Churches can help combat GBV

Churches can help combat GBV

Date: December 8, 2011
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The church in Malawi is a respected source of information and an enforcer of a “moral code,” so it plays a pivotal role in the fight against gender-based violence (GBV). Despite Malawi being a signatory of the 2008 SADC Protocol on Gender and Development and other gender-related protocols, the arduous task of leveling the unequal and vast field of gender issues, including GBV remains. Research shows that GBV, mainly against women, is entrenched in the country’s traditions and beliefs.

According to the World Council of Churches, Christians make up 77% of the population, while 16% are Muslims and 7% are of African traditional beliefs. However, an increasing number of people are being attracted by Independent churches, (a brand of protestant evangelicals emphasising bible teaching and the work and manifestation of the Holy Spirit). This is against the background of little or no training for ministry, much less counseling.

Independent churches claim, however, that using Bible teachings is helping combat GBV, through preaching, teaching, counseling and other methods. Some independent churches say that GBV regular church programmes for families is helping to curb problems before they happen.

Rev. Geoffrey Matoga is senior pastor of Faith of God Ministries International, a Pentecostal church headquartered in Blantyre. He explains that his church, (whose vision in part is to make and reach professionals, housed in a modern complex that sits 500 people), depends on regular teachings to change the attitudes of people towards GBV within the congregation.

“We normally teach people how to live right and that God desires that they have a happy life,” he says. “From our general teachings people know that it is not the will of God for people to be in abusive relationships, to abuse or to suffer in anyway.”

The former academic also adds that the church has other activities, such as youth, men’s, women’s, marriage and other seminars, that strengthen families and teach general behaviour. These forums also deal with some harmful traditional beliefs.

“We have all sorts of activities where we teach people how to live and how to expect to be treated. We also teach people how to reconcile traditional beliefs with sound bible principles and laws of the land,” he says.

Despite such preventative church teaching, bad things often happen to good people, as they say. Many church members are still victims of GBV. How do these independent churches deal with victims given that many of them have few trained workers?

One trained veteran pastor is Rev. Willie Chaponda, Founder and Overseer of Mustard Seed Ministries, an independent church based in the high density suburb of Machinjiri in Blantyre city. Unlike Matoga’s Faith of God, Chaponda’s church is in a low income area, a stereotypical hub for poverty, crime and disease. Yet, Mustard Seed boasts great success in impacting its community, and helping victims of GBV.

“We don’t have a complicated funded programme in place in our church. We simply teach biblical teachings about family love and responsibility and we have found that there is little evidence of gender-based violence in our churches because of our teachings,” says Chaponda, who has over 30 years of experience of reaching disadvantaged communities, planting rural and peril-urban churches. “Over the years we have counseled many people and have prayed for them and we have seen them recover and be successful.”

Asked whether victims would refrain from reporting cases of GBV to the church due to shame of a perception of “holiness” and perfection, Chaponda says people in the church are like other members of society with problems, fears and shameful experiences. The difference is the atmosphere created.

“We create an atmosphere where people feel free to talk and are connected to our pastoral staff. We create a system of accountability within our churches to enable people to come openly when they have such issues in their families or outside, many come to us for prayer and counseling,” he says. Chaponda adds that many people contact the church because of a weekly programme on family living aired on a national radio station.

Explaining the normal procedure for dealing with GBV survivors, Chaponda says counseling of the parties involved is the most basic remedy. “We usually arrange for counseling for couples if there are issues between married people, or individuals if it’s any other type of situation. Through listening, encouraging and reference to the healing power of the word of God people are encouraged and equipped to face the future” he says.

Where counseling fails and where situations are grave, both Matoga and Chaponda say the seek police and legal intervention. “If actions of gender-based violence are life threatening, extremely damaging or recurrent, we help victims to get help from the police and to follow the due process of law,” says Matoga.

In the absence of proper training in many churches have benefitted from a handbook printed and distributed by The Ecumenical Counselling Centre (ECC), a faith based organisation established by umbrella organisations of traditional and non-traditional denominations and some Christian service organisations.

The manual was designed to address several aspects of GBV including, human rights, biblical teaching, causes, effects, remedies and the relationship between GBV and HIV/Aids. Commenting on the effectiveness of the manual, ECC’s Jimmy Mbalame says there was need to come up with a practical strategy against GBV, given the high instances of cases at its inception before 2007.

“The book was a collective work with consultants and officers and the aim was to rebuke the cruelty that was prevalent within families and in the society as a whole. We realised that GBV was also there in the church and many people did not want GBV in their churches so this was a good solution,” said Mbalame.

As for its success, Mbalame says the handbook, which targets church leaders, priests, and lay workers, has worked beyond expectations.
“It is working wonders. Many church workers have been trained through the programme and we have seen changes after people were armed with information,” he says.

Although the constitution of Malawi upholds the principle of equal rights for men and women and prohibits any discrimination based on gender or marital status, gender based violence is apparent in Malawian society in all its forms including, domestic violence, property grabbing, rape, unequal opportunities and others. Perfecting intervention through all types of churches and religious institutions is a powerful tool to combat GBV.

June Lamba writes from Malawi. This article is part of the GL Opinion and Commentary Service series for the 16 Days of Activism.




3 thoughts on “Churches can help combat GBV”

Louis Lason Changula says:

Good morning from Zambia. I have come across this very interesting article on Internet about how the Church can help stop Gender Based Violence. You talk about a Manual that has helped some Malawian Curvhes in this regard. How can I get this manual?

Louis Lason Changula says:

I am a pastor wanting to open a church in one the towns in Zambia and am concerned about the escalating gender based violence where a number of lives are lost almost on a daily basis. I believe that pastors and other religious workers have a duty to help save souls of men and women, and ushering them into the Kingdom of Heaven. Kindly see how you can help.

LEFIKA says:

let me find out i will help you dont worry

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