Pacific women, churches unite against violence

By Adel Fruean 25 July 2020, 11:00AM

A partnership to address the regional epidemic of gender-based violence has been formed between the United Nations (U.N.) Women organisation and the Pacific Conference of Churches (P.C.C.). 

The P.C.C. announced the initiative this week. The project will include a regional mapping of faith-based responses to violence against women and children.

The project also aims to implement a Safe Church Policies and Codes of Conduct for member churches.

During the signing ceremony in Suva, Fiji, P.C.C. moderator, Deaconess Tamalesi Makutu, said that under the new partnership it would be named the regional “Break the Silence Sunday Campaign”. And it would help churches to engage regional and national leadership on the issue of violence against women and girls and to deliver strong messages to faith communities on the necessity of education, attention and simply responding to and acknowledging the issue. 

"There will also be a specific focus on increasing the participation and access of women in Church leadership and theology and on the role of church leaders as advocates," she said.

"As churches, we have confessed our negative contribution to the structural violence enacted upon women of all ages and social status in the Pacific. 

“Patriarchal structures of leadership and decision-making, Biblical interpretation and attitudes towards women in faith communities have underpinned the psychological, emotional, physical, sexual and economic violence that Pacific women have had to endure.

"We have and continue to painfully acknowledge the abuses of power and trust experienced by women and children in our Pacific Churches, and that there are places where the gospel of love, inclusion, preference for the least among us in, society and of peace and abundant life for all is preached and held out as the ideal but not practice.''

Deaconess Makutu said “today many of us are wearing black as part of the Wear Black on Thursdays campaign.”

Wear black on Thursdays encourages congregants to wear a pin to identify they are part of a global movement resisting attitudes and practices that permit rape and violence.

“This Thursdays in Black has been a practice for many women's groups and human rights defenders to stand in solidarity against domestic violence and rape,” she said.

“While its roots lie in groups such as Mothers of the Disappeared in Argentina who, in the 1970s, began wearing black sashes in the Plaza de Mayo as a silent protest for their friends and family members who were disappearing, being raped, and abused under the military dictatorship.

“The global campaign as we know it today was an initiative of the World Council of Churches (W.C.C.) and promoted in the Pacific by the Young Women’s Christian Association (Y.W.C.A.) over 30 years ago during the Ecumenical Decade of Churches in solidarity with women and revived during the W.C.C.'s decade to overcome violence at the beginning of this century.”

She added that this was to highlight the role, sometimes unacknowledged, of churches in work to end violence against women and children, globally and in the Pacific.

“The partnership launched today is significant in that it is a recognition of the importance of faith communities, in a region where over 90 per cent of the population identify as Christian and hold a worldview shaped by their faith, as agents of social transformation.

“[Churches should not just be viewed] as target audiences of secular programmes on addressing gender-based violence, but as partners in a common vision of safe and peaceful communities and homes.

“In its 11th General Assembly in 2018 the member churches and national councils of churches which make up the Pacific Conference of Churches reaffirmed their condemnation all forms of violence against women and children as a sin and called on the Christian community in the Pacific to ensure that the dignity of our women and children is protected at all times.

“I acknowledge the presence of Fiji-based church leaders each of whom have been part of campaigns to name violence against women and children as ‘a sin’ and that our faith ‘says no to rape and violence against women and children.”

By Adel Fruean 25 July 2020, 11:00AM

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