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Thursdays in Black protests seek to end violence against women

Thursdays in Black
Dutch and South African women join in Thursdays in Black.

As former coordinator of the World Council of Churches’ Women’s Program at its headquarters in Geneva, Aruna Gnanadason worked for years to promote the Decade of Churches in Solidarity with Women and the Decade to Overcome Violence, particularly against women.

“This is my fifth assembly.  We have talked about violence against women and tried to bring change through the decades,” she told the pre-assembly on the community of women and men after a global village listening experience (Village Listening Program story).

“How do we move from here?” she asked, expressing her commitment to see her four-year-old grandson grow up to be come a nonviolent man.   “We need to reach every boy and girl, so we can bring love, peace and justice in the world.”

Aruna invited participants in the pre-assembly to join on Oct. 31 in a revival of the WCC’s 1980 “Thursdays in Black” campaign against sexual and gender-based violence.

By the simple act of wearing black every Thursday, people around the world can be part of a global movement urging an end to violence against women and expressing their desire for their communities to be places where women, children and men can walk safely without fear of being raped, shot at, beaten up, verbally abused or discriminated against for their gender or sexual orientation.

Aruna, who is from the Church of South India, earned a master’s degree in English in Bangalore and completed a doctorate in ministry in 2004 at San Francisco Theological Seminary.  She taught at two colleges in Bangalore from 1972 to 1982, when she became executive secretary of the All India Council of Women unit of the National Council of Churches in India, organizing conferences for urban and rural women on development, violence, health, justice and more, lobbying the Indian government to bring change.

In 1991, she began working with the World Council of Churches, where she is now executive director for planning and integration in the General Secretariat. She is author of No Longer a Secret: The Church and Violence against Women.

Soon after Aruna started at the WCC, the story of rape of women as a weapon of war emerged in 1992 in the Balkan War.

“It’s as old as the world,” she said, “yet Swiss women responded, going to investigate and offer solidarity.  The WCC sent a group to Croatia while the war was going on.  We met women in refugee camps, churches and mosques. 

“We heard their stories of being raped.  Their sadness hit me,” Aruna said.  “I was filled with anger about what happens to women around the world.”

Shock that it was happening in Europe for the first time since World War II drew media attention, she said.

“For media, it was a sexy story.  They kept pushing me, but I refused to speak of the raped women.  When I came back, however, I shared with women, and asked them to join in solidarity.  We started Women in Black to protest rape,” she said.

The idea came from Israeli and Palestinian women who started wearing black to protest rape and violence.  Thursdays were chosen to connect to the Mothers of the Disappeared in Argentina, who gathered in silence in Buenos Aires’ Plaza de Mayo on Thursdays. 

“Black is the color of protest,” she said.  “As more women and men join in weekly protests just by wearing black and telling people why, we can overcome violence against women.”

Having heard the stories of violence against women in the listening circle, Aruna said, Thursdays in Black is a tool participants can use to take the stories home, “so we have courage, not sadness that could paralyze us.  Each time we wear black, we need to remember the women’s stories.”

 Fulata Mbano-Moyo, now the program executive for Women in Church and Society, challenges churches to act together to ask people to wear black on Thursdays to accompany women who bear scars of violence and to show their commitment to advocate for gender justice.

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Copyright © December 2013 - The Fig Tree