‘ … when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ Matthew 25:39 – 40 NRSV
As countries respond to COVID-19 with necessary restrictions on movements and activities, more people are calling violence hotlines and crying for help in other ways. The effects of lockdown, job losses, and the sheer vulnerability of people who were already on the margins of society are all serious concerns. Such stresses, experts say, can contribute to higher incidences of violence. Further, the incidences of gender-based violence may be higher than reported because of the barriers to seeking help during global quarantines.
Conflicts and crises nearly always carry gender-based burdens – which can be compounded by other factors such as race and ethnicity, ability, and economics. Gender-based violence, along with other forms of violence and oppression, are exacerbated during times of crisis. The COVID-19 pandemic is no different.
As Thursdays In Black Ambassadors for the World Council of Churches, we appeal to WCC member churches, ecumenical and interfaith partners, and persons of goodwill to actively help raise awareness, protect against, and prevent rising levels of gender-based violence during this global COVID-19 pandemic. We do so as part of our longstanding individual and collective commitments to gender justice, and as part of our pilgrimage toward justice and peace. During these times, and always, we must enable and promote safe spaces for all.
We urge everyone to care for the persons in their homes, personal relationships, and in all workplaces still serving the public good. Violence is not the solution for frustration with or fears about the spread of COVID-19.
Change must take place at the grassroots as well as at the leadership levels, and we appeal to individuals and community agencies to assist in providing mechanisms for the protection of the vulnerable among us.
We encourage individuals to seek pastoral and social service care if you are experiencing stress and need support to care for and protect people in your daily life. We also invite you to participate in Thursdays in Black at home and post your photos on social media using #ThursdaysinBlack.
We are inspired by churches who have already proactively responded to those in their communities with increased vulnerability, by raising awareness of helplines, ensuring people are connected, delivering food and providing for basic needs. We encourage churches to be involved in creating physical and virtual safe spaces for those who are not safe in their homes. This can include support to local professionals and caregivers in the field of sexual and gender-based violence through prayer, space, materials, and money.
As people of faith and of goodwill, we must continue to speak and act in our communities to ensure that our responses protect everyone: from guaranteeing that those on the frontlines of caring have adequate protective gear, regardless of their place in the medical hierarchy, to finding effective and creative ways to continue services for learning, employment, counselling and support. While we need to prevent the spread of COVID-19, we must not victimize or stigmatize people in the process.
We also must look beyond the current crisis and renew our resolve to address the root causes of sexual and gender-based violence that are only exacerbated during conflicts and crises. Rather than wish for a return to “normal”, which has perpetuated gender-based inequities and disparities, we can more firmly proclaim our vision for societies based on justice and peace that ultimately reduce vulnerabilities for all.
An unusual time asks for unusual responses. As Thursdays in Black ambassadors, we pray that people of faith join us in creating a world of justice and peace in these challenging times.
Dr Agnes Abuom, Moderator, World Council of Churches Central Committee
Rev. Claudia Bandixen, Switzerland
The Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton, Presiding Bishop, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
Rev. Dr Chris Ferguson, General Secretary, World Communion of Reformed Churches
Jouni Hemberg, Executive Director, Finn Church Aid
The Rev. Susan C. Johnson, National Bishop, Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada
Mrs Alison Judd, World President, World Federation of Methodist and Uniting Church Women
Larissa Aguiar Garcia, Brazil
Rev. Dr Anders Göranzon, General Secretary of the Swedish Bible Society
Rev. Damon Mkandawire, Hospital Administrator, Mbereshi Mission Hospital, Zambia
Rhee, Hanbeet, Ecumenical Youth Council in Korea
Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, Presiding Bishop Elect, Bishops’ Conference of the Church of Norway
Bishop Rosemarie Wenner, Geneva Secretary, World Methodist Council
More information on Thursdays in Black Ambassadors