state and support survivors.
We are however still concerned that, despite our best efforts, hardly a day goes by without reading a painful story of either a woman or girl child who was attacked, raped or killed. Every story of lives lost or destroyed due to GBVF is one too many.
We need to do better and as a nation, whichever sector/s we belong to, we need to be more accountable for our part, learn from our mistakes and work together to build a new culture in our society where nobody stands idly by while the most vulnerable in our midst are brutalised.
Author: Daniela Gennrich, Coalition Coordinator at ‘We will Speak Out South Africa’.