Group urges women to fight against sexual and gender violence.
Women have been urged to break the silence on Sexual and Gender Based Violence.
The Executive Director of the International Network of Religious Leaders Living with or Personally affected by HIV and AIDS, in South Africa, Rev. Phumzile Mabizela, made the appeal at a two day workshop in Abuja, Nigeria.
She said that the menace had persisted because women or the victims have been keeping quiet about it.
The religious leader noted that religious and political leaders also have a role to play in ending gender based violence and stigmatization against persons living positively with HIV in Africa.
“We can’t actually win the battle against HIV if we continue educating our communities to do away with the stigma. We have to make sure that our faith centres are places of healing where people who are living with HIV and other deadly ailments can go to and be cared for, also to assure them that they are still special in God’s eyes,” she said.
Rev. Phumzile, also said that with love, care and empowerment, people living with or affected by HIV would impact on the society.
” It’s our responsibility to empower each other. People’s lives will only change if we give them information that will enable them make wiser decisions. I think our resources are going into the right place because we are educating and empowering women committed to the development of the people in their community and are also committed to the development of their faith communities,” Phumzile said.
She blamed African religious leaders for always making men feel like they were superior to women which leads to gender based violence.
“I think one of the things to be done is to challenge how men understand masculinity. Masculinity is a huge problem and men are socialized to believe they are strong, and shouldn’t be emotional.
We need to demistify those myths and say to out men that they are human and possess the right to be emotional and vulnerable if necessary. Also allow women to share their experiences, things that render them vulnerable and find ways of addressing those issues”.
She stressed that the African culture has evolved in many ways but those in position of authority still hold on to the part that encourages the oppression of women.
“The challenge with culture is that, it’s not static, culture evolves over time but the people who are in power want to keep those practices they benefit from. Our responsibility is to help people understand that culture is a human construct, it can be deconstructed and reconstructed, we also need to agree that if we are able to change some aspects of culture like the way dress and the food we eat why is it difficult to change other aspect of culture like the abuse of women,
The oppression and undermining of women and not giving spaces to make decisions or choices. In other words, we need to point out those aspects that our communities have decided not to change while everything around us is changing” she added.
Rev. Phumzile Mabizela appealed to African leaders to make women welfare priority for a better continent.
On her part, the National Coordinator of the Nigeria Network of Religious Leaders Living with or Personally affected by HIV and AIDS, and the organiser of the Two day Workshop, Amber Erinmwinhe, said that through the works of the organisation, alot of successes have been recorded.
She noted that the two day workshop afforded women the opportunity to express themselves and speak out about the ill affecting women in Nigeria.
According Amber, religious leaders need to create conducive atmosphere for free interaction between persons living with HIV, those being abused and the church.
She also stressed that there should be enforcement of existing laws governing on Sexual and Gender Based Violence in Nigeria as the implementation is weak.
Religious bodies at the workshop described sexual and gender based violence and discrimination against people living with HIV/AIDS as evil that must be fought against.