This beautiful country, that was named “Rainbow Nation” by the South African Anglican cleric and theologian Archbishop Desmond Tutu, is facing multiple challenges. One of the most complex, painful and tragic is Gender-based violence (GBV). GBV is a profound and widespread problem in South Africa and the world impacting on almost every aspect of life, it is perpetuated daily. 

Violence against women comprises a wide range of acts: from verbal harassment and other forms of emotional abuse, to daily physical or sexual abuse.  Much have been done to stop all form of violences against women, but nothing has changed.  At the far end of the spectrum is femicide, the murder of a woman.

Statistics SA shows that femicide in South Africa is 5 times higher than the global average. This means that in South Africa, women are 5 times more likely to be killed due to GBV committed by men. Since statistics and daily reports confirm that the situation is becoming alarming, is it wiser to interrogate religious practices and teachings that indirectly or unintentionally objectify and subordinate women and girls?

Femicide is generally understood to involve intentional murder of women because they are women, but broader definitions include any killings of women or girls.

In a report titled “Global Study on Homicide: Gender-Related Killing of Women and Girls,” the United Nation Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) argues that femicide is more than a buzzword it signifies death and violence. The term symbolizes a violent phenomenon; moreover, it designates murder with intent. The report concludes that all femicides are expressions of extreme violence, death at the hands of another human being.

There were protests in Durban September 2019

The question has therefore been, what is the root cause of femicide?

Researches, activists, reporters and victims have all provide different answers which sometimes contradict each other, among other things they seemed to agree that patriarchal is the chief cause of femicide. They share the view that femicide is the sexist violence against women because of a patriarchal system that believes in the inferiority of women themselves.

In their article, “Femicide: A social challenge,” Corcuello, Corradi, Weil and Boira are convinced that “femicide is a more than a criminal behavior.  It encompasses a cultural, political, legal and penal framework.” Using the trio’s views, this peace chooses to focus on the cultural aspect, because behind culture there is religion, and South Africa is a religious country.

Referring to Doctor Lucas Ngoetjana, a critical theologian, of the KwaZulu Natal Council of Churches, He argues that South Africa is mainly a society of diversity and religious pluralism. He is convinced that, in search of tools that can help the society to respond to social challenges and encourage moral regeneration, dialogue in the religious sector is needed.

This peace partially responds to the call for dialogue made by the Doctor Ngoetjana by asking the question:  GBV and femicide: Can popular monotheist dogmas and doctrines be questioned?

Without undermining religious practices, any attempt to respond to the above question, increases the appetite of looking at femicide objectively. This is explained by the fact that cultural and religious believe are very complex when subjected to a social phenomenon such femicide. Drawing from existing data, when femicide is analyzed at global level a very interesting variable pop-ups, monotheism.

Theologically speaking monotheism is the belief in one God/god/goddess. The simplest definition of   monotheism is the belief in the existence of only one God who created the world, is all-powerful and intervenes in the world. Monotheism as a variable in this discussion gives us another way of engaging in this discussion.

A plethora of literature shows that femicide is the order of the day in countries where monotheist religions have many followers. It may be not incorrect to hypothesize that in countries like South where most popular Monotheistic religions are very influential, Christianity and Islam, there are highest number of cases of femicide.

This hypothesis is very well quantified, the top five countries where femicide is at its worst are highly populated by monotheists: Argentina, El-Salvador, India, Honduras and Mexico.

As far as femicide in monotheist societies is concerned, this hypothesis ignites a very critical question that needs an objective answer: Can popular monotheistic dogmas and doctrines be questioned?

The answer to this question can be Yes or No, and even perhaps Yes and No at the same time. However It is a mistake to forget that this very same question may not be allowed the conservative monotheistic space.

For   most of monotheists, it is a taboo to question their doctrines and dogmas, a sacrilege.  In his article titled “Dogma, Doctrine, and Theology: What Are They?” Jimmy Akin argues that the word doctrine is derived from Latin word doctrina, which means “teaching.” In the context of this peace, it can be said that doctrines are “teachings derived from God” as Akin would suggest. At same time, the word dogma is derived from Greek word dogma. Akina defines dogma as opinion, in this case Akin’s interpretation is adopted, “opinions derived from God.”

