Rev. Ikechukwu Anaga remembers when people didn’t know about “Thursdays in Black,” the global movement resisting attitudes and practices that permit rape and violence.
But his community of Aba, in Abia State, Nigeria, was seeing firsthand an increase in gender-based violence and rape. When Anaga helped others in his community make a firm decision to do something about it, the zeal and passion for Thursdays in Black rose.
Anaga was already involved in attending and helping to lead workshops - organized by the World Council of Churches Ecumenical HIV and AIDS Initiatives and Advocacy programme (WCC-EHAIA) - on young people’s reproductive health. As deputy director of Presbyterian Community Service and Development, he is a trained social worker.
He started spreading the word about Thursdays in Black by talking to people face-to-face, one by one. “I have spoken to almost all the people I have come in contact with about Thursdays in Black, and a good number of them are now part of the campaign,” he says, “and through numerous preaching engagements, we have been able to reach a great number of people.”
But the most effective of all strategies? Social media, he says. “I have 5,000 friends on Facebook, and more than 300 people like my Facebook page, which provides still another avenue. Every Thursday we have opportunity of sharing Thursdays in Black photos and feature write-ups with our friends.”
He also uses his Twitter handle - @IykRev - to regularly promote Thursdays in Black.
Anaga's work on the campaign has become an opportunity to make a profound difference: “I have had calls to intervene in rape cases and wife battery. I have also received invites to talk to young people in schools about Thursdays in Black.”
Walking the talk
You might also see Anaga strolling the streets in communities across his region. Through a “Thursdays in Black Street Walk,” he slowly walks through the major roads of a town or village. “We print Thursdays in Black T-shirts, fliers and pins,” he says. “We have reached more than 200,000 persons with the Thursdays in Black message through street walks.”
One such walk took place during the All-Presbyterian Conference of the Presbyterian Church of Nigeria (PCN), on 23 November 2017, when more than 200 young people collected T-shirts for the walk and reached more than 30,000 people with messages, pins and fliers. At the same conference, PCN moderator Rev. Nzie Nsi Eke pledged the church’s commitment to Thursdays in Black.
The need is great
The need for Thursdays in Black is highly evident in many communities in which women are treated unjustly, says Anaga. “I am from a matrilineal cultural background,” he explains. “If a woman loses a husband, the family of her husband will confiscate the property belonging to her late husband and allow the women to go with nothing. Most times she is accused of killing her husband and she is sent out after the husband’s burial. If she had children, she would be left alone to take care of her children. It is unjust to treat a widow in that manner.”
In some support groups for people living with HIV, a good number of the women are single parents because their husbands, who infected them with HIV, also threw them out of their matrimonial homes, he added. “They are left to fend for their children even when they are very sick.”
What gives Anaga hope? “The number of victims of rape and gender-based violence who are speaking out since we started this Thursdays in Black campaign,” he says. “The greater numbers of people who are taking part are young people and they are so zealous about Thursdays in Black. When I see their commitment it gives me hope that in future they will not become perpetrators or victims of gender-based violence.”
Rev. Dr Nyambura Njoroge, coordinator of WCC-EHAIA, commended Anaga and the PCN for their work in preventing sexual and gender-based violence.
“This is an example of the kind of creative, courageous thinking that galvanizes people to act to bring justice for women and men in their communities,” she said. “I hope this inspires us all to reach deeper and wider in preventing sexual and gender-based violence - and all other forms of violence as well.”