United for max­i­mum im­pact

The Star Early Edition - - OPINION & ANALYSIS - RAY MCCAULEY

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.

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