In every country, gender-based violence is a tragic reality. This violence is frequently hidden, and victims are often silent, fearing stigma and further violence.
We all have a responsibility to speak out against violence, to ensure that women and men, boys and girls, are safe from rape and violence in homes, schools, work, streets – in all places in our societies. Reverend Gary Harriott knows it and he is doing something about it. For him this is an existential problem and he is in a hurry for there is no time left.
Rev. Gary Harriott knows there is a problem with violence against women and girls in Jamaica. Each year hundreds of women report having been raped and many more rapes and cases of aggression go unreported. Churches can make a difference by speaking out, he says.
“In Jamaica, churches are still trusted and people look to them for leadership. Congregations are strategically placed in communities. We can meet with more adults and children each week than any other institution in society,” Harriott notes. “We want society mobilized to end violence – in particular, violence against women and girls.”
A campaign called Thursdays in Black promoted by the World Council of Churches (WCC) is offering welcome momentum to efforts by churches in Jamaica to stop the violence. The campaign invites people to dress in black on Thursdays and wear a pin to indicate that they are part of a global movement resisting attitudes and practices that permit rape and violence. The intent is to inspire women and men to take action to change the conditions that lead to aggression.
Harriott, an advisor to WCC’s Central Committee and a minister with the United Church in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands, serves as general secretary for the Jamaica Council of Churches (JCC), an ecumenical body of 11 Christian denominations in Jamaica. He made his comments during an interview from Kingston, Jamaica with the WCC.
The JCC has been involved in the Thursdays in Black Campaign since 2017.
“We are committed to building the campaign,” Harriott says. “We want every person in society to know about it. We have held a public event in Kingston with political representatives present. We are active in social media. Now we want to take the message to schools and into broadcast media.”
The minister believes churches have a unique role to play in responding to cases of sexual aggression and gender-based violence and can offer a platform for healing.
“Rape is so traumatic and emotionally difficult. People coming from church have been raped. This raises questions for them about ‘this God that I serve but these negative things happen to me’,” he says. “The JCC offers pastoral counselling to victims in given cases and support of ministers on the ground doing counselling.”
Thursdays in Black grew out of the WCC Decade of Churches in Solidarity with Women (1988-1998), in which the stories of rape as a weapon of war, gender injustice, abuse, violence, and many tragedies that grow outward from such violence became visible.