Fighting demons

2009-06-25 00:00

THERE is a television advertisement in which the flap of a butterfly’s wings creates air movement that eventually results in a tornado visible on a satellite image. Although not on the same scale, and with more positive results, a contextual Bible study conducted for a group of more than 90 women from all over the county, plus guests from Kenya, Brazil, Malawi, Swaziland and Lesotho at a Southern women’s conference in Botha’s Hill in 1996 has created a ripple effect that has spread through South Africa and into Africa.

The Bible study was conducted by Professor Gerald West, director of the Ujamaa Centre in the School of Religion and Theology (Sorat) at UKZN at a workshop on women and violence. It covered 2 Samuel Chapter 13 verses 1-22, which records the rape of Tamar, daughter of King David, by her half-brother, Amnon. The participants related the story to their own context and their strong response to this tale of incest and family violence created a momentum that led to the launch of the Tamar Campaign in 2000.

Maria Makgamathe, co-ordinator of the Women and Gender Programme in the Ujamaa Centre and a graduate of Sorat, takes up the story: “The women’s response to both the process of contextual Bible study and the story of Tamar was overwhelming. There are so many elements in the story that strike a deep chord with women in Africa. They live in a context similar to Tamar’s of entrenched patriarchy where gender roles are very clear, women and children are often abused and oppressed but a culture of silence rules. Despite this, Tamar refused to be just a victim but moved to being a survivor by refusing to keep silent. She spoke out about her experience and forced the men around her to face it.” Tamar’s brother, Absalom, eventually murdered Amnon to avenge her.

“Tamar’s story inspires women to share their own experiences, sometimes telling their stories for the first time because sexuality tends to be a closed-heart issue. As in Tamar’s time, the patriarchal system is often guilty of facilitating the abuse of women because it discourages them from speaking out. This campaign aims to break the chains of silence that bind victims of abuse and violence. It also encourages people to identify resources for rape survivors in their church and community. We welcome men in the process because we want to build a partnership with them to prevent women abuse.”

Makgamathe and her colleague, Bongi Zengele, a co-ordinator of the Solidarity Programme for People Living with HIV/Aids, conduct a three or four-day workshop centred around the story of Tamar. Participants not only have a chance to unpack the story and its relevance for them and share their own stories. They are also taught contextual Bible study skills and conclude the process by presenting a study of their own on a Bible passage and theme relevant to their own lives.

Makgamathe and Zengele have taken the Tamar Campaign to several provinces in South Africa and further afield in Africa, including Zambia, Mozambique, Nigeria, Kenya, Cameroon, Tanzania, Angola, Gambia and the Togolese Republic. “The process has been welcomed and very warmly received as people learn the skills and then adapt these and the campaign to their own context. It takes on a life of its own because it has such a powerful effect on people.”

The impact that the campaign has had and the respect it has earned is illustrated by a story from Togo. As a sign of esteem, the King of Togo, Savado Zankli Lawson VIII, gave Makgamathe and Zengele the names of two royal princesses, Ayoko and Ayeli. This effectively made them honorary princesses. “We did not understand what an honour this was until people started calling us by these names, telling us how much they wished it could happen to them and bowing down to us in the streets. If we had wanted to, we could have had access to all the privileges the real princesses enjoy,” laughs Makgamathe.

According to her, the key to the campaign and the impact it has had, is listening. “We create a safe space for people to share sometimes very painful stories that have often never been told. And then, we listen. Listening to people makes them feel not only listened to, but also taken seriously, so that healing can begin. Our role as facilitators is not only to listen carefully ourselves, but to get participants to listen to each other as well. We also stress confidentiality, so that people know their stories are safe with those listening. We have never heard of any harm coming to a participant after sharing, so people respect the importance of confidentiality to the process.”

Creating a safe space and listening is helpful, but then what? What happens once Makgamathe and Zengele have left and gone back to UKZN?

