Parliamentary Speaker Baleka Mbete has questioned the role played by churches in 21st century society and slammed women for not always speaking out against violence.
Ms Mbete was speaking at the two-day Ilitha Labantu Consultation Dialogue at the Gugulethu sports complex on Thursday November 29 and Friday November 30.
The dialogue was themed: “Engaging the Power of Religion and Belief to End Gender-Based Violence and Advance Human Rights and Dignity”.
The aim of the event was to find a lasting solution to crime, not only in the townships but churches too.
Speaking on Thursday, Ms Mbete said recently there have been churches springing up which are not for the common good but to enrich individuals.
She slammed the community and the congregants for not asking questions when church leaders are involved in gender-based violence.
She also took a swipe at women who oppress others by telling them not to speak out about their cases.
“There is a culture of silence and pretending that all is well from the abused women. But there is a phenomenon of women putting pressure on other women not to report their men as abusers. Little girls are made to suffer. Even us as their mothers we shut them down when they need protection and safety. Women are complicit. Mothers should refrain from suppressing young girls when they report to them.”
She said young survivors had to carry the burden of acting as if all was well. She said in most cases, young girls live a life of suffering in silence.
Mama Mbete said this month is the best to speak out about abuse.
The 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children Campaign started on Sunday November 25 and ends on December 10, which is International Human Rights Day.
She said communities need to have resource centres where they can share their experiences.
She said churches need to ask themselves how they have made use of their platform.
“What programmes do they have as part of the community? What role does religion play to build society? The power of religion must be used to end gender-based violence,” she said.
She called on church leaders to respect even the smallest child in the church.
Ilitha Labantu said they are concerned about people at churches abusing their power. They referred to the cases involving Nigerian televangelist Timothy Omotoso and the Mancoba Seven Angels Ministries Church in Engcobo, Eastern Cape, as some of the worrying incidents.
The founder of Ilitha Labantu, Mandisa Monakali, believes there are churches where young girls and women are sexually exploited.
She further criticised churches and their leaders for not speaking out in the Omotoso case.
“Respect in churches is nowhere. We have our own Omotoso here in Gugulethu. With no time we will arrest him. Gender-based violence affects us all. If the church is not my castle, where would I run to? Where is the respect that churches used to have now? We will expose the churches soon,” she threatened.
An attendee who only identified herself as Nobuntu, applauded the NGO for putting different people together to discuss gender-based violence and the role the churches should play in society. She said in most instances, churches are viewed as a holy place and yet horrible things can happen inside the church or by church goers and their leaders.
The dialogue’s aim was also to come up with a gender-based task group.
The two-day dialogue included a march to claim the streets back from criminals.