Bishop Victor Phalana: Speak Out on GBV ‘Pandemic’
Violence against women and children in South Africa is a “pandemic” which the government has to do more to fight, according to the Justice & Peace Commission (J&P) of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference.
A statement signed by J&P chair Bishop Victor Phalana said that while some recent government measures—harsher punishments for perpetrators, the introduction of sexual offences courts, and the appointment of a steering committee to formulate a strategic plan—are encouraging, “we are of the view that more can and should be done to deal with this scourge”.
Bishop Phalana called for a process of rethinking the approach to gender-based violence and femicide, drawing parallels from the response to the Covid-19 pandemic that witnessed the involvement of government departments, the business sector, civil society and ordinary citizens in their efforts to flatten the infection curve.
“If government departments, the business sector and civil society could pull billions of financial resources together and, along with ordinary citizens, comply with stringent physical and social distancing measures in the fight against Covid-19, we are of the view that it is possible for a similarly aggressive and holistic approach to be used in the fight [against] gender-based violence and femicide,” Bishop Phalana said.
“Our call for an aggressive and holistic approach is guided by the fact that the government identified gender-based violence as one of the most defining public health, social and human rights issues that confront and affect the country today,” he said.
“This call continues to invite everyone from the government departments, business sector, civil society, media and ordinary South Africans to join forces and continue to play their part as we have seen in the fight against Covid-19,” the statement said.
The culture of “bystanderism”, Bishop Phalana said, needs to be eradicated as gender-based violence thrives in a climate of silence.
“We must all work with government to ensure a safer society for women and children. It is the responsibility of government to eradicate the scourge through legislation, tough police action and hefty court sentences for perpetrators,” he said.
J&P is calling on all churches to provide care, to become educated about this issue and preach a clear message that says: “God says no to the violence inflicted by men on women and children. God created our whole being: heart, mind and body.”
“Those bodies that are being assaulted are loved by Christ. These bodies remain precious. God grieves deeply when we inflict gender-based violence on anyone,” Bishop Phalana said.