, 30 November, 2019 / 4:20 AM
As the global community continues to mark the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence that started November 25 advocating for the elimination of all forms of gender violence, Church leaders under the Southern Africa Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC), a region that has recorded the highest cases of femicide in Africa, have called on all people to use the upcoming Advent season to promote the dignity of women and girls, taking deliberate initiatives to end gender-based violence that usually targets the female gender.
“In this time of Advent let us heed the call addressed to all of us to bring the gift of God’s life to the women of Southern Africa, especially those who are living in abusive relationships and those who are victims of violence and rape,” reads part of a pastoral letter signed by SACBC President, Bishop Sithembele Sipuka.
“This is a very sad and tragic moment in our land when women and young girls are murdered and subjected to all forms of violence, physical and emotional,” the Bishops of the region comprising Botswana, South Africa, and Swaziland have decried in their November 28 statement availed to ACI Africa.
Describing the situation in their region as a “context of fear and trauma for women,” the Bishops are considering the Season of Advent as a time offering Christians in their respective countries “an opportunity to aspire to imitate Jesus Christ who in his incarnation made himself vulnerable and indeed suffered violence at the hands of those who refused to follow him.”
In its 2016 report, the World Health Organization (WHO) indicated that South Africa (and Lesotho) are among the top four countries with the highest femicide rate globally, both at 29.9, with a woman being killed every 4 hours in South Africa.
To help end the violence against women and girls, SACBC Prelates are proposing some activities during the four weeks before Christmas aimed at promoting the dignity of not only women and girls but “in fact, each person created by God” in their region.
The Bishops want all Christians to strive to have their respective families renewed and strengthened “through prayer and the reading of the Scriptures” as they all prepare to celebrate the memory of the incarnation, God becoming man.
The Church leaders also want the people of God in their respective communities to “support others who are looking for help with overcoming particular problems in their families like divisions and the need for reconciliation.”
The three-nation Bishops want citizens of their respective countries to “Work together to eradicate any mentality, norms or language that portray women and girls in negative stereotypes and does not accord them dignity as persons, life-bearers and children of God.”
While recognizing the role of men as significant stakeholders in the war against violence that targets women and girls, the Bishops are encouraging men to speak out and condemn violence, actively promoting “attitudes of respect for women and stand up for their dignity.”
“We encourage men to speak out and condemn the violence that is happening in families and communities,” the Prelates have emphasized and added, “We call on men to strive to be positive role models for our boys. We invite everybody, men, women and young people to portray the face of God’s love.”
Starting the first Sunday of Advent, December 1, the Bishops are calling for the “promotion of community police forums and other structures which guarantee women and girls justice when they are abused, violated, raped and murdered.”
During his pastoral visit to Peru in 2018, Pope Francis decried violence targeting women in the Latin America country saying, “Violence against women cannot be treated as ‘normal’ maintaining a culture of machismo blind to the leading role that women play in our communities. It is not right for us to look the other way and let the dignity of so many women, especially young women, be trampled upon.”
The Global 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence campaign, the context of the initiative of SACBC Bishops to end violence targeting women and girls, is an annual global campaign started in 1991 by the Center for Women’s Global Leadership (CWGL) with the aim of ending gender-based violence. The countdown begins on November 25, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women and concludes December 10, the Human Rights Day.
“Ending gender-based violence in the world of work will require joint action by women workers, Unions, Parliamentarians, Journalists and Human Rights Activists,” the Senior Director of CWGL, Melissa Upreti has been quoted saying in an October 2019 report.
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Father Don Bosco Onyalla
Editor-in-Chief, ACI Africa