As the church continues to respond to the scourge of gender based violence in the communities, the Justice and Peace Commission of the Southern African Catholic Bishops Conference, is running a campaign called the Men as Peacemakers. The aim of the campaign is to promote positive masculinity through influencing a change of attitudes and behaviour among the men so that they, in turn, become active agents of change in the fight against gender based violence. The Men as Peacemakers campaign is inspired by the story of the Beatitudes in the gospel of Mathew 5: 9: ‘Blessed are the peacemakers they shall be called sons of God’.

The Justice and Peace Department is also running a pilot project under the Men as Peacemakers Campaign that seeks to provide counselling and paralegal assistance to survivors of gender based violence as from this year. To kick start the process, 36 participants who included 8 priests and 24 lay leaders, from 5 dioceses (Pretoria, Tzaneen, Klerksdorp, Witbank and Port Elizabeth) attended a training course held from the 15th-21st of February at Lumko Institute in Johannesburg. The training which was offered by Lifeline Pretoria equipped participants with skills on how to assist survivors of trauma, rape, domestic violence, drugs and substance abuse. The participants will be expected to offer services to fellow parishioners and community members. They are also expected to link with their local police stations and courts and act as referrals for people who need help.

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Some of the participants during the training

“As Christians, our ministry of bringing hope and God’s love to the survivors of gender based violence includes being active agents of transformation in the justice system. It is estimated that only 1 in 9 survivors of sexual offences report these incidents, and of the reported incidents (38,212) there are some 4493 convictions. The current low rates of reporting of incidents and convictions contributes to the impunity of offenders. To ensure increased reporting, we need to work hard to ensure that the justice system improves the turnaround period for cases, the conviction rates and the way the survivors are treated at the police stations and in the courts. ” says Father Stan Muyebe, the Coordinator for SACBC Justice and Peace Commission.

Speaking at the end of the training, Fr Linda Zwane who is also an Ambassador of the Men as Peacemakers Campaign from Witbank Diocese had this to say, “the counselling and paralegal skills we have acquired will help us when we are dealing with survivors of domestic violence in our communities. I have learnt to appreciate the skill of listening. I am of the view that most of the people I am going to encounter will need someone to listen and empower them to move on. This is the greatest gift which I will be able to offer to my parishioners and people of Nelspruit at large”.

All the 36 participants will receive ongoing support from Lifeline offices from their respective dioceses. The Justice and Peace Commission has also secured the services of a Psychologist who will assist the counsellors with debriefing. Based on the lessons learnt from this pilot and funding permitting, it is expected that more dioceses will be involved in this project later in the year.

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