Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa addressed the Rhema Bible Church on Sunday during the official launch of the campaign. Photo: EPA
This past week saw the launch of a multi-sector campaign against violence towards women and children. The sectors involved included faith-based organisations, government, business and other civil society organisations.

It started with a briefing to the media last Tuesday and climaxed with Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa attending and addressing the Rhema Bible Church on Sunday during the official launch of the campaign.

Though supported and run in partnership with the Ministry in The Presidency responsible for Women, Children and People with Disabilities, the Ministry of Police and the Gauteng Provincial government, what gets me motivated about this campaign is the partnership with and involvement of civil ­society.

Violence against women and children is a societal matter and a sectarian approach in dealing with it will not take us far. It is the kind of challenge that should see us placing our differences aside, uniting as a nation to tackle what is indeed a national problem.

The government will not be able to resolve it alone, a point emphasised by the deputy president, and neither will civil society or the police. We need a partnership and I am hopeful that this working together will make a dent on this scourge.

We have seen and read about a spate of violent attacks against women and children. But we know that this ugly phenomenon is not limited to the high profile cases highlighted in media reports - there are many women and children in the rural areas and townships who do not get any media coverage but are suffering like all victims across the country.

For us to deal with this problem, we need to understand what it is. The reality is that gender-based violence is a crime of power - one that seeks to uphold patriarchal laws and control the female body in the framework of historically unequal power structures between men and women. It is a problem that belongs to society and therefore a crime by society.

According to Statistics SA’s 2016 survey, one in every five South African women older than 18 has experienced physical violence. Four in 10 divorced or separated women reported physical violence and one in every three young South Africans has experienced some form of sexual abuse in their lives.

These numbers are shocking and should inject a sense of urgency in all of us in dealing with the problem.

It is because of such stats and our deep conviction about gender equality that we as religious leaders thought to unite with other stakeholders in our society and to partner with our government to speak with a united voice to highlight the scourge and stand up against it, hence this campaign.

The objectives of the campaign are for all South Africans - men and women - to stand up against violence towards women and children and to heighten national consciousness about the issue.

The launch was planned for the week preceding “Women’s Month” as we thought it fitting to not only honour women, but to stand up against their abuse. The campaign is not a once off - we are planning to roll out a series of activities once a month until the 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children in December and we encourage every sector and stakeholder to do the same in their spheres of influence so that together we can make a maximum impact.

The one activity we can all rally behind is the Thursdays in Black, a national and international campaign of solidarity and advocacy against all forms of sexual and gender-based violence.

This is a simple but powerful campaign in which people around the world wear black as a symbol of strength and courage, representing solidarity with victims and survivors of violence and calling for a world without rape and violence.

This can be an effective way of making a personal stance against attitudes that perpetuate violence against women and children. It can raise public consciousness.

But we should go beyond wearing black. There are sectoral interventions we can make. In the religious community, we need to start interrogating how some of our beliefs and practices contribute to the oppression and women and children.

The history of my faith, Christianity, shows that in its early days it had a great appeal to women. It still does.

In a world where women were viewed as household property or second-class citizens, it is conceivable that women were drawn to Christianity because its central figure, Jesus, elevated their worth and status.

The Bible has many stories where Jesus showed extraordinary kindness and care to women - even women that churches would reject today. The question we need to ask is: where do Christianity’s beliefs and practices that oppress women come from? We need to isolate those and scripturally interrogate them.

In education, we need to examine the school curriculum, both overt and hidden, and how it may be contributing to gender discrimination.

The portrayal of women in the media and communications industry in general - the objectification of women’s bodies is still prevalent in our mass media.

We need to start conversations in newsrooms about this matter.

The same applies to the workplace where even in the 21st century there are still ideas and practices (for example unequal pay, diminished responsibilities, positional bias and glass ceilings) that suggest women are inferior to men.

It is when we begin to interrogate all these and have discussions in our spheres of influence that we will begin to make a dent on violence against women.

* McCauley is a prominent religious leader, Senior Pastor of Rhema Bible Church