From the perspective of Finn Church Aid, are you seeing that communities you serve are even more vulnerable to gender-based violence because they are facing the COVID-19 pandemic coupled with other crises?
Dr Laine: Yes, the COVID-19 pandemic is creating dual or even multiple crises. The pandemic increases the threat of violence for women and girls who become most often victims of abuse and violence. This happens increasingly at home, which we usually regard as a “safe space.” However, the order to “stay at home” and keep social distancing has become a threat itself for vulnerable women and girls in many parts of the world. Under lockdown policies, many women have to stay at home where they are not necessarily safe or secure, while services to survivors of gender-based violence are harder to access.
Looking at COVID-19 through a gender lens, we can see that the various forms of inequality often operate together and aggravate one another. Besides gender-based violence, the pandemic multiplies the inequality and discriminatory practices women and girls face every day. For instance, the closure of schools will affect girls’ education now and in the long-term, with an increased risk for child labor and child marriage.
From your perspective, for those communities on the ground, how is your work against gender-based violence strengthened because it is ecumenical?
Dr Laine: Joining forces with ecumenical and interfaith partners enables us to enhance and amplify the voice against sexual and gender-based violence. Together we are stronger and our message is louder. Religious leaders have authority and credibility in their local, national, regional and global communities. Therefore, they are in a key position to distribute accurate information and challenge destructive practices and behavior, including sexual and gender-based violence.
Can you share with others how you have promoted Thursdays in Black using social media in creative ways?
Dr Laine: Besides sharing the video statements of the Thursdays in Black ambassadors, we have also taken group photos of our global staff wearing black, which we have shared in social media on Thursdays. Moreover, we apply a multilingual approach and use Finnish, Swedish and English in our posts in social media. With the social media posts, we want to increase awareness on sexual and gender-based violence, support the victims and invite others to join the campaign. We have also asked Finn Church Aid country offices to share statements and briefs on their work against gender-based violence during the 16 Days Against Gender-Based Violence campaign. In addition, we have encouraged our colleagues to use the Thursdays in Black profile on Facebook.
What have been some inspiring responses you have had from your audiences and your staff?
Dr Laine: We have been very pleased with the willingness of our staff to take part in the Thursdays in Black campaign and to contribute to the work against sexual and gender-based violence. In the latest group photo for Thursdays in Black, we had dozens of Finn Church Aid colleagues in Africa, Asia, Europe and Middle East wearing black in order to draw attention to this vital cause. The video statements of the Thursdays in Black ambassadors, in particular, have also attracted a lot of positive attention in social media.
Furthermore, there has been a great interest among our colleagues to learn more about gender advocacy and women’s human rights. Since 2015, Finn Church Aid has collaborated with the Lutheran World Federation, World Council of Churches and other ecumenical partners in organizing an annual training on women’s human rights advocacy.
What gives you hope that we are making a difference together?
Dr Laine: It is the increasing signals worldwide of attaining visibility for sexual and gender-based violence and thus growing international awareness of this problem.
I am especially happy about the deep interest and active involvement of the Finnish ambassadors for the Thursdays in Black campaign, Mr Jouni Hemberg, executive director of Finn Church Aid, and the Most Rev. Tapio Luoma, archbishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland. We are already thinking of what we could do in 2021 to further raise awareness on sexual and gender-based violence and activate people to strive against it both in Finland and globally.