, 29 June, 2020 / 9:50 PM
The leadership of the Justice and Peace Commission (JPC) of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC) has, in an interview with ACI Africa, shared what Church leaders in the region are doing to fight gender-based violence and femicide (GBVF) in South Africa, which has spiked in recent times.
In the Monday, June 29 interview, the Coordinator of JPC, Fr. Stan Muyebe told ACI Africa that Catholic Church leaders in the country are participating in the ongoing justice system reforms in response “to the prevailing culture of impunity around rape cases and femicide.”
“There is a sense that people are not afraid to kill women or rape women because there are no visible consequences. This is attributed to the low levels of conviction in rape cases and femicide, as well as soft sentences for perpetrators,” Fr. Stan said and added, “Women are also reluctant to report rape cases because of the way the justice system handles such cases.”
The Commission has partnered with the United Nations in conducting research with judges and staff members of recently-established sexual offences courts aimed at identifying the constraints and barriers to the effectiveness of these legal entities, Fr. Stan said.
“When the research is finalized in August and September, we shall use the research to organize a platform for dialogue between the government and the court officials,” the Dominican Cleric told ACI Africa and explained, “The dialogue will seek to identify the measures that need to be taken to address the limited effectiveness of the sexual offence courts.”
The Church and United Nations will be at the forefront of this intervention, he added.
At the grassroots level, the church members and their respective leaders are also involved in justice system interventions, with Catholic women in Witbank and Pretoria dioceses initiating a ministry outreach to rape survivors, offering them spiritual and paralegal support before and during the court hearings, Fr. Stan shared.
“Attrition studies have established that some of the rape survivors drop the criminal charges because of lack of support system and threats from the perpetrators,” he disclosed and added, “The Catholic women have managed to offer rape survivors the pastoral accompaniment necessary to address attrition in rape cases.”
Considering that violence against women is “an attitudinal and behavioral issue” that cannot be tackled conclusively through justice system reforms only, Church leaders in South Africa are also participating in mobilization of change in behavior and social norms, a key plan in the recently-released national action plan to end GBV, Fr. Stan said.
“More than 80 percent of South Africans profess to be involved in some form of religion. It means perpetrators are most likely people who come to our churches. It is therefore important for the faith leaders to be at the forefront of speaking out and challenging men in their Churches to stop violence,” Fr. Stan said during the June 29 interview.
JPC has been running an initiative inviting “all men of faith” in the country to publish a video on social media challenging violence against women, with 142 faith leaders including Catholic Bishops and Priests as well as Pastors from other churches participating during the months of May and June.
The “video challenge” is a result of a 2018 United Nations and JPC national summit for faith leaders belonging to various denominations and religions that identified the initiative as one of the “effective methods” against GBVF, the JPC Coordinator noted.
To make the initiative more effective, Fr. Stan said that there is a plan to organize a training program for the faith leaders so as to equip them with Gospel-based tools, incentives and skills for challenging men to end violence against women.
JPC is also involved in a mobilization campaign targeting men at taverns and other beer drinking joints, a program that won the recognition of the UN as one of the “most effective strategies of social mobilization around GBV.”
“Taverns are spaces where thousands of men meet every week to socialize and drink beer. At the same time, alcohol is one of the contributors of gender-based violence,” Fr. Stan told ACI Africa adding, “We partner with associations of tavern owners. They offer us a platform to come to the taverns to discuss with them issues about real men.”
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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