World Council of Churches
Uppsala, Sweden
2-8 November 2018
Doc. No. 03.5

Statement on Sexual and Gender-Based Violence, and the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize

“There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3: 28)

In March 1992 the World Council of Churches wrote to the Secretary-General of the United Nations: “In various international fora, women are urging the United Nations to recognize that violence against women constitutes the violation of the basic human rights of half the world’s population. As Christians we support these initiatives, guided by the firm conviction that all human beings are made in the image of God and deserve protection and care.” Reading the signs of our times, there has been an increase in sexual and gender-based violence against women, children and vulnerable people. The purpose of the current statement is a call from the WCC for new commitments and contributions to stop, prevent and respond to sexual and gender-based violence.

This call for addressing sexual and gender-based violence is rooted in the outcomes of a recent consultation marking the 20th anniversary of the Ecumenical Decade of Churches in Solidarity with Women (1988-1998), which took place in Kingston, Jamaica, 1-6 October 2018. It is also inspired by the award of the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize to Dr Denis Mukwege and Ms Nadia Murad, whose work embodies the very issues that were emphasised at the consultation, and addressed during the Ecumenical Decade itself.

Hearing the painful testimonies and inspirational stories of women survivors of sexual and gender-based violence, we are encouraged and challenged to affirm the dignity, rights and needs of all women, children and others who are vulnerable – or are made vulnerable – to such violence.

We recognize that sexual and gender-based violence is evident in many different and often hidden contexts, including spousal abuse and ‘child marriage’, and that its risks and impacts are compounded by stigma, racial discrimination, socioeconomic divisions, poverty, abuse, armed conflict, and lack of access to quality reproductive healthcare. Issues related to human sexual behaviour and gender relations within the family are taboo in many churches and church communities, preventing the church from being a safe and protective place for women who are victims of or threatened by sexual and gender-based violence. The church must actively contribute to the elimination of such violence and abuse.

Goal 5.3 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) calls for the eradication of ‘child marriage’ and female genital mutilation by 2030. It is estimated that 20 million girls and women still do not have access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health education and services. It is imperative that the church, in partnership with civil society, governmental and intergovernmental partners, take the necessary steps to break the culture of silence and address the issues which are impacting women and girls, families and communities around the world.

The 2018 Nobel Peace Prize awarded to Denis Mukwege and Nadia Murad is an encouragement to all those working to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war. Denis Mukwege is a physician who has helped thousands of victims of sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and has condemned the use of sexual violence against women as a strategy and weapon of war. Nadia Murad is a survivor of war crimes who was abducted, repeatedly raped and abused by so-called ‘Islamic State’ (IS) fighters who attacked her Yazidi community in northern Iraq in 2014 with genocidal intent. Since escaping, she has spoken out about her experience and became the UN’s first Goodwill Ambassador for the Dignity of Survivors of Human Trafficking in 2016.

We note that both the DRC and Iraq are priority countries on the Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace. We recall the 2009 public statement by the WCC condemning violence against women in the DRC, and we acknowledge the work being done by the WCC to promote social cohesion in Iraq and to promote and protect the rights of religious minority communities in that country.

Through the Churches’ Commitments to Children we are all called to provide safe and open space for children’s participation in the life of our churches as well as in society, and to be more effective advocates and actors for the elimination of violence against children.

The Decade of the Churches in Solidarity with Women raised similar stories of sexual and gender-based violence from 30 years ago. The present reality seems even more brutal, with so many girl children in refugee camps ‘married’ as ‘protection’ from sexual violence; rape and sexual violence continuing to be used as a weapon of war; so many lives lost or blighted due to discrimination based on gender, race, poverty or human sexuality; and political and social institutions – including the church – continuing to demonstrate misogyny, impunity and discrimination despite the hard-fought struggles of so many for equity and liberation;

The executive committee of the WCC, meeting in Uppsala, Sweden, 2-8 November 2018, therefore:

Urges WCC member churches and ecumenical partners to condemn or reiterate their condemnation of sexual and gender-based violence and of any form of violence against women, children and vulnerable people; to declare such violence a sin; and to make constructive efforts to overcome the attitudes that predispose to such violence, including by the development of clear sexual harassment policies that clearly spell out consequences for such harassment.

Encourages WCC member churches and ecumenical partners to continue working with local organizations and groups in opposition to all forms of sexual and gender-based violence and offering support including trauma healing for women, girls, and others vulnerable to such violence in their communities.

Encourages the creation of new and more effective ways for communication and collaboration among WCC member churches, and local advocacy groups on gender justice issues, including by taking up and promoting the Thursdays in Black Campaign.

Appeals to WCC member churches and ecumenical partners to develop urgent action networks to stop assaults, abuse, and the killing of women, girls (including female foeticide), and other vulnerable people in their context, and to clearly identify and denounce ‘child marriage’ as the rape and abuse of girl children.

Encourages WCC member churches and ecumenical partners to support boys’ and men’s organizations in becoming spaces for transformation and affirmation of positive and anti-violent masculinities.

Calls upon WCC member churches and ecumenical partners to promote the audit of institutional budgets through a gender justice lens at all levels of operation.

Encourages WCC member churches and ecumenical partners and their theological institutions and networks to promote research on gender justice to influence religious, ecumenical, inter-religious and cross-cultural curricula development.