Gender Based Violence and the Bible

By Kgothatso Mokoena, World YWCA Programme Associate. Kgothatso is attending the 10th Assembly of the World Council of Churches (WCC) held in Busan, Korea.

Violence against women and girls has been described as one of the most wicked, systematic and prevalent human rights abuses in the world by the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.


Rev Thabo Makhoba- Arch- Bishop of Cape Town, South Africa & Kgothatso

To illustrate the scope of this atrocity and the lack of justice in many situations, is the story of 28 year old Shrien Dewani from India, who was murdered in Cape Town, South Africa. A taxi driver, Zola Tongo, admitted the murder claiming the Shrien’s husband, had offered R15,000.00 to have his wife killed! The South African courts ruled the victim’s husband could be extradited to face the charges but so far nothing has happened. There is also the tragic circumstance of Oscar Pistorious’s killing of his long term girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, falsely describedas self-defense!  Many other crimes against women remain unrecorded.

These two reports are amongst many which remind us of the negative impact of gender based violence in our communities.

South Africa has 14, 860 rape- GBV cases reported every year, and India has doubled its number to about 24,206 since 2010, of these only 26% resulted in conviction. The South Africa filed memorandum in 2010 indicated that Government and police failures were the root of crimes against women, with insuficient recognition of discrimination, exploitation and suppression of women by political leaders.

Although legislation provides the umbrella, government and social structures have left women and their causes eroding and drenched in a thunderstorm of inequality.

Every year at the Human Right Council, countries report on laws, policies and regulations and proposing new amendment or resolutions on policies in place. Recently most countries have replaced “rape” with the broader term “sexual assaults” . The change is welcome, but to me insufficient. More laws do not change the reality that existing ones remain unimplemented.

In relation to the church,  biblical injunctions are misinterpreted and used to justify the oppression of women. The church also teaches us that husbands are to love their wives in the same way Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her (Ephesians 5:25). This “giving up‟ carries the implication of giving up one’s rights or privileges, but if Jesus is the example, it extends even to laying down one’s life for the other. This is the perspective which is to characterise a Christian husband’s attitude to his wife.

The extent to which patriarchy has distorted the scriptural teachings and messages of the world’s religions has meant that until now, many women have remained silent and accepted abuse, vulnerable to further emotional or physical violence, trapped in abusive situations and likely to blame themselves.

I was recently at the African Union Summit and the ITI organised by the World YWCA, with young women from over 45 countries. As a community worker I’ve always believed that young women must be given tools to change their communities – education, opportunities, choices, access to their rights and spaces to express themselves without fear (at schools, churches, home, etc).

I call upon civil society, religious communities,  the UN and its respective agencies to hold member states accountable. To make every effort to explore all possibilities to bring mechanisms such as the CEDAW, Beijing declaration, Resolution 1820 relevant to the millions of women and girls in the world exposed to these atrocities.

We are approaching the 2015 deadline on the MDGs, I urge our leaders to include elimination of all forms of violence against women as a target for the next phase, as we also continue with interfaith dialogues to help address this issue.

Every future atrocity – reported or not – in my country or elsewhere, confirms that there is still a long way to go. Kgothatso ya Bakoena