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Feminist theology, struggle against sexual, gender-based violence: What southern Kaduna Church is not doing

By Grace Yohanna Abbin

Feminist theology is a theology that seeks to address the ordeals of women in men dominated society whose structure favours only the man. One of the issues tackled by this theology is the sexual and gender based violence (SGBV). Feminist theology even though dominated by women, is not exclusively a womanist movement but one that appeals to anyone who believes that all humans are made in the image of God and should be so treated with respect and dignity. In some parts of the world especially Europe, the campaign against SGBV has received a good attention from the church. However, not much is seen done by the church in Africa to compliment government’s efforts in combating the menace. This paper attempts to focus on the immediate context of the author, Southern Kaduna. As an insider: one who works with Sexual Assault Referral Centre Kafanchan, a government establishment responsible for providing free psychosocial counseling, medical treatment, optional legal intervention and other forms of support to SGBV survivors, I have observed that the Church in Southern Kaduna does little or nothing in ameliorating the pains of survivors of SGBV and fighting the peril. I argue that protecting the rights of the vulnerable in society especially women and children is a spiritual responsibility of the church.

Feminist Theology
The Feminist movement for equality and recognition of women’s rights and potential came as the “Messiah” for the ordeal that women have been facing in society. Furthermore, through women’s movements, United Nations Organization member states took a stand to bring equality between men and women by enacting legislative instruments that support women’s rights. The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights was the parent legislative instrument that recognized men and women as equal in their indispensable right to access basic life services. This was followed by the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women which is often regarded as the international bill of rights for women and it made a call for nations to eliminate discrimination against women and girls in all areas and promote their equal rights. The 1993 World Conference on Human Rights urged the international community to promote and protect the rights of persons belonging to ethnic, religious, and linguistic minorities. The Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women (1993) was a call to completely cease the violence against women and speak to the sexual, physical and even mental violence against women and further proffers ways to stop such. The 1995 Beijing Platform for Action and the European Union Gender Equality Strategy (2020-2025) was the turning point in history, which indicates that violence against women constitutes a violation of women’s rights and fundamental freedoms and impairs or nullifies their enjoyment of those rights(Matavire, Mundau & Moyo, 2024: 116).
The emancipation of women to hold an equal share in participation and recognition in society is a dream far from reality because her identity is attached to that of a man. The way society relates to her in the church environment is directly informed by who they are married to. Given the age of civilization where other women decide to stay alone and refrain from marriage, they are recognized as the failures of society who are not able to handle the marriage institution. The emotional and psychological trauma associated with such acts prevents women from fully actualizing their potential because they are deterred from participating in important matters of the society where their skills and expertise may be of importance. As such, one can conclude that the issue of gender equality, equal participation and the overhaul of male domination in society is a pipe dream. The rules governing religious institutions are made by men, favour men and ensure that women maintain a second-class citizenship in society even in their participation (Matavire, Mundau & Moyo, 2024: 117).

Sexual and Gender Based Violence
Although the terms gender-based violence (GBV) and sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) are often used interchangeably, UNHCR consciously uses the latter to emphasize the urgency of protection interventions that address the criminal character and disruptive consequences of sexual violence for victims/survivors and their families (UNHCR, 2011). Conflicts and natural disasters create conditions where women, men, girls and boys are vulnerable to Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV).
The term SGBV describes any harmful behavior that is imposed on a person because of their gender. It primarily relates to abuse against women and girls, but can include harmful acts against men and boys. There are many types of SGBV that include physical, sexual and psychological violence or withholding of rights. This includes control of finances and food and exposure to threats or coercion. It refers to harm or threat of harm perpetrated against a person based on her/his gender. It is rooted in unequal power relationships between men and women; thus, women are more commonly affected. It is often used interchangeably with ‘violence against women’ and can include sexual, physical, economic and psychological abuse. SGBV manifests in various forms including physical, emotional and sexual violence, sexual exploitation, discrimination and harassment. (Willman and Corman, 2013:5).

SGBV includes acts or threats of acts which inflict physical, mental, or sexual harm or suffering, or related deprivations of liberty on the basis of gender. SGBV can have severe and long lasting consequences for survivors, their families and societies. At the level of the survivor, immediate health consequences include reproductive health impacts, injury, and a myriad of other negative effects which may even lead to death. (Mirghan, 2017). Compared to the term ‘gender-based violence’ (GBV), it particularly emphasizes the aspect of sexual violence. It is one of the most difficult forms of violence to cope with because of the social stigma and taboo associated with it. The term SGBV is not restricted to female survivors like the term ‘violence against women’ (VAW) and is used to describe violence that is perpetrated against men and boys, and also against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons (LGBTI) because of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. ‘LGBTI’ encompasses a wide range of identities that share an experience of falling outside of societal gender norms. (Barbara Niklas, 2015).
Sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) is the most pronounced manifestation of gender inequality. At least 35% of the world’s women have experienced some form of Gender-Based Violence (GBV), and numerous men have been victimized as well. Even in contexts of open warfare, the scale of injuries and deaths due to SGBV far eclipses that seen on the battleground. SGBV involves a range of perpetrators and takes many different forms, from workplace harassment, domestic and intimate partner violence, to sexual violence, female genital mutilation, sex selective abortion, trafficking, and in the most extreme cases, femicide. (Willman and Corman, 2013:5).

