United for maximum impact
Pastor Ray McCauley is the president of Rhema Family Churches and co-chairman of the National Religious Leaders Council
THIS past week saw the launch of a multisector campaign against violence towards women and children. The sectors included faith-based organisations, the government, business and other civil society organisations.
It started with a briefing to the media last Tuesday and climaxed with Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa attending and addressing the Rhema Bible Church on Sunday during its launch.
Though supported and run in partnership with the Ministry in The Presidency responsible for Women, Children and People with Disabilities, the Ministry of Police and the Gauteng provincial government, what gets me motivated is the partnership with and involvement of civil society in the campaign.
Violence against women and children is a societal matter and a sectarian approach in dealing with it will not take us far. It is the kind of challenge that should see us placing our differences aside, uniting as a nation to tackle a national problem.
The government will not be able to resolve it alone, a point emphasised by Ramaphosa, and neither will civil society or the police.
We need a partnership and I’m hopeful that working together will make a dent in the problem.
We have seen and read about a spate of violent attacks against women and children in the recent past. But we know that the ugly phenomenon is by no means limited to the high-profile cases highlighted in media reports – there are a lot of women and children in rural areas and townships who are suffering but don’t get media coverage.
For us to effectively deal with the problem, we need to understand what it is. The reality is that gender-based violence is a crime of power, one that seeks to uphold patriarchal laws and control the female body in the framework of historically unequal power structures between men and women. It’s a problem that belongs to society and therefore a crime by society.
According to a Statistics SA survey last year, one in every five South African women older than 18 has experienced physical violence. Four in 10 divorced or separated women reported physical violence and one in every three young South Africans experienced some form of sexual abuse in their lives.
The numbers are shocking and should inject a sense of urgency in all of us in dealing with the problem.
It’s because of such stats and our deep conviction about gender equality that we, as religious leaders, thought to unite with other stakeholders in our society and with our government in order to speak with a united voice to highlight the problem and stand up against it, hence the campaign.
The objectives are for all South Africans to stand up against violence towards women and children and to heighten national consciousness about the issue. The campaign launch was deliberately planned for the week preceding Women’s Month as we thought it fitting to not only honour women, but to stand up against their abuse.
The campaign is not a one-off. We’re planning to roll out activities once a month until the 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children Campaign in December.
We encourage every sector and stakeholder to do the same in their spheres of influence so that together we can have the maximum impact.
One activity we can all rally behind is the Thursdays in Black, a national and international campaign of solidarity and advocacy against all forms of sexual and gender-based violence. This is a simple but powerful campaign in which people throughout the world wear black as a symbol of strength and courage, representing solidarity with victims and survivors of violence, and calling for a world without rape and violence. This can be an effective way of taking a personal stance against attitudes that perpetuate violence against women and children. It can raise public consciousness.
But we should go beyond simply wearing black. There are sectoral interventions we can make.
In the religious community, we need to interrogate how some of our beliefs and practices contribute to the oppression of women and children.
The history of my faith, Christianity, shows that in its early days it had a great appeal to women. It still does. In a world where women were viewed as household property or second-class citizens, it is conceivable that women were drawn to Christianity because its central figure, Jesus, elevated their worth and status.
The Bible has numerous stories where Jesus showed extraordinary kindness and care to women – even women whom churches would reject today. The question we need to ask is: Where, therefore, do Christianity’s beliefs and practices that oppress women come from? We need to isolate those and scripturally interrogate them.
In education, we need to examine the school curriculum, both overt and hidden, and how it might be contributing to gender discrimination. The portrayal of women in the media and communications industry in general – the objectification of women’s bodies is prevalent in our mass media – and we need to start conversations in newsrooms about this.
The same applies to the workplace where even in the 21st century there are ideas and practices (for example unequal pay, diminished responsibilities, positional bias and glass ceilings) that suggest women are inferior to men.
It’s when we begin to interrogate these and have discussions in our spheres of influence that we will begin to make a dent in violence against women.
SHOCKING: Statistics show one in five women experience physical violence. Four in 10 divorced or separated women have reported violence and one in three youths have been sexually abused.