Woman's S. Africa trek after rape is marker for 'Thursdays in Black'

(Photo: REUTERS / Joshua Lott)Women in bridal gowns protest against domestic violence during an annual march through the Washington Heights neighborhood, in New York September 26, 2013. Every year women wear bridal gowns and men in tuxedos to commemorate Gladys Ricart, who was shot to death in 1999 by a former abusive boyfriend on her wedding day.

South African Charlene Lau has begun a 1,400 kilometer (870 mile) walk from Africa's southern tip in Cape Town to Johannesburg to promote awareness of what women suffer when raped.

What happened to Lau and women like her is one the reasons the World Council of Churches is reviving a campaign against sexual and gender-based violence, called "Thursdays in Black."

"Thursdays in Black" began in the 1980s as an opportunity for churches and ecumenical initiatives to stand with women affected by sexual and gender-based violence.

Lau was raped not once, but three times - by her father as a child, gang raped at 14 and then again at 26.

Now she wants to engage communities in her trek through South Africa and raise awareness about sexual violence along the way in her country which has a very high incidence of rape.

"I really wanted to encourage other survivors to own their healing process, and to take back their power, to take back their lives. I also wanted to speak to families in South Africa and to encourage them to start having this conversation in their families," Lau told eNews Channel Africa when starting her walk Sunday.

The WCC campaign gained support through the "Women in Black" campaign, an initiative of women in support of Serbian and Croatian women affected by sexual assault during the Balkan war in the 1990s.

(Photo. WCC)Fulata Moyo, WCC program executive for Women in Church and Society, wearing black on a Thursday, demanding an end to violence against women. Photo taken October 2013.

Through this initiative, Serbian women called people to join them in speaking against the use of rape as a weapon of war.

"Thursdays in Black is a united global expression of the desire for safe communities where we can all walk safely without fear of being raped, shot at, beaten up, verbally abused and discriminated against due to one's gender or sexual orientation," Dr. Fulata Mbano-Moyo, World Council of Churches program executive for Women in Church and Society said in a statement.

"Through this campaign we want to accompany our sisters, who bear the scars of violence, invisible and visible, in Syria, Palestine and Israel, Egypt, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Pakistan and the whole world, where women's bodies remain a battlefield, whether in armed conflict or so-called 'peaceful' situations."

The World Council of Churches said in the statement that the "Thursdays in Black" campaign began as a form of peaceful protest against rape and violence.

The history of "Thursdays in Black" also links to the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, a movement of mothers who protested the "disappeared", those killed during the political violence in Argentina during the 1970s and 1980s.

The mothers donned black sashes and walked the Plazo de Mayo in Buenos Aires each Thursday in protest against the responsible authorities.

"Thursdays in Black" encourages participates around the world to wear black in solidarity with women suffering from gender-based violence.

The "Thursdays in Black" campaign is supported and observed in South Africa by the Diakonia Council of Churches and the Christian AIDS Bureau of Southern Africa (CABSA), ecumenical partners of the World Council of Churches' project Ecumenical HIV and AIDS Initiative in Africa (EHAIA) and the International Network of Religious Leaders Living with or Personally Affected by HIV or AIDS (INERELA ).

Working alongside the World Council of Churches to revive "Thursdays in Black" are CABSA, We Will Speak Out Coalition, the Lutheran World Federation, the Fellowship of the Least Coin, the United Methodist Women and the World YMCA, among others.

The emphasis is pertinent to the theme of the WCC's upcoming assembly: "God of life, lead us to justice and peace".

On October 31, during the once ever seven years meeting of the WCC's highest governing body in Busan, South Korea, its assembly, participants will be encouraged to wear black.

Through this gesture, participants are invited to be part of a global movement urging an end to violence against women.

Copyright © 2013 Ecumenical News