With the understanding of these two concepts which Akin links to God’s wisdom, expecting the above question to be rejected by conservative monotheists is not a miracle. Because the question aimed at questioning the core features of religion, dogmas and doctrines.

However, despite how biter or sweeter the above question can be statistics which support the hypothesis, societies that are highly populated by monotheists have highest level of femicide may force people to be interested on the question. Without being forced though!

Statistics in the countries that have highest level of femicide case show that, about 76.5% of Argentines, number 1, are Roman Catholic, 11.3% religiously indifferent, 9% Protestant (with 7.9% in Pentecostal denominations), 1.2% Jehovah’s Witnesses, and 0.9% Mormons.

El Salvador, number 2, Roman Catholic 50%, Protestant 36%, other 2%, none 12%.

According to the 2011 census, 79.8% of the population of India, number 3, practices Hinduism and 14.2% adheres to Islam, while the remaining 6% adheres to other religions; Christianity is the 3rd largest religion in India.

Honduras, number 4, in recent years, the principal religious groups are Roman Catholic, Episcopal, Lutheran, Jehovah’s Witness, Mennonite, approximately 300 evangelical Protestant groups, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon).

As of 2010, religious demographics in Mexico, number 5, were estimated as follows, Roman Catholic Christianity 82.7%, other Evangelical Churches 5%, Pentecostal Christianity 1.6% and Jehovah’s Witnesses 1.4%.

The above statistics makes the analyzed question relevant despite how disgracefully bad or unpleasant it may sound in the mind of some of the members of monotheistic religions.

Even though this peace’s aimed at initiating a theological conversation the answer would not be necessary the way this peace suggested earlier, the answer would be a paradigm shift in femicide’s mainstream analysis. This is explained by evidences from monotheists’ holly scriptures.

Monotheistic holly scriptures outlined a clear paradigm that expects to shape any society into a peaceful space for all beings. However, the painful reality is that grass root realities in monotheistic societies provides the opposite of peace, among other evils, femicide!

The non-smiling facts revealed in most of reports show that in almost every femicide case in the above top five countries, women were trying to leave their relationship. But most women stayed in their dysfunctional hell because they either had nowhere to go or no way to financially support themselves, or they felt that no one would take them seriously in a society dominated by men.

From these ugly facts, is it relevant to question religious authorities for not preaching anti-femicide messages?  Or is it theologically and morally correct to argue that the interpretation of certain monotheistic dogmas and doctrines does create a space for femicide to flourish?

Dr Riffat Hassan, Pakistani-American theologian and a leading Islamic feminist scholar of the Qur’an, provides an answer to these questions which may directly or indirectly attempt to respond to the main question raised in the title of this peace.

The theologian feminist scholar, Riffat Hassan argues that one can not necessarily question the dogmas and doctrine because monotheists teachings on the origin of man gives women a second place on earth.

Using one of the key pillars of holly writings, Dr Riffat Hassan provides a very interesting argument.

Using professor Farid Esack, a fellow theologian and Islamic scholars’ article titled “The Unfinished Business of the Liberation Struggle” Dr Riffat Hassan, argues that gender discrimination in religion is based on three theological assumptions, the tree assumptions that may be considered to be the ones that provide oxygen to the existence of femicide:

Man is God’s primary creature. Women are therefore not only secondary but are derivative of a man since they are created from his rib.

Woman is blamed for expulsion of man from the Garden of Eden, and as a result all of her descendants are treated with suspicion and contempt that borders on hate.

Woman was not only created from man, she is also created for him. This means that her existence is only meaningful if it is measured in relationship to that of a man.

Using the above theological assumptions submitted by Dr Hassan, it can be said  that monotheist religions have failed to provide a theological paradigm that would shapes their believers, mostly men, to think outside of the Adam and Eve’s historiography.

The historiography that dogmatically and doctrinally give men in monotheistic societies, such as South Africa, the uncontested right to believe that women are their divine gift from their omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient and omniscience God.

Can Popular Monotheistic Dogmas and Doctrines be Questioned?

Feruzi Ngwamba

University of KwaZulu Natal, School of Sciences College of Humanities.

This peace is an update of the one posted in July 9,2018