Prof. Ezra Chitando

Prof. Ezra Chitando, Southern Africa regional coordinator for the World Council of Churches Ecumenical HIV and AIDS Initiatives and Advocacy programme.


“If you look at the way the media is reporting it, these women are being treated in death as they were treated in life,” she said.

MacNichol is founder of CONNECTFaith, an interfaith movement in New York City to build the capacity of religious leaders and communities of faith to work to end intimate partner abuse.

“There hasn’t been a focus as much as there should be on male accountability,” she said. “We have to have partnerships between men and women for this to change.”

MacNichol was speaking during an online intergenerational conversation, “Girls on Fire,” a parallel event to the 65th session of the Commission on the Status of Women co-organized on 18 March by Ecumenical Women at the UN and the Working Group on Girls.

“The faith communities in this country and all over the world have a huge part to play,” said MacNichol.

MacNichol has spent the last two decades working with faith communities. “There’s a lot of patriarchy that blocks the work,” she said. “There are also many, many women who are exiled from their faith communities because their faith communities would not listen to them when they came and sought help.”

Girls in faith communities receive their earliest messages about who they are supposed to be, she added. “There are these very subtle, little messages that say, ‘You can’t do that. You’re not sacred enough to do that. You’re a little bit further away from the divine than the men.’ ”

Thursdays in Black

Prof. Ezra Chitando, Southern Africa regional coordinator for the World Council of Churches Ecumenical HIV and AIDS Initiatives and Advocacy programme, said that people must work together to mobilize boys and men to accept that violence against women and girls is a sin.

“Every Thursday I dress in black.” he said, referring to the Thursdays in Black campaign: “There must be a world where my daughters can anticipate living without rape and violence.”

Chitando reflected that it’s very important to begin to locate the struggle at a personal level.

“This is a personal declaration as a man: If to be a man you have to beat women, I refuse to be a man,” he said. “If becoming a man means I must suffocate the women and girls, I refuse to be a man.”

Chitando is working to take this message to young boys and men across communities of faith. “A real man acts in compassion and solidarity with women and girls,” he said. “Every religion is built on justice and equality.”

He believes communities of faith can generate a critical mass of likeminded boys and men who advocate for gender justice. “We must create a new heaven and a new earth where women and girls can live life in abundance,” he said.

Evon Benson-Idahosa, founder of Nigeria-based Pathfinders Justice Initiative, an international impact organization dedicated to the prevention of sex slavery and sexual violence, reflected that sometimes she grows weary of people commending women for their resilience.

“There’s a reason why women have to be resilient: the underlying systemic injustice,” she said. “For me, it’s important that we are amplifying the voices of the women.”

Benson-Idahosa said she sees women in many ways as dispensers of hope. “Any survivor of trauma will tell you that, because of the effect of trauma, it’s hard sometimes to distinguish clearly what you’d like to see happen as a result of your life,” she said. “Most of the women that we work with have been so subjugated over the years that it’s hard for them to even understand who they are.”

Add in a global pandemic, and those already-tough lives have gotten even tougher, agreed MacNichol. “COVID was an exponential, a mirror shining on how people are entrapped in violent relationships of any kind,” she said. “COVID just put everything on steroids: the entrapment, the disempowerment, the loss of identity.”

As she moderated the discussion, Rev. Dionne Boissiere, chaplain of the Church Center for the United Nations, said the lively discussion offered tools and strategies that churches and organizations can use in their own communities. “What is happening around the corner—is happening around the globe,” she said.