There is no doubt that violence against women is a painful reality seen and experienced by women daily. Violence against women, it should be said, is an extremely sensitive and painful issue for some men. The topic brings a sense of shame, anger, frustration and guilt to these men, as they feel they stand collectively accused. Some deny its very existence in their lives, or reject having anything to do with it. In a few cases, they might even claim that this is their right as a father, husband or brother. Some men have been subjected to violence from women ((The Lutheran World Federation, 2002:8).
Intimate partner violence (IPV) against women is the most prevalent form of SGBV, and the most frequently researched. Cross-country surveys of women have consistently documented at least a third of women will experience violence at the hands of a friend of family member in their lifetime.9 Men interviewed for the International Men and Gender Equality Survey (IMAGES) reported engaging in violence against intimate partners at rates ranging from 25 to 40 percent in the nine countries surveyed, compared to slightly higher rates reported by women in the same settings (Willman and Corman, 2013:7). Intimate partner violence (IPV) refers to behavior by an intimate partner or ex-partner that causes physical, sexual or psychological harm, including physical aggression, sexual coercion, and psychological abuse and controlling behaviors. (Willman and Corman, 2013:5).
Salama Centre (4) Kafanchan – Kaduna
Sexual Assault Referral Centres (SARCs) are developed to provide a ‘one-stop shop’ for survivors of rape and sexual violence so they do not have to navigate multiple services. It also ensures that survivors have fair access to good quality services. SARCs are accessible to victims of recent rape or serious sexual assault regardless of gender, ethnicity or disability. Some SARCs are limited to victims over the age of 14 or 16, whilst others also see pediatric cases and younger teenagers, depending on availability of resources, and the local arrangements in place for children’s services. SARCs can be accessed by contacting the police, Sexual and Gender Based Response Teams, hospital, social welfare department, helpline, or by self-referral. (Waziri-Azi, 2021:9). SARCs comprise multidisciplinary team members which may vary but good practice is to have a team comprising doctors, nurses, forensic examiner, centre manager, counselors. The team is supported by a media and communications team, administration officer, receptionist and finance officer. (Waziri-Azi, 2021:9).
Salama Centre (4) is a free, government led Centre located within the premises of Ibrahim Patrick Yakowa General Hospital, Kafanchan. It serves the 8 local governments of the Kaduna South Senatorial District of Southern Kaduna on all forms of Sexual and Gender Based violence (SGBV) and Child Protection Related issues. Due to staff constraint, the Centre does not operate 24 hours. However, it liaises with the Out Patient Unit of the General Hospital on cases reported after hours. The Centre is funded by the State Government and continue to receive support from Development Partners. The Centre has five full time Staff that is, Centre Manager, Counselor, Medical Doctor, Nurse, Desk Officer and other volunteers that is, Security Officers, Cleaner, Communication Staff. Salama is directly under the Kaduna State Ministry of Human Services and Social Development, (working along with all MDAs) and is accessed by contacting the Nigeria Police, NSCDC, Kaduna SGBV Response Team(Kafanchan stakeholders) or by self-referral.
The Centre maintains a cordial relationship with all stakeholders such as the Police and Nigeria Security and Civil Defense Corps (NSCDC) as the Police and NSCDC provides safety for survivors, help in arresting perpetrators and prosecution of cases when they get to court. Where required, they escort survivors to the court, hospital and the SARC. So far, the Centre has recorded 3,812 (3,302 women & girls and 510 men & boys) cases of different forms of SGBV from February 2019 to 31st May, 2024 with six judgments on rape; three life imprisonments; two discharges, and one option of fine,10 trafficked children reunited with their families, protection/restraint order infovor of 4 women, means of livelihood regained by numerous women and children and numerous cases on-going in court while 2,564 cases were settled out of court. However, the Centre faces a myriad of challenges: insufficient awareness about the Centre within the locality; interference with cases by elites and family members; inadequate funding; inadequate drugs and test kits; lack of mobility; inadequate security personnel; inadequate manpower in running the Centre. (Waziri-Azi, 2021:10).
The goals of SARCs are to limit the physical and mental health consequences of rape and sexual assault by providing free, accessible, multi-agency, forensically secured service for survivors as numerated: Confidentiality, privacy and a client-focused orientation; Unbiased information; Immediate emergency medical treatment; Forensic medical examination services by specially trained doctors and midwives who prepare reports that are admissible as evidence where appropriate; Advice on Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs), including HIV and then risk of pregnancy; Immediate and continuous counseling support including risk of harm and vulnerability assessment from people experienced in the specialized field of counseling victims of sexual abuse; Support in contacting the police, social welfare department, or Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) where appropriate and where the victim requests it; Advice and ongoing support throughout any police investigation and prosecution; Follow-up services; s24-hour telephone helpline. (Waziri-Azi, 2021:4).
Take note that, we have 4 SARCs in Kaduna State (Salama Centre 1 Gwamna Awan General Hospital Kakuri, Salama Centre 2 Yusuf Dantsoho Memorial Hospital Tundun Wada, Salama Centre 3 Gambo Sawaba General Hospital Zaria and Salama Centre 4 Ibrahim Patrick Yakowa Memorial General Hospital Kafanchan.
What the Church in Southern Kaduna is not Doing
As a community called to liberate all who are oppressed, the church’s imperative is to be involved in the liberation of men and women from a culture of violence to fullness of life and communion. To play a prophetic role, the church needs to disturb the comfortable, and comfort the disturbed (The Lutheran World Federation, 2002:9). The Southern Kaduna church is far from this reality. Instead of campaigning against the injustice meted against the survivors of sexual and gender based violence, we have witnessed situations where the church is shielding the perpetrator(s). Considering the devastating effects of SGBV, the church needs to be deliberate in curbing the evil through organized campaigns and awareness beginning with its congregations and the nooks and crannies of the society. Budgets on supporting survivors and victims of SGBV are supposed to form part of the church’s allocations. The Lutheran World Federation said, “The churches can no longer deal with women’s issues as a distant topic ‘out there,’ or as one without relevance to the church. As a faith community, we the church need to join with secular efforts to analyze what motivates a man to be violent, why women are unable to get out of the cycle of violence and how the church, as an instrument of God, could stop its perpetuation. As an influential community, the church has to equip both men and women, so that they value not only themselves but also God’s image in one another” (The Lutheran World Federation 2002:9).

