, 15 June, 2020 / 8:00 PM
Catholic Church leaders in Southern Africa are calling for a change of approach in tackling the increasing cases of gender-based violence (GBV), proposing an “aggressive and holistic approach” that brings together various stakeholders in the way COVID-19 is being fought against.
“We are calling for a process of rethinking the approach to gender-based violence and femicide, drawing parallels from the response to the Covid-19 pandemic that witnessed the involvement of government departments, business sector, civil society and ordinary citizens in their efforts to flatten the infection curve,” members of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC) have stated through their Commission of Justice and Peace.
They have explained in their Monday, June 15 statement, “Our call for an aggressive and holistic approach is guided by the fact that the government identified gender-based violence as one of the most defining public health, social and human rights issues that confront and affect the country today.”
The Bishops invite everyone from the government departments, business sector, civil society, media and ordinary South Africans to join forces and continue to play their part as they have in the fight against COVID -19.
“We must all work with the government to ensure a safer society for women and children,” the Bishops say in their statement signed by the Chairman of the Justice and Peace Commission, Bishop Victor Phalana.
The Bishops’ call comes in the wake of a spike in GBV and femicide during COVID-19 restrictions, with at least five women reportedly murdered in the month of June alone. According to the police, the suspects in the murders had close relationships with the victims.
Among the victims is 28-year-old Tshegofatso Pule who was eight-months pregnant. Her body was found hanging from a tree in a Johannesburg suburb, days after she went missing. Her death sparked a twitter campaign calling for justice under the hashtag #JusticeForTshego.
“The Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC) Justice and Peace Commission (JPC), strongly and unreservedly condemns the recent surge of gender based violence and femicide that has once again reared its ugly head nationwide since the country entered alert level 3 of Covid-19 lockdown,” Bishop Victor has said on behalf of the Bishops drawn from South Africa, Botswana and Swaziland
The Bishops are concerned that they “continue to witness shocking incidences of mindless and callous killings of innocent women and girls which amounts to a civil war!”
They express their appreciation for the government’s response to GBV through the introduction of harsher penalties for perpetrators, introduction of sexual offences courts and appointment of a steering committee, which has come up with a National Strategic Plan.
They however insist, in reference to GBV, that “more can and should be done to deal with this scourge.”
It is the responsibility of the government to eradicate the scourge through legislation, tough police action and hefty court sentences to perpetrators, the Bishops say.
They are also calling on religious institutions “to provide care, to become educated” about GBV and preach a clear message that says: “God says no to the violence inflicted by men on women and children. God created our whole being: Heart, Mind and body.”
“Those bodies that are being assaulted are loved by Christ. These bodies remain precious. God grieves deeply when we inflict Gender Based Violence on anyone,” they say and add, “We believe that recovery from being violent is possible. Change is possible.”
“The Church must hold us accountable for what we do. It must lead perpetrators to get the help they need. We must also work towards the healing of the victims. Our work must be to educate and to prevent Gender Based Violence,” the Bishops say and note, “We as Church have contributed to this scourge through our denial, our silence, our resistance and our lack of preparation. Forgive us.”
In their statement, the Bishops thank Justice and Peace activists and well-wishers in their respective countries who are on the frontline fighting GBV scourge and assisting survivors seek justice.
On Saturday, June 13, President Cyril Ramaphosa condemned violence against women saying, “We note with disgust that at a time when the country is facing the gravest of threats from the pandemic, violent men are taking advantage of the eased restrictions on movement to attack women and children.”
He added, “It is a dark and shameful week for us as a nation. Criminals have descended to even greater depths of cruelty and callousness. It simply cannot continue.”
In their September 2019 message, the members of SACBC expressed their concerns about increased cases of murders targeting women and termed femicide “a crime against humanity.”
ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.
Father Don Bosco Onyalla
Editor-in-Chief, ACI Africa