IT seems that there is not a day that goes past that I don't have this knotted feeling in my stomach. I get it every time I read, watch or hear about another violent assault on a women or girl.
On one hand I am encouraged the Fiji media is reporting and organisations are raising this issue; and that more and more women and girls are being encouraged and supported in reporting these terrible crimes to the police.
On the other hand I am profoundly saddened that we continue to face such a widespread disrespect of the dignity of human life, and respect for the vulnerability of women and girls in Fiji, despite all the words spoken about traditional and religious values.
As a Christian I am ashamed that babies, little girls and boys, mothers, daughters, sisters and wives endure such pain and suffering in a country where close to 60 per cent of the population claim to believe in and follow the teachings of Jesus the Christ, who uplifted and empowered the status of women.
Last week I was encouraged to hear the head of the Methodist Church in Fiji, Reverend Tuikilakila Waqairatu, speak out against gender-based violence, acknowledging that was, "legitimised by many cultures, institutions and some Christian groups in society and its effects are extensive in nature".
He was quoted as saying that the church "must create a climate of openness and develop policies and procedures which keep children and the vulnerable safe from harm".
He joins other religious leaders who are not only willing to speak out against gender-based violence but are calling and leading their religious organisations to respond to violence in the home and the community.
Late last month, the Archbishop-elect of the Roman Catholic Church in Fiji, Father Peter Loy Chong, called for churches to take "an aggressive approach on the elimination of this social evil from our midst".
In an interview with The Fiji Times, Father Chong had said they "needed to be inclusive in their awareness programs at the grassroots level because not everyone belonged to the church".
During the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Violence (November 25 - December 10) in 2011, the Archbishop of the Anglican Diocese of Polynesia, the Most Reverend Dr Winston Halapua launched an initiative to combat violence against women and children in the diocese.
This included the training of clergy and pastoral care givers, implementation in the Anglican primary school curriculum, implementing a code of conduct for clergy, the provision of pastoral care to victims and witnesses of gender-based violence, and the establishment of the Simeon Ministry — male advocates in the campaign to eliminate violence against women and children.
As you may have read in The Fiji Times last week, a regional workshop was held by the Pacific Conference of Churches, God's Pacific People and WEAVERS in Suva on the elimination of gender-based violence.
With the theme, "Act Justly: Stop Gender-based Violence," the workshop was aimed at bringing representatives of churches in the Pacific together to network and strategise how to more deeply engage in the ongoing work to eliminate gender-based violence and also to make recommendations that can be taken to the Pacific Conference of Churches General Assembly in the Solomon Islands early next month.
Among the discussions was a call for a collective effort by the churches of the Pacific to work for the elimination of gender-based violence.
Akanisi Tarabe, PCC's ecumenical animator for Women Development, who co-ordinated the workshop, said the workshop was a opportunity for those involved in the church's engagement with the elimination of gender-based violence to network with other civil society and non-governmental organisations involved in the same work and establish and strengthen partnerships.
While there was a significant absence of male participants, Mrs Tarabe was appreciative of the contribution of the men who did participate and contribute in the discussions during the workshop and said that one of the issues highlighted was the need to include men as part of the solution to the issue of gender-based violence, saying there was a need for the church to take the leading role in sensitising men, clergy, traditional and community leaders in issues that are normally seen as "women's issues", when they are everyone's responsibility.
In sharing her thoughts on how to encourage Pacific churches engagement in the work to end violence against women, the co-ordinator of the God's Pacific People program, Reverend Rosalyn Nokise said an ecumenical (inter-church) network to eliminate violence against women could lead, "Pacific churches to work together to support and encourage responses to end violence against women at the local level within our communities".
The proposals and recommendations from this workshop will be presented at a pre-assembly women's meeting prior to the Pacific Conference of Churches General Assembly.
As a Christian, I have accepted the responsibility that comes with my faith to work towards the elimination of gender-based violence. As a human being I have accepted the responsibility to treat and ensure the treatment of other human beings with dignity and respect. As a man I have also accepted my responsibility to protect and advocate for the protection and respect of women and children.
The role of men as partners in speaking and acting against gender-based violence is important in this struggle — whether in terms of sharing information on laws, "picking up the biblical witness of equality of male and female", or advocating for non-violence and supporting victims and witnesses of gender-based violence.
Also important is the role of women in not contributing to the continuation of the cycle of violence by remaining silent out of fear, gossip, blaming other women, condoning abuse or through denial.
Tomorrow, when many people celebrate St Valentine's Day, the One Billion Rising campaign to end violence against girls and women will be held globally, including Fiji.
According to the organisers of the campaign, one in three girls/women on the planet is raped or beaten in her lifetime. That is more than ONE BILLION WOMEN violated. One billion daughters, mothers, grandmothers, sisters, lovers and friends.
On February 14, 2013, we are inviting ONE BILLION women and those who love them to WALK OUT, DANCE, RISE UP, and DEMAND an end to this violence.
Women, girls and men and boys who want to end this violence are called to join in this act of solidarity and demand an end to violence against girls and women. The campaign begins with a march, starting at 11.30am from Gordon St, to Ratu Sukuna Park, where an hour-long event will be held that includes flash mobs and a theatrical production
Perhaps this may be the beginning of your contribution to end violence against women and children.
"Simplicity, Serenity, Spontaneity"
* Reverend JS Bhagwan is a Masters in Theology Student at the Methodist Theological University in Seoul, South Korea. The views expressed are his and not that of this newspaper.