I conclude with the challenge thrown at the church by the Lutheran World Federation (2009:9) which affirm that “The church as a hope-sharing, care-giving instrument of God needs to offer hope and options for new life to victims, and opportunities for violators to repent reform and make amends. It also needs to ensure that future generations grow up to be a true communion of not only listeners to the Word but also ‘doers’ of the gospel. There is every possibility of the global Lutheran communion playing a dynamic and leading role in addressing this issue.” Whether feminists or not, all Christians need to rise to restore the trodden image and dignity of the girl-child and mothers. The church in Southern Kaduna irrespective should be seen at the forefront confronting the deadly monster of SGBV without mercy. This will not only make the church to be responsible but it will go a long way in upholding the mandate of healing the broken hearted and making the society a better place. There is need for effective collaboration and synergy between the Church and the Salama SARC Centre that serves the Kaduna South Senatorial District of Southern Kaduna. This network if achieved will bring about an unprecedented success in the war against sexual and gender based violence in Southern Kaduna.


Matavire P. Chido J., Mundau Langton, Moyo Stanzia. “Building a Nexus between Feminist Perceptions and Gender-Based Violence: The case of Harare Province”. Journal of Social Work in Developing Societies Vol. 6(1): 91-117, 2024.

Mirghani Z., et al (2017). Interagency Gender-Based Violence Case Management Guidelines: Providing Care and Case Management Services to Gender-Based Violence Survivors in Humanitarian Settings. /interagency-gbv-case-management-guidelines_final_2017_low- res.pdf.

Niklas, Barbara. (2015). Psychosocial Support (PS Centre). Nana Wiedemann et al. (Eds.).

Salama Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC) of Sir Patrick Ibrahim Yakowa Memorial Hospital, Kafanchan (SPIYMH). (2019). Work Strategies, Kaduna State.

The Lutheran World Federation Department For Mission And Development Women In Church And Society Churches “Say “No” To Violence Against Women Action Plan For The Churches” 8. The Lutheran World Federation Geneva, Switzerland: 2002.

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (2003, 2011, 2017). United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR).

Wazri-Azi, Fatima. (2021).National Guide for the Establishment and Management of Sexual Assault Referral Centres in Nigeria. Federal Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development Abuja.

Willman, Alys M. and Crystal Corman (2013). “Sexual and Gender-Based Violence: What is the World Bank Doing, and What Have We Learned”? A Strategic Review.

Mrs. Grace is Manager, Salama SARC Center, Kafanchan,

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