The consultation was convened by the SADC Parliamentary Forum.
In her address to the delegates, Boeo Sekgoma, secretary general of the SADC Parliamentary Forum, acknowledged the strategic role of religious and traditional leaders in promoting the SADC Model Law on gender-based violence.
She said that religious and traditional leaders are the implementers of positive change in society. “You are the ones who are on the forefront to eliminate stigma and work with authorities to make sure that the law is respected and the safety of individuals is ensured. You are also the ones who make public speeches to large groups of followers, and they trust you and your wisdom. You wear multiple hats as preachers, peace keepers and also educators,” she said.
The SADC Model Law on gender-based violence brings international best practices on gender-based violence legislation to the region, and there is need for religious and traditional leaders to be actively involved in the process of customising the Model Law, said different presenters. This is because religious and traditional leaders are well-placed to mobilise communities to promote compliance with the law and to respond to gender-based violence. Parliamentarians in the region needed to work closely with religious and traditional leaders to ease the adaptation of the legal provisions to the local context.
In his solidarity remarks, Ezra Chitando, the World Council of Churches (WCC) regional coordinator for Southern Africa, expressed appreciation to the SADC Parliamentary Forum for recognising the key roles of religious and traditional leaders in responding to gender-based violence in the region. He shared the success of the Thursdays in Black campaign and highlighted how it was increasing awareness of gender-based violence and prompting a critical mass of religious actors who were responding to gender-based violence. “As we respond to gender-based violence, we must sit at the feet of the women who have survived gender-based violence and be tutored on how we can best address gender-based violence within the faith community and beyond,” he said.
It is envisaged that the SADC Model Law on gender-based violence will be a giant step towards more effective responses to gender-based violence in the region. There was consensus that religion and culture do not stand in opposition to human rights. Therefore, religious and traditional leaders were key to the successful adoption, adaptation and implementation of the SADC Model Law on gender-based violence.