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SA's religious leaders must address gender violence and abuse

It is hard to find the depth of the impact of Anene Booysen’s brutal murder on each and every woman who has ever lived those of us who are still alive, and those who are yet to be born.

Where do we begin to address the multi-layered nature of sexual and gender-based violence? For centuries, the call to confront and dismantle oppressive systems like patriarchy has been met with silence from those who continue to benefit from it. The South African Faith and Family Institute is deeply disturbed by the fact that easily misinterpreted Scriptures and religious teachings have often been at the root of these dehumanizing systems.

In a 2006 study on challenges experienced by clergy when addressing intimate partner abuse / domestic violence, it was pointed out that even men who do not necessarily practice their respective faiths know and use these teachings and scriptures to justify their abusive behaviour toward women. Some men believe that women were created inferior to men, and that women must always serve men’s needs.

Through my work with perpetrators of domestic violence, this notion is one of the biggest challenges for these men to transcend as they seek to make sense of their own abusive behaviour and find a different way of being with their intimate partners.

We call on all religious leaders to become even more diligent in addressing easily misinterpreted scriptures and teachings. As a religious leader, you must understand that chances are that your sister, your daughter and your mother share the same fate of either the memory or the fear of violence.

Today we all are shocked and shattered by Anene Booysen’s brutal rape and murder. If truth be told, unless we become radical in dismantling patriarchy in and through our religious preaching and teachings, this sort of evil might become the order of the day.

Our denial and silence give permission for evil to prevail. When we fail to challenge derogatory jokes and demeaning comments made about women and women’s body parts, we give permission for such behaviour to become the norm.

Men who do not abuse have a responsibility to hold abusive men (who might be their brothers, sons, uncles and fathers) accountable and insist that they change their ways.

Religious leaders are in positions of power and has enormous influence and a sacred responsibility to address matters of sexual and gender-based violence.

The institute has recently partnered with the Desmond & Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation to launch an “Ubuntu in the Home Project” in the quest to reclaim what it means to be human in working with individuals and families who are afflicted by gender-based violence.

Research confirms that victims or survivors of domestic and intimate partner violence who are religious yearn for help from their religious leaders and faith communities, as secular helpers often do not understand their faith issues.

Research also indicates that faith leaders are often not adequately trained to respond effectively to families who experience domestic violence.

Through this project and other programmmes offered by the institute, religious leaders and faith communities have the opportunity to strengthen their capacity as they collaborate with gender-based violence service providers and the government to curb the scourge of violence and brutality against women.

Email info@saffi.org.za, phone 021 462 2277 or visit www.saffi.org.za to find out how you can get your faith community to be part of the solution.

Elizabeth Petersen
Executive Director, South African Faith and Family Institute, Cape Town
(as appeared in the Cape Times on 11 February 2013)


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