THE part played by faith leaders came under the spotlight at a
session organised by We Will Speak Out, a campaigning coalition of
churches and faith-based charities (Feature,
The discussion was chaired by Nicky Morgan, Minister for Women.
One of the members of the panel, Shanin Ashraf, the Muslim chaplain
to Birmingham University, said that clerics and religious leaders
had to use their moral influence to uphold the rights of women and
"Faith leaders should also engage men and boys on gender
equality and gender-based violence. All religious leaders need to
be trained up as ambassadors against sexual violence in conflict,"
The Revd Nicolas Guerekoyame-Gbangou, president of the
Evangelical Alliance in the Central African Republic, told the
audience how two years of war in his nation meant that faith
leaders, Christian, and Muslim, were the only line of defence
"The state has disappeared, the army has disappeared; only those
who remain on the ground are faith leaders," he said. "These
religious leaders are protecting the general population,
particularly women and young girls, because most men have fled the
Another contributor, Rabbi Shulamit Ambalu, a congregational
Rabbi in London, said that faith groups needed to confront the
"unspeakable" truth that sometimes religious teaching was at the
root of the shame that surrounds rape.
She said: "We teach that women's bodies are the guardians of
family purity [so] when she loses that through rape she is shamed
and blames herself." Religious institutions had at times "heaped
humiliations and helplessness" on victims.
"We have to take that language of shame and change the discourse
by teaching our children that we are made in the image of God, that
our physical and emotional integrity is one. To say to people: 'You
are loved. We will not cast you out of our community. The shame
does not belong to you.'"
Ms Ashraf said that it was important for faith leaders to
acknowledge that religious texts and teachings can be a roadblock
as well an aid to healing for survivors.
Religious leaders needed also to stop hiding behind culture and
tradition and properly condemn sexual violence, said Julia
Duncan-Cassell, the Liberian Minister for Gender Development.
"Culture and tradition is good, but it can be modified when it
comes to protecting the rights of women and children," she
Another key part that churches could play was to build pressure
on governments to uphold their anti-sexual violence
Ms Duncan-Cassell told the hall that, if the international
conventions on war-zone rape were taught in every church,
synagogue, and mosque, believers could "hold the government's feet
to the fire" on their obligations.
This was endorsed by the Archbishop of Rwanda, the Most Revd
Onesphore Rwaje. Besides dealing with the practical side of the
problem and treating the symptoms, the Church must also confront
the root causes of sexual violence, he said.
"We have to prevent by playing our prophetic role. To speak with
those who are causing the problems and also to predict if we don't
stop this, what will be the consequences of dehumanising a human
being. The Church is a sleeping giant. Let us get up and speak
On Wednesday, Mr Hague and Ms Jolie launched a new international
standard on investigating and documenting war-zone rape, in an
effort to end the perceived impunity.