The leaders were observing 16 Days Against Gender-Based Violence in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, amid rising COVID-19 cases on the continent.
“During this period of COVID-19, we are witnessing worrying trends in the rise of gender-based violence which threatens to reverse all gains made over the years,” Rev. Fidon Mwombeki, All Africa Conference of Churches general secretary, told the gathering.
“This (violence) has escalated during the pandemic—which is unacceptable—and reminds us of the need to redouble our efforts.”
Mwombeki, a Tanzanian Lutheran pastor, lamented that one in three women are currently victims of physical or sexual violence, more than 20 years since the adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women.
The theme of the 2020 16 Days campaign is “From Awareness to Action.” It is occurring at a time when organizations working for a world without rape, violence and AIDS have stepped up efforts to reverse the rising trends of sexual and gender-based violence in Africa.
In the past, faith groups have used the campaign to spur an increased response to gender equity, equality and prevention of violence against women and girls.
Rev. Dr Samuel Aderemi K. Olaleye, who delivered the keynote address on behalf of the Rev. Dr Samson Olasupo A. Ayokunle, president of the Christian Association of Nigeria, urged the faith actors to use every opportunity and avenue to speak out against sexual and gender-based violence.
“The COVID-19 pandemic provides an opportunity for faith actors to work together and use their influence to create just and equitable relationships between women and men in order to achieve fair, sustainable, resilient and thriving communities,” said Olaleye. “The first and the right place for faith actors to begin to take action on gender justice and child protection is the church.”
In Nairobi, organizations leading the 16 Days campaign include the All Africa Conference of Churches, World Council of Churches (WCC) Ecumenical HIV and AIDS Initiatives and Advocacy programme, WCC Ecumenical Disability Advocates Network (EDAN), Christian Aid, World Vision, Side by Side and Faith Action Network, among others.
“The launch…is very important for EDAN. We have linked women with disabilities with various churches that are listed to take part in the campaign,” said Angeline Okola, EDAN’s programme coordinator. “They will share the liturgy used in the launch with their churches on 6 December. Most churches use this Sunday to mark the International Day of Persons with Disabilities. The day falls within the 16 Days campaign.”
Rev. Pauline Njiru, eastern Africa regional coordinator of the WCC Ecumenical HIV and AIDS Initiatives and Advocacy programme, said HIV, COVID-19 and sexual and gender-based violence were closely related.
“We need to continue challenging stigma, shame and missed action if we are to defeat AIDS in 2020,” said Njiru, while explaining that sexual and gender-based violence meted against girls and women is emerging as a worse epidemic.
The Anglican priest said with the lockdown and school closures communities have experienced the highest number of teen pregnancies. She urged policies and systems that protect women and children, and the establishment of ways of supporting survivors of violence.
At the same time, the leader highlighted some key gains in the campaign including openness in speaking against the challenge, and the development of tools to support agents of change and transformation, including Thursdays in Black and contextual bible study manuals, among others.
“This year, we are saying that we have created awareness, the media has taken reporting seriously, and we now need accountability. We need religious leaders to stand to be counted,” said Njiru. “By doing nothing, religious leaders fail us and especially fail the most vulnerable and more so children living with disabilities.”
Rev. Lydia Mwaniki, director of the All Africa Conference of Churches Gender, Women and Youth department, urged the faith leaders to contextualize theologies to address the gender-based violence crisis.
“A liturgy that does not address lived experiences remains abstract,” said Mwaniki, as she called for the inclusion of men and boys in the campaigns, and speaking out against gender violence, which is shrouded in a culture of silence, among other recommendations.