Religious leaders have been urged to refrain from exploiting women who approach them needing spiritual guidance as it is a violation of human rights.
This was said during the launch of the 16 days of activism against Gender-Based Violence hosted by Zimbabwe Christian Alliance (ZCA) in partnership with the Union for the Development of Apostolic Churches in Zimbabwe UDACIZA under the theme ‘Invest in protecting women’.
The launch started with a march at Sekusile, Nkulumane where messages of shunning GBV were shared.
Churches also lit candles in solidarity with the victims of GBV.
Speaking during the launch, ZCA director, Reverend Useni Sibanda said most women and girls affected by the GBV are found in churches.
“As a church, there is a lot that we can do. We know that according to statistics about 40percent of women are affected by GBV, 86 percent of our population in Zimbabwe go to church, so what it means is the 40 percent of the population affected, definitely those people are actually in our churches, so we felt that the church must take lead in this campaign and be in the forefront of these campaigns,” he said
Rev Sibanda said they want the church to be a safe space for women and girls, “they must come to the church to seek counsel, for protection, to speak about situations that happen to them.”
In addition, Bishop Patson Netha said this year’s theme brings a challenge to all communities, churches, councillors, Members of Parliament and central government to put more effort into making sure that safe spaces are provided for survivors and victims of GBV.
“As the church, we want to contribute to the eradication of gender-based violence especially in the church as we have heard and seen some negative reports towards the church and the abuse of women and girls.”
Bishop Netha said it is important to note that men and boys are also affected by GBV hence the need to include them in such programs.
“A lot of men are not open to talking about it, but we are happy that the church is taking a step in the right direction and introducing men’s forums where they can discuss these issues and be assisted,” he said.
He said they has been cases of pastors abusing women who are in difficult situations for their own satisfaction.
“Instead of the church being a refuge and safe space, it has become very toxic and unsafe for our women and girls. We, therefore, call upon the church to take action against pastors who violate women and girls,” said Netha.
Bulawayo Mayor David Coltart who was represented by the Proportional Representative Councilor Nokuthula Sibanda said GBV is rooted in a complex set of patriarchal beliefs, power and control that continue to create a social environment in which sexual violence is pervasive and normalised.
“Exact numbers of rape and sexual assaults are notoriously difficult to confirm due to frequent leeway and impunity for perpetrators, stigma towards survivors and their subsequent silence,” said Coltart.
In addition, the Minister of State and Provincial Affairs, Judith Ncube who was represented by Ebesta Lumeli said any violations and abuse of women and girl children, need to be dealt with decisively if GBV is to end.