Educating young boys and girls key to addressing gender-based violence

[Anglican Communion News Service] Bishop William Mchombo of the Diocese of Eastern Zambia has advised that educating young boys and girls on the equality of men and women is the key to addressing issues of gender-based violence in Africa.

The bishop was reflecting on International Women’s Day and how the event can better be used by the church to address the rising levels of gender violence on the continent.

“We need to start educating our boys from a tender age to understand that a woman is not an inferior being. Girls also need to be taught that a man is not a superior being. This would help bring about a generation that understands that a man and woman are supposed to live in harmony as equals,” he said. “If more men participate, it would help alleviate the subjection of women to oppression. More men ought to be invited to such programs and when possible every married woman should bring their spouse to such an event.”

Zacharia Luhanga, deputy permanent secretary for the Eastern Province of Zambia, said that the government of Zambia applauds women for their contribution to development of the country in the different spheres of their operations.

However, he acknowledged the many challenges that women have to deal with in a “male-dominated” society. “In Zambia, this event is being celebrated behind the backdrop of despicable acts — mostly perpetuated by men — ranging from wife battering, defilement and rape,” he lamented.

“We are overwhelmed with news of young girls or women being raped, defiled or murdered somewhere within the country. It is most shaming that in most cases, it is a person who is well known and even trusted by victims who is behind such heinous crimes,” the government official said.

The Rev. Dannis Milanzi, vicar general of Eastern Zambia and director of Kachere Development Programmes, the social and project wing of the diocese, acknowledged the difficulty faced by women to attain personal freedom.

“Traditionally and culturally [in Africa], it is very difficult for a woman to get a loan from the bank to start their own businesses. Banks will usually ask for collateral and a letter of consent from the husband. If well empowered, women have the potential to raise their own funds and become independent,” he said.

He was referring to the relationship that exists between financial freedom and gender-based violence concluding that a woman who is independent stands a better chance of avoiding both verbal and physical abuse.

Meanwhile, the Anglican Diocese of Eastern Zambia on March 7 celebrated its first ever candlelight vigil service in the town of Chipata as a preparatory step for International Women’s Day.

“For the first time in Chipata (Zambia), we have had a vigil candlelight service in commemoration of women and men who have died because of gender based violence,” announced Mchombo.

The service that was held in St. Anne’s Roman Catholic Cathedral was attended by Christians from various denominations and a number of Zambian government officials including the deputy permanent secretary for the Eastern Province of Zambia.

Fr. Gabriel Nyoni, priest of St. Anne’s Cathedral, welcomed all the congregants to the cathedral and encouraged them to “feel free to interact” saying “in the house of the Lord, no evil can disturb our service.”

Speaking during the service, Milanzi said, “ Sexual and physical abuse happens in all types if families. What happened in Tamar’s family [the biblical story] is an indication that there is the capacity for people to allow their sexuality to become abusive.”

Mchombo was grateful for the many people who attended the event.  “This years’ commemoration has been very impressive in terms of turnout. We have had people from various denominations turning out in large numbers. Many others have come in from government and the private sector,” he said.

Commenting on an Anglican church service being hosted in a Roman Catholic cathedral, the bishop said: “The names of the denominations that we have are in a way artificial. The church is supposed to be one except we have chosen to give each other different names.”

“As the [Anglican] Church, we work ecumenically,” he said. “We decided to come together on this issue because of a common objective. Issues of gender-based abuse affect all of us [and] we are grateful to God for the way the church is able to work together on issues of common interest.”

“For instance, with the Roman Catholics, we share the management of St. Francis Hospital which our biggest hospital in the [eastern] province. Our motivation is to serve humanity and bring about dignity to our people in terms of provision of good services,” he said.

The bishop encouraged men to participate fully in such events. He said, “Our menfolk should participate in such events because it’s men who seem to be ignorant about the importance of such events.

“Men and women need to complement each other. One thing that is so prominent in the creation story is the creation of man and woman in the image of God. This shows that a woman and a man are created equal.”

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