Rev. Amy Gopp, IMA’s new Vice President of External Relations, moderated a panel titled “Ending Sexual and Gender-Based Violence” as part of the capstone event of the 75th anniversary for Episcopal Relief and Development, one of IMA’s key member organizations and implementing partner.
The panel began with an introduction by Kirsten Laursen Muth, Senior Director for International Programs for Episcopal Relief and Development and former board member of IMA. “How do faith leaders change attitudes and social norms in their communities?” she asked. Rev. Gopp and Ms. Muth are key founding leaders of the interfaith We Will Speak Out U.S. coalition. The coalition, hosted by IMA, is a movement of diverse faith groups from across the United States that joined together for action and advocacy to end the silence around sexual and gender-based violence.
The panel focused on how to engage leaders and communities to prevent and respond to gender-based violence. Panel members were Louise Bashige, IMA’s Senior Technical Advisor on Gender Based Violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Annette Musu Kiawu, National Director for the Episcopal Church of Liberia, Relief and Development.
Ms. Bashige’s presentation touched on her personal history with SGBV in the DRC. “Gender-based violence has touched my life since childhood,” she said. “My father had four wives, and the way he treated them aroused anger and feelings of revolt from an early age.”
When she was 18, Ms. Bashige married a Christian man in the hopes of having a different life than her mother. However, her husband turned out to be demanding and wasn’t interested in her as a person. “I was so unhappy,” she said.
But she chose not to suffer in silence.
Ms. Bashige spoke out about her frustrations with women in her church group. She discovered that others lived in similar situations. Some described much worse cases of violence.
The women asked the elders in the church to organize couple’s meetings so men and woman could talk about their issues and improve their relationships. “Thirty years later, these meetings still take place, and my marriage is one of openness and equality,” Ms. Bashige said.
Ms. Bashige has dedicated her life to teaching people about gender-based violence. She designs and implements training and curriculum on GBV prevention, as well as medical, psychosocial, economic and legal support survivors of violence require.
Ms. Bashige said her work begins by gaining the trust of communities and leaders by involving them in all stages of her work. Her strategy includes sharing information about power, gender, violence and consent. She educates leaders about the legal rights of women and children and explains the different forms of GBV, their contributing factors and consequences.
Her experience has taught her that faith leaders and faith communities are a great asset—and in many cases, the best asset. “In time of conflict and in times of peace, they remain in the community,” she said. “When religious leaders are truly informed, engaged and equipped, they are very powerful change agents.”
Ms. Musu Kiawu’s presentation focused on gender-based violence since the end of the civil war hostilities in Liberia.
“The continuation and even upsurge in gender-based violence remains one of Liberia’s major post-conflict challenges,” she said.
She explained that many organizations are working to prevent gender-based violence. Liberia’s Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection has teamed up with all stakeholders to improve coordination and collaboration of interventions through a National GBV Task Force. To support the efforts, Bishop Jonathan B. B. Hart, Bishop of the Episcopal Church of Liberia, has become involved in advocacy activities.
Both women acknowledged that they have seen and heard faith leaders interpreting scripture to condone violence. “We believe that faith leaders have the power to reclaim misused verses and emphasize others,” Ms. Musu Kiawu said.
Her presentation ended by mentioning the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals. “SDG 5 calls on governments, with the help of civil society organizations and others, to achieve, not just promote, gender equality and empowerment, specifically targeting women and girls,” she said. “We are confident that our ongoing work in Liberia is contributing to help make this goal a reality.”
The panel echoed the theme of the symposium, “Supporting Community Transformation.” The event energized and inspired participants through sharing ideas and stories of programs that are saving lives and changing the world every day.
IMA celebrates the work and witness of Episcopal Relief and Development and the partnership shared, with high hopes for the next 75 years.