We talk endlessly about violence against women. We respond to it with speeches, grand events, campaigns, slogans, expensive action plans, policies, committees, meetings. But we seem to have forgotten that a plan is not action. An event is not a result. A slogan is not an outcome. Talking is not doing. Policies do not mean implementation. An apology is only a small part of accountability.
In faith organisations, implementation of violence prevention policy is often weak and not only because of a shortage of funding. There are many obstacles and risk factors: strong individual and institutional resistance to gender initiatives, deep-rooted cultural issues and traditions, general under-representation of women in leadership, for example.
Much of the gender debate seems to take place in a bubble, with gender experts mostly preaching to the choir. We cannot make headway on advancing respectful relationships and equality by having discussions that are mostly made up of women and gender experts. As long as the gender debate remains solely a women’s issue, it won’t move far.
Education continues to be a key driver in promoting respectful relationships and gender equality. We know that an educated girl is better equipped to defend her interests and choose the life she wants. Education can also raise boys’ awareness of gender issues and make them less prone to seeing gender equity as a loss of privileges for themselves. But what we also know is that education alone is not enough.
During the course of running workshops, we meet educated women and men facing pressure from their communities to conform. For some of these communities, advancing women to the top is still seen as a “waste of time.” In order to change these deeply rooted prejudices, more effort must be made to target faith leaders, and men in particular, who set the agendas within their communities.
Faith leaders must play a much more active role in helping their communities move away from gender stereotypes, or at least, to not deepen them. In a society where actions speak louder than words, it is not what you say but what you do that helps translate policy into real terms that people eventually learn to trust.