The Second Presidential Summit on GBVF – What Does Accountability Mean for the Faith Sector?
“We are all equal. As soon as some of us are set up as superior, some sort of violence will occur.”
This was the stern warning from Hindu faith teachings shared by Ms Ela Gandhi, Trustee of the Mahatma Gandhi Trust, at a challenging online conversation that grappled with the question: What does accountability mean for the faith sector?
This took place as part of the run-up to the upcoming second Summit on GBVF in November, which will focus on achievements and challenges in the first two years of the National Strategic Plan on GBVF, and will plan concrete ways forward for all sectors.
Fashioned as a ‘talk show’, the speaker and panellists responded to questions from the facilitator and participants that focused on:
- WHY be accountable?
- To WHOM?
- For WHAT?
- And HOW?
As a backdrop to the panel conversation, we were fortunate to hear Tamara Braam, Senior Gender-Based Violence Specialist in the Office of the President of South Africa, offer a clear overview of the road to the NSP and beyond. Our esteemed panellists were: Ela Gandhi, Trustee of Gandhi Development Trust and Co-President of global Religions for Peace; Nompilo Gcwensa, Chairperson of Phephisa Survivor’s Network and WWSOSA ManCom member; Suraya Bibi Bhyat-Khan, National Convenor, SAWID Peace Commission; and Bishop Malusi Mpumlwana, General Secretary, South African Council of Churches; Bishop, Ethiopian Episcopal Church
Ms Braam spoke frankly:
“To end GBV, faith leaders need to ensure their voices are heard for advocacy and working towards solutions, but also for examining themselves as leaders and structures so they don’t inadvertently hide or normalise GBV.”
In his input, Bishop Mpumlwana emphasised that:
“Churches are a microcosm of society so if we transform the church, we transform society.”
Further, he boldly asserted that
“To bring change, the faith sector must work with faith institutions which are often part of the toxicity. Faith cannot be isolated from what is happening in community and society generally. In the context of GBV, we don’t want to find ourselves in a position where we are challenged for our own hypocrisy and violation of human rights.”
Ms Gandhi echoed this:
“As faith leaders, we cannot look at GBV in isolation from violence, poverty and unemployment. This setting is a fertile ground in which GBV grows. Context matters.”
It was recognised that faith leaders are role models and are looked up to as authoritative voices. This means they have a responsibility to model new ways of being, loving, parenting. Ms Bhyat-Khan challenged the conference:
“We need to ask ourselves- As people of faith, how is our work survivor-informed?”
WWSOSA claims to be survivor-centred in its approach, with survivors represented on its Management Committee to guide this. This challenge was a reminder to ask ourselves – what does ‘survivor-informed’ mean, in practice?
Ms Nompilo Gcwensa, the survivor representative on the panel, explained that:
“We need to ensure our places of worship are safe spaces that are inclusive. A church is a place of restoration and creating a safe space is more than just providing a room – it is in how we carry survivors and the language we use as well as the tone of voice.”
From the discussion with the 70 participants (though loadshedding affected attendance), a strong theme emerged on the need for faith leaders to be accountable to themselves and God first. Ms Gandhi put it this way:
“As faith leaders and people of faith, we need to be accountable to ourselves first – to our conscience and our belief systems. Then only can we be accountable to each other and create accountable structures.
“If we are truly accountable, we need to promote certain values in society: responsibility as our neighbour’s keeper, equality, and compassion and human dignity. Then our nation can change.”
Bishop Mpumlwana urged the faith sector to focus on all the pillars of the National Strategic Plan on GBVF:
“When we talk of the faith sector’s accountability to ending GBV, we must also take action on prevention which results in changed behaviour as this is also where accountability lies.”
This is the third in a series of faith sector conversations about gender-based violence, the National Strategic Plan on GBVF, the upcoming National Summit, and most important of all – what our God, the God of Many Names, requires of us now and as we move into an increasingly violent and uncertain future.