Today Zimbabwe Heads of Christian Denominations called on all faith communities to break the silence that surrounds the epidemic of violence against women and girls under a theme “Speak Out!
The campaign, which brought together hundreds of congregants and development partners, was launched at the Sacred Heart Cathedral in the Capital Harare as a precursor to the annual 16 Days of Activism against Gender Based Violence commemorated between November 25th and December 10th, which deliberately concludes on Human Rights Day, as Violence against Women and Girls is a gross human rights violation.
According to the latest Zimbabwe Health Demographic Survey, more than 1 in 3 (35%) of married women aged 15-49 experience spousal violence committed by their husband or partner. One in 3 girls is married off before she turns 18, often to older men. The underlying causes are many ranging from poverty to patriarchy but none of these negate the fact that these are shocking statistics and will remain shocking until we start to act.
Many women and girls live in fear of violence or are experiencing violence and often remain silent and do not report the abuse they are facing or do not speak to anyone or seek help. When interviewed about this, a substantial number of women site religious reasons as the major deterrents from reporting abuse to the authorities. They stated that regrettably often religious leaders often advise women to pray for the abuse to end or endure the suffering as a test to their faith, as opposed to seeking help.
The Zimbabwe Heads of Christian Denominations a platform that unites the Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe, the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops Conference, the Zimbabwe Council of Churches and UDACIZA, have collectively come together to act to break this silence and to encourage women and men of all faith communities to act and in particular to Speak Out! and be no longer silent.
The Bible encourages everyone to live in Love, Peace and Dignity. Through this campaign the Zimbabwe Heads of Christian Denominations appeal to our Churches and members to Speak Out! against sexual and gender-based violence.
The Zimbabwe Heads of Christian Denominations also encourages women and girls as well as other members of our faith communities who suffer from or witness violence to Speak Out!
The Bible in the book of James (2:14-16) states that faith without works is dead. Speaking out is putting one’s faith into action to help save a life, a marriage, restore dignity and give hope to people suffering from Sexual and Gender Based Violence.
This is not just a national campaign or a one-off event. Throughout the year and into next year, in faith communities at grassroots level, the Zimbabwe Heads of Christian Denominations commits to put this campaign into sustained action through awareness raising, through Bible studies that re-examine the role of faith as it relates to human dignity and equality.
The campaign will also roll out round table discussions, dialogues and through Churches and Faith Spaces policies and measures that safeguard the dignity of all, in particular women and girls. This campaign is also going to be incorporated in the participating churches faith calendars.
The campaign will provide training and support for leaders to handle cases of Sexual and Gender Based Violence as they arise, to know where to refer survivors to and to be there to show moral leadership on this issue.
Faith has a unique ability to promote stability, cohesion and solidarity. The social ties formed within faith communities are an essential part of community infrastructure and sense of belonging. By harnessing these faith values, the Zimbabwe Heads of Christian Denominations can and must, in the words of Isaiah 62:1 ‘For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent’