President Cyril Ramaphosa recently said that Gender Based Violence (GBV) is the second pandemic we are facing in South Africa. GBV affects approximately 35% of women globally. Even more alarming is the fact that 56% of female murders are at the hands of their intimate partners. Before the outbreak of COVID-19, 243 million women and girls globally (aged 15-49) were subjected to sexual or physical violence by an intimate partner over a period of 12 months. And these figures do not include all the unreported incidents. The effect of gender-based violence reaches beyond the physical, often leading to stress, anxiety, depression, suicide attempts and the reduction of productivity.
This is a dark and heavy cloud over our society.
OUR RESPONSE AS CHRISTIANS
I was reminded of a famous childhood song sang at Sunday school “With Jesus in my boat I can smile at the storm as we go sailing home.”
Unfortunately for many us the gender-based violence storm has gone on for too long. We are unable to smile. We are angry, saddened, fearful, rejected, and hurt. Along with many other feelings some of us cannot even put into words. We struggle to know and feel the presence of Jesus’ peace in our lives. This storm of GBV seems so much bigger than what we can handle.
However, our focus should be to go back to the foundation of our faith, the Word of God, to help guide our response.
Don’t break the 10 commandments
In Exodus 20 the Bible speaks, teaches, and illustrates right from wrong. Gender-based violence is disobeying the 10 commandments, whether it is abuse or murdering another life. As Christians we are to love our neighbour. Proverbs 3:29 says “Do not plot against your neighbour, who lives securely beside you.” This scripture also shows us that when we partake in any form of abuse and murder, as a bystander, or physically being apart of the incident, we are disobedient to the voice of God and destroying his divine creation.
Be diligent in prayer and intentional about reading the word of God
During times of crisis people are quick to judge. We want to take revenge or the law into our own hands. It’s in these times God calls us to “…not be overcome and conquered by evil but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21). As much as we want justice, we may need a change of heart first before justice can be done. It starts with you and me. We need to “seek ye, first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33).
Have a voice and stand for what is right
It’s time to unite across the boarders of race, religion and gender with one voice for victims when they cannot speak up for themselves because of shame, fear and lack of self belief. We cannot tolerate or condone the behaviour of others when we know it’s wrong or goes against our belief and value system. Instead of asking cliched questions or blaming others for what is happening, it’s time for us to unite, to stand together and allow people to be vulnerable. Let them know that it’s okay to speak out for justice.
PRACTICAL STEPS TO EMPOWERING A VICTIM
Often as ordinary individuals we may feel ill-equipped to encourage, support or just invest in someone’s life that has experienced the trauma of gender-based violence. Due to this feeling we then do nothing about the problem or it prevents us from saving another life. This can leave us feeling fearful instead of hopeful in empowering the next person.
Encourage and be present
Writing a short message of encouragement to the victim or their family (this can also be done anonymously) can bring hope or comfort to this person as often it’s not only the victim suffering but their loved ones as well. In times of loss or trauma we struggle to make sense of so many things, that it’s important to respect the next person’s space. Remain polite and don’t bombard them with questions and the usual ‘Christianese’. Allow them to be quiet and on their own as well, while being present in their time of need.
Treat the victim the same
Part of our love and support of a victim is to not put them in a box or attach any stigmas. We should see that they are seeking professional and sound counsel. In so doing we are a representation of Christ’s love and heart for his people.
LET’S BE ON OUR GUARD
“Do not conform to the patterns of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2). This scripture is so easily quoted and yet not easily lived out. I passionately believe that many issues around gender-based violence can be stopped if we all change our mindset.
God gives each one of us wisdom. A wisdom that is pure, gentle, and open to reason, filled with mercy and the fruit of the Spirit. It does not seek attention or desire unhealthy conversations or friendships. So to guard your heart is to be transformed and be brought into the light and not partake in the acts of the world.
The violence that we see emerging is a dark feature of this pandemic. It’s a mirror and a challenge to our values, our resilience and shared humanity. We not only have to survive Covid-19, but emerge, with women as a powerful force at the centre of recovery.