From Where I stand: “It was strange to talk about Violence Against Women and Girls in the Church at first, Now it is included in all We Do”


Megabi Haimanot Kesis [Reverend] Netsanet Akleweg is Deputy Manager of the Diocese of the Sidama region that administers 12 churches under the Ethiopian Orthodox, Tewahdo Church (EOTC). He is also coordinating a project entitled, “Faith actors addressing Violence Against Women and Girls,Safe City and Safe Public Spaces which is supported by UN Women Ethiopia.

Megabi Haimanot Kesis [ Reverend] Netsanet Akleweg, Deputy Manager of the Diocese of the Sidama region, the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahdo Church (EOTC), Photo: UN Women/Bethlehem Negash
Megabi Haimanot Kesis [ Reverend] Netsanet Akleweg, Deputy Manager of the Diocese of the Sidama region, the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahdo Church (EOTC), Photo: UN Women/Bethlehem Negash

“A lot has changed in the church and in the clergy training center’s teaching when it comes to breaking the taboo in discussing VAWG happening in the church. Before we took part in the program, it would have felt strange to talk about VAWG in the church setting. Members were externalizing the issue as if it wasn’t happening in the church. While feedback was mixed between discomfort from congregants and good reception from others, members are increasingly receiving the topics well.

There was resistance from clergy members in accepting the fact that VAWG is occurring in the church because it is  taboo. Some of the members of the clergy said, “what are you bringing to our Church?” externalizing the issue to other settings as it is perceived spiritual life is the only topic to address in church.  We have brought cases, such as church members that have left because they were violated only to have come back after we reached out because of our awareness on VAWG for them to start to believe it. Once we got their buy in, they were open to receiving trainings on the issue and have eventually started to teach members of the congregation at all levels.

When the VAWG prevention and safe city project started in 2019, there were 10 churches under the diocese and   have now increased to 12 in Hawassa city and its vicinity. We have now managed to mainstream VAWG prevention in the teachings and services in the church. This includes the religious services and the members of the clergy provide for families, Sunday school teachings and informal residential monthly gatherings. The VAWG teachings and interventions were also expanded to the three Church owned secular schools and their gender clubs in Hawassa City. Another achievement is the inclusion of a module that focuses on Gender and GBV in the curriculum of Hawassa Clergy Training Center, which has a diploma training program for clergy for up to 2 years. The Module includes key concepts of gender, causes and consequence of GBV, the role of church and the clergy in preventing and responding to GBV and skills on cascading messages of GBV to the church community.  

Engagement in the project and the different capacity building opportunities have changed the attitude of the members of the clergy which resulted in transforming them as change agents. Now, they are handling VAWG cases differently. As such, some have refused to mediate cases of violence reported to them rather encourage survivors to seek legal protection. In situations where families of the perpetrators approach the clergy members so that the perpetrator elude legal consequences, the message ‘I cannot get involved in this. It must be handled in the court’.”

UN Women ECO supported VAWG prevention and Safe Cities, and Safe public Spaces initiative    has been implemented in collaboration with Norwegian Church Aid (NCA) and local faith actors the EOTC, Evangelical and Catholic Churches in Sidama region since 2019.  The project is funded by Governments of Denmark, Norway, Netherlands and Sweden which aims to end all forms of VAWG and create safe and empowering public spaces for women and girls, contributing to  Sustainable Development Goal 5 on Gender Equality and Goal 11 on Sustainable Cities and Communities.