On Sunday, I was fortunate to hear a sermon by Rev. Marion Gledhill, a Deacon with the Uniting Church in Australia and a guest preacher at Dudley Memorial Methodist Church. Rev. Gledhill, who is visiting Fiji with her husband Malcom, shared a reflection for “Christ the King Sunday,” the last Sunday before the Christian season of Advent (the preparation month leading to the celebration of the birth of Jesus – “Christmas”) which was also woven with threads from “Breaking the Silence Sunday.”
“Breaking the Silence Sunday,” marked the Sunday before the 16 Days of Activism agalnst Violence Against Women and Children, which runs from November 25th to December 10th. In December 1999, the General Assembly of the United Nations (UN) adopted Resolution 54/134 proclaiming 25 November as the International Day for Elimination of Violence against Women, calling the world to account for violations of human rights manifested in often unreported and unacknowledged life-denying experiences faced by women of all ages.
The date of 25 November was selected because on that day in 1960 three Mirabal Sisters were assassinated by the dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo (1930-61) in the Dominican Republic. The 16 days of activism also include 6 December, the anniversary of the 1989 massacre in Montreal when 14 women engineering students at the Ecole Polytechnique were murdered and many others wounded by a student who claimed that he was ―fighting feminism. These and other significant dates, acknowledged and unrecorded, are incorporated in the 16-day observance along with three related UN observances: International Women‘s Human Rights Defenders Day (29 November), World AIDS Day (1 December) and International Human Rights Day (10 December).
According to a joint paper by the Women in Church and Society, made up of the World Council of Churches (WCC), the World YWCA (Young Women‘s Christian Association) and the World Student Christian Federation (WSCF), “justice and peace are key concerns linked within the strategic advocacy underlying these 16 days of activism. It is a time for raising awareness in preparation for a paradigm shift away from the denial of women‘s human rights and the high HIV infection rates of abused and violated women, shifting toward the end of a world culture in which violence against women is tolerated.”
The stark reality continues to cry out to us : a lot of people are subject to domestic abuse, of one form or another. A lot. About 1 in 3 women globally and some men as well, from different backgrounds, rich, poor, young, old. More women are killed or maimed through domestic violence than through war, AIDS, cancer as well as road traffic collisions combined. We don’t often talk about it. We don’t like to acknowledge it. We might even make jokes about it. It may be hidden, but it is going on all around us.
The World Council of Churches (WCC) is working toward the revival of “Thursdays in Black”, a campaign against sexual and gender-based violence. The emphasis is pertinent to the theme of the World Council of Churches’ recently concluded general assembly: “God of life, lead us to justice and peace”.
On 31 October 2013, during the WCC 10th Assembly in Busan, Republic of Korea, many of us, including the 21 young people from the Pacific, Pasifika Oikoumene, wore black. Through this simple gesture, we took our place in the global movement urging an end to violence against women.
Thursday in Black has a link with Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, a movement of mothers who protested against the policy of having dissidents "disappeared", a term used to describe people killed during the political violence in Argentina between the 1970s and 1980s. These mothers walked around Plazo de Mayo in Buenos Aires, every Thursday, to register their protest to the responsible authorities.
Thursdays in Black was started by the WCC in the 1980's as a form of peaceful protest against rape and violence – especially taking place during wars and conflicts. The campaign focuses on ways through which individuals may challenge attitudes that cause rape and violence.
“Thursdays in Black”, according to Dr Fulata Mbano-Moyo, WCC programme executive for Women in Church and Society, is a “united global expression of the desire for safe communities where we can all walk safely without fear of being raped, shot at, beaten up, verbally abused and discriminated against due to one’s gender or sexual orientation.”
Thursdays in Black has influenced several church and ecumenical initiatives in the 1970s and 1980s, including the Ecumenical Decade of Churches in Solidarity with Women. The campaign was further strengthened by the “Women in Black” campaign born out of women-to-women solidarity visits to Serbia and Croatia during the Balkan war in the 1990s. Through this initiative, Serbian women called people to join them in speaking against the use of rape as a weapon of war
“Through this campaign we want to accompany our sisters, who bear the scars of violence, invisible and visible, in Syria, Palestine and Israel, Egypt, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Pakistan and the whole world, where women’s bodies remain a battlefield, whether in armed conflict or so-called ‘peaceful’ situations,” adds Mbano-Moyo.“Through this campaign we are demanding a world free of rape and violence!”
Rev. Marion’s message on Sunday was simple and yet profound, from a Christian perspective, Jesus as the Christ, was crucified under the sign “King of the Jews”. This symbolism of the powerful experiencing and accompanying the powerless is an important message for the Christian community. The Church as a community must be a safe space for those suffering from violence and also must also be the voice of the voiceless who suffer within the community and in society at large.
We know that God cares about this. He hears the cries of those suffering. And we must care because God cares. We may not have all the answers, but we know that this behaviour is wrong, we must care about those who are suffering, and the suffering must stop.
I encourage leaders of the Christian community to make use of the next two Sundays that fall within the 16 Days of Activism to “Break the Silence” on the issue of violence against women and children. All faith communities in Fiji are challenged in their own gatherings to make sure that the significance of the 16 Days is not lost on their communities.
This coming Thursday (tomorrow) and the Thursdays to come, wear black to show your solidarity with those who experience powerlessness and violence, in all its forms in our families, our communities and our society as a whole.
“Simplicity, Serenity, Spontaneity.”