Act to Bring Gender Equality in Church, Africa’s Faith Actors Urged at Launch of Activism

Church members in Africa have been asked to lead by example in bringing about gender equality as cases of gender inequality and related cases of Sexual and Gender-based Violence (SGBV) continue to soar during COVID-19 lockdown.

In a keynote address during the launch of 16 days of activism organized by the All African Council of Churches (AACC) to curb SGBV in African countries, the President of Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Rev. Dr. Samson Olasupo Ayokunle urged faith-based actors who attended the launch in Kenya’s capital to apply the principles of the Bible in dealing with the issues of gender injustice and child protection.

Whatever does not find basis in the scriptures should be avoided if we are acting in faith, CAN President underscored.

“It is often said charity begins at home. The first and the right place for faith actors to begin to take action on Gender Justice and Child Protection is the church,” Rev.  Olasupo said in a statement that was Presented by Rev. Dr. Samuel Aderemi Olaleye Friday, November 27.

Rev. Olasupo urged faith actors on the continent to work with the leadership of the church to ensure gender equality and protection for children are practiced in the church.

“The church that is expected to champion gender justice and child protection should first demonstrate it inside,” he said.

AACC leadership convened the November 27 virtual and physical launch, bringing tens of faith-based actors across Africa at the AACC’s Desmond Tutu Conference Center in Nairobi.

Some of the faith-based organizations at the launch were the World Council of Churches Ecumenical HIV and AIDS Initiatives and Advocacy (WCC-EHAIA), the World Council of Churches Ecumenical Disability Advocates Network (WCC- EDAN), Christian Aid, Side by Side, the Fellowship of Christian Councils and Churches in the Great Lakes and Horn of Africa (FECCLAHA), World Vision, and Faith to Action Network.

The 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence is an international campaign to challenge violence against women and girls.

Initiated in 1991 by the United Nations, the campaign runs every year from 25 November, which is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, to 10 December, Human Rights Day.

This year, the campaign in Africa has been organized under the theme,  “Impact of COVID-19 on Gender Justice and Child Protection: Action by Faith Actors During and Beyond the Pandemic” whereas the global theme is, “Orange the World: Fund, Respond, Prevent, Collect!”

In his welcome remarks at the launch, AACC General Secretary Rev. Dr. Fidon Mwombeki noted that during COVID-19, the world is continuously witnessing worrying trends in the rise of SGBV, a situation that he said “threatens to reverse all the gains made over the years.”

“It is now more than twenty years after the UN General Assembly adopted the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women and still one in three women experience physical or sexual violence,” Rev.  Mwombeki said.

He added, “This has escalated during the pandemic which is unacceptable and reminds us of the need to redouble our efforts.”

He highlighted the reported alarming rise in both domestic and sexual violence, which he said was evidenced by the high number of early teen pregnancies especially in Kenya.

Making reference to the Kenyan context of teen pregnancies, Rev. Mwombeki said, “This is certainly not unique to Kenya as Gender-based violence, whether physical, sexual, emotional or economic, is recognized globally as one of the most widespread and persistent violations of the rights of women and girls. It is a universal problem; it cuts across geography, class and culture.”

“It is with this understanding that we are here today to amplify our voices and join the rest of the world in reaffirming our commitment to lend our voices as faith leaders to support advocacy and promote actions that protect women and girls,” the AACC official said.

In his keynote address, Dr. Olasupo who also serves as President of Nigerian Baptist Convention urged faith actors in Africa to create fora to educate the people of God in society equality of both gender, to enlighten the congregation on Gender Justice and Child Protection policies in the church and society and also to advocate for the rights of women and children where they are side lined.

Representatives of faith-based organizations in Africa were also urged to protect and defend the rights of women and children in the church.

“Like the early church in Acts Chapter 6, ensure that the weak and neglected ones are taken care of in the church,” the Religious leader said.

Further, the faith-based actors were called upon to recruit and engage different professionals in the church to use their influence to ensure gender equality and protection for children and to always engage Christian political leaders from the church base and speak to their conscience to ensure they stand for justice and ensure the weak are protected in the society.

The Nigerian Religious leader quoted the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) statistics, which indicate that on average, women are paid 24 percent less than men for comparable work, across all regions and sectors and that nearly two thirds of the world’s 781 million illiterate adults are women, a proportion that has remained unchanged for two decades.

The statistics further indicate that 153 countries have laws, which discriminate against women economically, including 18 countries where husbands can legally prevent their wives from working and that worldwide, 1 in 3 women and girls will experience violence or abuse in their lifetime.

As for protection of vulnerable children, Rev. Olasupo observed that in some cultures and traditions of the world, children are seen as working tools to be used for commercial purposes.

“Children are not given adequate attention by parents, adults and even governments in some countries. Several of them have to fend for themselves since parents do not take responsibility,” he said.

The President of Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) noted that child begging is a familiar scene on the streets of some cities in Africa.

“Minors can be seen hawking on the street for survival and income earners for some adults. These children are mostly exposed to abuse by those who have no regard for them. Some girls get pregnant for those who are ready to take responsibility and some others grow up to be hardened criminals,” he lamented.

According to the Religious leader, child protection goes beyond helping children break the cycle of poverty or providing health care and education.

“It’s about working toward the complete well-being of each and every child, and that means keeping them safe and helping them to use their in-born potential in positive ways,” he said.

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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
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