Addressing Violence Against- and Abuse of Women and Children – The role of Pastors, other Church Leaders and Men

We hear of violent deaths of women and children almost daily and we all wonder what kind of person can do such evil and heinous acts. It is mostly men who are the perpetrators and to compound the problem, many of them are related to their victims. They were not born monsters as they are someone’s son, brother, husband, father, friend, employee, uncle or cousin.

Some of them went to Sunday School, Youth meetings and/or attended Church. Yet they turned out to become violators, abusers, murderers, and the question is not only what went wrong in their lives, it is also why we are allowing this to happen. Part of the answer lies in the fact that most of us look the other way and don’t want to take action as we hope the problem will go away and there are others that might not know what to do.

We do not like confronting or reporting abuse and violations when we see it happening in our families, our neighbourhood and even in our churches. Edmund Burke hit the nail on the head when he said, “The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”

We are not saying this because we are expecting Pastors and other church leaders to play the role of Police Officers, Teachers, Social Workers or Lawyers, but we are expecting them to know what to do; what is within their area of responsibility; which cases should be reported and to whom; and also knowing when and how to refer victims of abuse to the correct resources or authorities.

I realise there is a need for a toolkit for Pastors and other church leaders to provide them with information (including the policy and legal framework) on violence against- and abuse of women and children and also practical guidelines that will spell out what to do when they are confronted with this major challenge in their congregations and communities they serve.

However, I want to share, using my own experience and drawing on research and experience from other NPOs and agencies, a few things that we as leaders in our church can do or undertake to tackle the scourge of violence against women and children.

1. Self-reflection and education

 Confront yourself/your ideas.
 Educate yourself on the roots of violence.
 Confront stereotyping men’s and women’s roles.
 Become aware of resources for girls and women.
 Be media literate and critical and learn to use social media effectively.
 Remember violence is a choice.

2. Become aware of harmful cultures and practices

 Raise awareness of the dangers of harmful traditions.
 Challenge and stop rape culture.
 Recognise the role of gender in violence.
 Confront, interrupt sexist/homophobic and transphobic language.

2. Involving, consulting and engaging others

 Engage and share vital information with the assembly and community.
 Engage respected community elders and leaders in the fight against violence.
 Have a discussion with others about ending violence and to become a mentor.
 Engage boys and young men to become agents of change.
 Help boys and young men understand consent.
 Call gender violence what it is – it is not bullying or part of a cultural thing.

3. Developing and implementing an action plan

 Create a conducive atmosphere.
 Create safe spaces to discuss gender violence.
 Be supportive.
 Stop victim blaming – girls and women often blame themselves.
 Listen to girls’ experiences of violence – and their solutions.

4. Taking action

 Confront and Stop abuse
 Stop street harassment
 Tackle violence of girls in schools
 Report abuse and photos that exploit girls and young women

Ashley Theron (Acting CEO of AFM Welfare)

Battered Women’s Support Services
Plan International

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