Catholic Women in South Africa Organizing Online Prayers to Bridge Lockdown Solitude

Poster advertising South African Union of Catholic Women’s Organization (SAUCWO) Prayer Day slated for August 24.
Credit: World Union of Catholic Women’s Organizations (WUCWO)

The South African arm of the World Union of Catholic Women’s Organizations (WUCWO), an international entity for Catholic women groups, is organizing for prayers slated for later this month to express solidarity with women who are suffering from solitude and isolation that comes with the COVID-19 lockdown, an official has told ACI Africa.

In an interview with ACI Africa concerning the planned August 24 zoom session, South African Union of Catholic Women’s Organization (SAUCWO) Secretary, Mahadi Buthelezi said that women in South Africa have been adversely affected by the COVID-19 lockdown, which has left some suffering depression from the burden of caring for their families amid harsh economic times.

“Life has never been the same since the COVID-19 lockdown was declared in South Africa. Women, in particular, have undergone immense suffering,” Ms. Buthelezi said in the Thursday, August 13 interview.

Some of the COVID-19-related challenges that are specific to women in South Africa, according to the SAUCWO official, is the psychological burden of worrying for the safety of their families amid their own fears of contagion.

“Everything about this lockdown works against the women, including working from home,” she says, and adds, “The house chores and the entire family responsibilities has been heaved on the woman’s shoulders and now they spent a lot of time worrying about whether their family members are keeping safe and worrying about their own safety as well.”

With families staying in lockdown, some women also struggle to provide food for their families due to an increase in food prices. The situation, Ms. Buthelezi says, has been aggravated by mass job losses in a country where families are struggling to afford a meal.

COVID-19 lockdown has also come with increased cases of gender-based violence and femicide with women and children being the victims in both vices.

In an address to the nation in July, South Africa’s President, Cyril Ramaphosa, observed that twenty-one women and children had been murdered in a few weeks. The President reportedly likened the spate of femicide to “another pandemic that is raging in our country alongside COVID-19.”

An average of nearly 58 people are reportedly murdered every day in South Africa. A woman is murdered every three hours, and according to a statement from President Ramaphosa, 51 percent of South African women have experienced violence at the hands of someone with whom they are in a relationship.

And while commemorating this year’s Women’s Day, leaders of various Religious Orders and Societies of Apostolic Life in southern Africa decried gender-based violence in the Southern African country, noting that violence against women in the country had skyrocketed during COVID-19 lockdown.

In a statement shared with ACI Africa on August 9, the Leadership Conference of Consecrated Life South Africa (LCCLSA) President, Sr. Nkhensani Shibambu with concern that while trying to find ways to combat the spread of COVID-19, South Africans were living in fear.

According to the South African nun, the women, hearing cases of their sexual violence which are reported daily, keep asking themselves, “Am I next?”

Ms. Buthelezi told ACI Africa that the zoom prayer initiative stemmed from the desire to bridge the sense of solitude and isolation experienced in lockdown, “to support each other and to reinforce a sense of sisterhood in this time of global suffering.”

“When terrible things happen to women, for instance when they are killed, we don’t give them a decent burial due to the COVID-19 restrictions. We pray alone in our houses but we feel lonelier saying those prayers,” she said.

She added, “We hope that praying together, as a big group, will restore the feeling of sisterhood that we need to feel that we are not alone.”

“Hopefully, due to technology, women will be able to see each other’s faces in large numbers,” she further said, and expressed regret that a majority of women who cannot afford smartphones and the Internet will be locked out of the event.

“We understand the challenges that women are undergoing having lost their jobs and many may not be able to afford the Internet. That’s why we announced the prayers early so that they can do everything they can to save a little money for the Internet. But still, we have older women who do not know how to use technology platforms,” she told ACI Africa during the August 13 interview.

In a message to express solidarity with women who will not be able to join the zoom session, the SAUCWO Secretary said, “We shall keep them in prayers and hope that normalcy returns soon so that we may be able to meet physically to pray, sing and make merry together.”

Hinting on the program for the prayer session that will last for two and half hours, Ms. Buthelezi who will be moderating the session said participants at the session will also be addressed by SAUCWO officials. Speakers at the conference will also reply to queries from participants.

Founded in 1910 to unite Catholic women and to give them a voice on the international platform, WUCWO represents nearly 8 million Catholic women belonging to about 60 Catholic women’s organizations worldwide and is active in around 60 countries including all continents and some Island nations.

According to information that is provided on the organizations website, WUCWO was, in 2006, erected by the Holy See as a Public International Association of the Faithful, a canonical status that “honours the efforts of Catholic women active in our Union at the parish, diocesan, national and international levels.”


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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
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