World Council of Churches (WCC) deputy general secretary Prof. Dr Isabel Apawo Phiri, who opened the meeting, said that it is no small thing to be an ambassador for Thursdays in Black at a time when there is so much violence. “Whatever pandemic is going on, there is an increase in gender-based violence,” Phiri said. “Ambassadors help guide the churches and the world on how to say no to violence, especially against women and girls.”
The ambassadors shared updates and ideas from their local contexts. Their role—which has expanded over the last several years with a growing number of global voices—is to amplify the impact of the collective call for a world without rape and violence. From issuing joint messages, to working in their own contexts, to drawing attention to the campaign, the ambassadors are working with creativity and compassion.
Colleen Geyer, general secretary of the Uniting Church in Australia Assembly, reflected on the challenge of getting political recognition of gender-based violence.
“In the last few years, there has been a lot of attention paid to violence against women, particularly violence that’s happening in our parliamentary space as well,” she said. Yet as the country prepares for a national election in a few weeks, “when I look at the parties and their talk about policies, there has hardly been any mention at all.”
She finds encouragement that the church – nationally and at state level - is engaged with Thursdays in Black and connecting it to the work they do.
Churches can step up role
Rev. Dr Anders Göranzon, general secretary of the Swedish Bible Society, spoke in the context of concerns over the war in Ukraine, particularly the prospect of Sweden joining NATO. “You see increasingly how people become worried about war and we spend more money on weapons,” he said, noting that funding for refugees was now coming from the humanitarian aid budget. Talking about the prevalence of violence in Sweden, he added, “Sexual and gender-based violence is still happening, and the situation is complicated with different forms of violence mixed with racism.”
Dr Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda, chief executive, Rozaria Memorial Trust, reflected that the war between Russia and Ukraine has become a social conflict for the world. “This has resulted in economic crisis for all of us,” she said.
Gumbonzvanda works on ending child rape, “which the world calls ‘child marriage’ to make it sound acceptable.”
Millions of girls get married in our countries and communities, Gumbonzvanda said. “What is encouraging is starting to see the faith communities stepping up the public voice,” she said.
The role of the church could be stepped up, Gumbonzvanda believes, not just because of values but also because the church runs services, schools and clinics.
Individual also have the power to make a positive difference. Rev. Sharon Hollis, an Australian minister and president of the Uniting Church in Australia, noted that after incidents of women bearing the brunt of islamophobia, one social media post started an "I’ll ride with you” programme in Australia where non-Islamic women accompany Islamic women on public transport, in response to threats and violence that Islamic women face.
The ambassadors also shared plans and ideas they have for building on the momentum of the campaign, which has grown exponentially over the past couple of years.
Rev. Dr Karen Georgia Thompson, associate general minister for Wider Church Ministries and Operations and co-executive for Global Ministries, United Church of Christ, shared that a proposal will come to the church’s synod for a designation for gender just churches as part of the church’s “Just World Covenants.” The United Church of Christ is also exploring the idea of creative writing workshops related to gender justice.
Alison Judd, world president of the World Federation of Methodist and Uniting Church Women, said that the organization’s 14th World Assembly in August 2022 will address gender justice.
Many ambassadors said their churches or organizations had contributed quilt patches to the "Waterfall of Solidarity and Resistance" tapestry for display at the WCC 11th Assembly in Karlsruhe.
Rev. Dr Tapio Luoma, archbishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, said he has participated in various panel discussions and produced some videos. “My church, especially Finn Church Aid, has been active in publishing Thursdays in Black material,”said Luoma.
Rev. Michael Blair, general secretary, General Council, The United Church of Canada, said Canadian churches are connecting to deep gender justice-related work. “We are connecting with groups that help bring justice for missing and murdered indigenous women,” he said, as one example.
Hanbeet Rhee shared how she had worked to localize the campaign in South Korea. She translated all materials into Korean and has disseminated throughthe YWCA and an online campaign.
Jessica Roland, senior specialist for Inclusive Peace for the Network for Religious and Traditional Peacemakers, highlighted the ongoing involvement of members in Thursdays in Black and some examples of the network’s Thursdays in Black-related social media posts. The Network will host an inclusivity-based community of practice meeting in October focused on how members and supporters are addressing gender-based violence and will develop further action points in preparation for November’s 16 Days Campaign to raise awareness on violence against women.
“Also, the UN Multi-Faith Advisory Council has decided that one of its four working areas will be on gender,” she said, “so that could be a great opportunity highlight the Thursdays in Black campaign and other gender justice issues,” added Roland.
Marcelo D. Leites, general secretary of the World Christian Student Federation, said the federation is planning to emphasize gender justice at its assembly in Berlin in June.
“We are preparing different activities,” he explained, including workshops. “On Thursday, 30 June, we will have the day focus on gender justice.”
Delegates will wear black, and the federation will present and adopt the Thursdays in Black campaign, Leites said. “The colour of the day will be black.”
The ambassadors agreed to explore the idea of a joint statement leading up to the WCC 11th Assembly. The importance of breaking the silence over all forms of gender-based violence especially by the church was emphasized. As Blair, stated: “We do violence by not naming.”