“We always ask participants: ‘What are you going to do when we leave?’ so that the process does not just end with the workshop. They themselves often also ask ‘So what next?’ Now that they have been conscientised, shared their stories and acquired new skills — there has to be a next step.”

Right: Maria Makgamathe, facilitator of the Tamar Campaign which is helping to combat women abuse in South Africa and further afield in Africa.

That next step is often a request for training in counselling to help survivors of domestic violence. This has led to a pilot project currently being conducted in KwaZulu-Natal, the Counselling and Referral Skills Project, a follow-up to the Tamar Campaign. It aims to train 15 people chosen by different communities in the province in basic counselling and referral skills. Makgamathe, a trained counsellor and trainer, is conducting the year-long course. “We do community mapping with participants so that they identify the resources and support services available in their communities. There are often resources available but people do not know how to access them or what information is required to do so.”

Makgamathe talks passionately about the campaign, which has enriched her and forced her to confront her own assumptions and prejudices. “I used to think that many of the men present just wanted to stop the women from sharing. I did not want to listen to them. Then a woman in Tanzania talked about how her husband, who abused their children, had been abused by his own father. I now listen more carefully to the men’s voices because I realise that this monster of domestic violence affects us all.”

• Contact the Tamar Campaign and the Counselling and Referral Skills Project, at 033 260 6295, e-mail labanc@ukzn.ac.za

What is the Tamar campaign

USING the tool of contextual Bible study and the story of Tamar (2 Samuel 13) it aims to raise awareness of women abuse and encourage women not to be silent about it. Men and children are welcome in the sessions, but participants are broken into same-sex or age groups for some discussions. It is funded by foreign donors: Norwegian Church Aid and the Evangelischer Entwicklungsdientse (EED). Workshops are jointly funded by recipient communities and the campaign.

IT AIMS TO

) Encourage churches to speak out against abuse.

) Promote Bible studies on violence against women.

) Make women aware of different kinds of abuse (physical, verbal, mental and spiritual) and suggest ways to deal with it.

) Encourage ministers to preach against abuse, especially during the 16 Days of Activism against women abuse.

) Create awareness of the link between gender violence and HIV Aids.

 

What is contextual bible stidy?

THIS is a five-step process for studying the Bible that seeks to take seriously both scripture and the context in which people read it.

) STEP 1 – CHOOSE A THEME

Always begins with the reality of the local community and is guided by the issues it is dealing with, i.e. its contextual concerns.

) STEP 2 – FIND A BIBLICAL TEXT

Find a text that “speaks into” the chosen context. This can be done by reading unfamiliar texts or approaching familiar ones differently. It allows participants to establish lines of connection between their context and community and the Bible.

) STEP 3 – QUESTIONING AND READING

Begins and ends with questions about the context. In between asks questions about the text, reading behind it (sociohistorical), on it (the text itself) and in front of it (what it projects towards reader).

) STEP 4 – ARTICULATING AND OWNING

Allows participants to express and own theological understandings of their context.

) STEP 5 – DEVELOP A PLAN OF ACTION

Participants develop an action plan so that the Bible equips them to “change their world for the better”. – Resource Manual for CBS, Ujamaa Centre, November 2007

 

Using the tool of contextual Bible study and the story of Tamar (2 Samuel 13) it aims to raise awareness of women abuse and encourage women not to be silent about it. Men and children are welcome in the sessions, but participants are broken into same-sex or age groups for some discussions. It is funded by foreign donors: Norwegian Church Aid and the Evangelischer Entwicklungsdientse (EED). Workshops are jointly funded by recipient communities and the Campaign.

It aims to:

•Encourage churches to speak out against abuse

•Promote Bible studies on violence against women

•Make women aware of different kinds of abuse (physical, verbal, mental and spiritual) and suggest ways to deal with it

•Encourage ministers to preach against abuse, especially during the 16 Days of Activism against Women abuse.

• Create awareness of the link between gender violence and HIV Aids.

 

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