Sadly, she admits, religion has so often been a part of the problem rather than the solution. ‘Faith teachings have too often been used to justify or condone gender inequality, which is a root cause of this violence within communities”.’
However she believes the faith groups have a unique potential to prevent SGBV, as well as care for survivors. ‘If the local church leader starts to teach the Bible verses that “God created men and women as equal in his image,” then you can start to challenge culture from within, to change attitudes in a whole village.’
Forty year old Josephine Ayerango is a midwife from Mbr’bu village, Ituri Province. Josephine has joined the local community action group set up by the project; ‘I want my community to change, to see no more cases of sexual violence here.’ She says she sees many examples of sexual violence in her job, and describes how the stigma associated with it meant that women were ignored and shunned, rather than given the help they so desperately needed.
Opening minds and hearts
‘At the start it was difficult to talk about these things, but now we are seeing some changes. Before, someone who was raped felt ashamed, like she has to hide. Since we are trained, we can tell people how to help someone who is raped. We help them to get to the health centre to be treated. Now we welcome them in our church, we even take them into our own family.’ In fact, Josephine has done just this, taking a 16 year-old survivor into her own home when her family rejected her.
It’s not just the women of Josephine’s village that have been transformed by the message of the project, which is funded by the UK Department for International Development under the ‘What Works to Prevent Violence Against Women Global Programme.’ ‘I have seen a change in myself,’ admits Samuel*, a member of the community action group in another village in Libi. ‘Before, I was beating my wife – I was very brutal. I didn’t really think of this as violence. But in the training, I realised this was a bad way to be. I have stopped beating, it is very calm now in my house.’
The change in behaviour has extended into other areas of everyday life; ‘Before the training, I thought that housework is only for the wife,’ says Dieudonné, a pastor at the local church in Ngiri. ‘But now I am helping, and my wife is very happy. Now we make decisions together.’
‘It is not only people in the community action group, some other men in the community are now doing these things,’ adds pastor Dieudonné. ‘For men to wash clothes, or carry firewood– that’s a big difference in our culture!’
‘My husband also did the training,’ adds Mariam. ‘He did help me before, but now since the training he is doing even more. Sometimes we start to quarrel, and now he says, no, let us not have verbal violence between us!’