In 2020, gender-based violence was called the “shadow pandemic” as cases of violence, especially against women and girls, increased tragically under COVID-related restrictions. In 2021, what actions do you hope to see taken globally to address this “shadow pandemic?”
Dr Cornelia Füllkrug-Weitzel: COVID-19 acts like a magnifying glass by making deficits and shortcomings we have to deal with in our societies visible. It unmasks injustice, inequality and structural violence of all forms. It hits all people, but the most vulnerable are the ones to suffer most. Having said so, one cannot be surprised about the increase in violence, especially domestic, against women and girls—unmasking the injustice, inequality and structural and ongoing physical violence against them which is pertinent in many if not most countries.
The homes of millions of women and girls worldwide have been very unsafe places for decades. Women have long been sexually harassed, violated, murdered by many—including civil servants, soldiers, rebels—and all these forms of violence against women have been tolerated by politics and public in too many countries. But now the situation is worse: Lockdowns and states of emergency are giving even more power to police and security forces, limiting the ability of concerned communities to monitor and prevent violence, and leaving women no chance to escape violent male family members and no place of refuge.
In 2021 (and beyond), the following actions are necessary:
The "shadow pandemic” must be globally lifted up as scandal—like Cyril Ramaphosa, President of South Africa, did in his statement about the increased domestic violence in his own country: “Our men are declaring war against women!”
Policies for monitoring violence against women, for prevention of and protection against violence against women, for healing, support, legal persecution of perpetrators and compensation must be made part of the post-coronavirus rehabilitation strategies (including the allocation of resources for this in budgeting the rehabilitation plans).
Monitoring policies and financing at international and national level for overcoming the pandemic must as well have a focus on the structural constraints women and girls face in society. “Building back better” after the pandemic also applies to the position of women in their societies as equals.
The political will to implement fully international human rights instruments such as Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and Resolution 1325 as well as regional instruments needs to be fostered. As for my region—Europe—EU member countries such as Poland, Hungary and others cannot be left unchallenged for their boycott of the implementation of the Istanbul Convention.
The explosion of violence against women during the pandemic challenges the churches to denounce attitudes and cultures that do not regard, value and treat women as equal. Respect for the life and dignity of women needs to be promoted by all churches and ecumenical organizations. As sources and watchdogs of social norms and standards they have a special role to play in the fight against violence and the underlying discrimination against women and they should do so according to the Gospel. In the upcoming years they should address and help change the culture of inequality of men and women and of violence among their own believers, in their own organizations as well as in society. This coincides with insights and recommendations from the World Council of Churches (WCC) Reference Group for the Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace.
We need a strong push and support of the churches by the WCC and other ecumenical actors on regional and international levels. WCC should place the issue of violence against women and girls and the underlying prejudice and practices of inequality and discrimination, etc. prominently on its agenda for the next assembly in Karlsruhe and make it part of its strategic plan for the years after the assembly.
We need policies and efforts at all levels.
We understand that Brot für die Welt (Bread for the World) and its overarching organization‚ Evangelisches Werk für Diakonie und Entwicklung (Protestant Agency for Diakonie and Development) have made overcoming sexual and gender-based violence part of its strategic priority on the empowerment of women. What are the key aims of this strategy?
Dr Cornelia Füllkrug-Weitzel: As Evangelisches Werk für Diakonie und Entwicklung, we aim to achieve gender justice and equal political, economic and social participation of women. We want to forward and strengthen women’s economic independence and their networks and systems of support. In this context, we put special emphasis on the empowerment and agency of women and girls and their allies.
We will renounce the growing rightwing, fundamentalist, antifeminist narrative that tries to reduce women’s and girls’ rights, their public space and their equal participation in society and politics even further.
Overcoming sexualized and gender-based violence at international and national levels is part of our strategy. A focus lies on the bodily and mental autonomy and health of women and girls, their access to safe spaces, healing and justice in cases of persecution and violence.
The prevention, protection and provision of safe spaces, the healing of their traumas and violations for women and girls in the context of conflict, war, displacement and migration is a strategic focus particularly of Bread for the World and Diakonie Katastrophenhilfe. As Bread for the World we aim to strengthen our partner churches and faith-based organizations to act as prominent change agents to overcome gender-based discrimination and sexualized and gender-based violence.
You have long been committed to ending sexual and gender-based violence. How can Thursdays in Black make a difference to all of our efforts?
Dr Cornelia Füllkrug-Weitzel: As a global campaign, Thursdays in Black has the potential to raise awareness in the churches and in societies regarding the tremendous detrimental impact gender-based violence has on every aspect of the lives of women and girls but also on men and boys and finally on society as a whole.
As a global movement, Thursdays in Black has the potential to advocate and lobby for the policies and measures mentioned above to overcome gender inequality and gender-based violence – first within the churches and the ecumenical movement and secondly in societies and politics.
With Thursdays in Black there is a basis for networking and building alliances both amongst faith-based actors and between faith-based and secular actors. This is important for strengthening the movement, making our voices heard, and putting our demands forward.
Thursday in Black may become a signal, an encouragement for women and girls in the churches to finally tell their story, demand their healing, protection and justice and build a network of solidarity among themselves.