Priests Are Responsible for Ending Violence Against Women, Says Ethiopian Church

Cross-posted from UN Women

“As a priest, people listen to me and that gives me a position to speak out against gender-based violence,” says Melakesina, priest and head of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church in Kobo district in northern Ethiopia. He is one of 100 religious leaders who participated in trainings on gender-based violence and are now preaching against violence.

The priest, Melakesina, is head of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church in Kobo district. Photo: UN Women/Kristin Ivarsson

With 45 million members, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church has powerful influence on Ethiopian society. UN Women forged an initiative with the Church in two districts, Woldia and Kobo, in the northern Amhara region. Aiming to reach a broad population, the project involves in-depth training workshops that engage religious leaders to take the lead to end violence against women and girls. At the trainings, the religious leaders learn about the causes and consequences of violence against women and strategies to prevent violence.

There is an urgent need for these trainings. According to population surveys, 68.4 percent of Ethiopian women think that wife-beating can be justified, and many women are unaware of laws against gender-based violence. As a consequence, few women seek support when facing violence.

“The training and the project raised issues that have too long been silenced. One of them is harmful traditional practices,” says Melakesina.

A harmful traditional practice common in Ethiopia is female genital mutilation (FGM). According to Government surveys, around 23 percent of young girls in the country undergo this practice, but the figure varies from region to region. In Amhara region, the figure is a high 47 percent.

According to Melakesina, a common belief is that harmful traditional practices, such as FGM, are justified by religion, and he challenges it. “Harmful traditional practices are results of customs and have nothing to do with religion,” he states.

School gender-club members Eden and Abeba with the teacher and leader Lubaba at Woldia General Secondary School in the Amhara region of northern Ethiopia. Photo: UN Women/ Kristin Ivarsson

Through the project, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church works to raise awareness on gender-based violence in communities. It supports gender school clubs where students regularly come together to discuss how to prevent violence against women in school communities. Female students at risk of early marriage or those that have fled such a marriage receive financial support to continue their studies.

Through permanent billboards, messages against gender-based violence are being widely spread in the two districts, including in the schools.

“I didn’t dare to tell anyone about the rape. To go to the police was not an option… but now all the women here know. It has given me peace of mind to share with them,” says Kebedech*, a rape survivor from Woldia and a beneficiary of the project. Raped when she was 14-years-old while selling snacks on the roadside, Kebedech is now 28-years-old and a mother of a 13-year-old son as a result of the rape.

Kebedech and 86 other survivors of violence have also received vocational training through the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. As many survivors find it difficult to gain paid employment, the training supports them and reduces their risk of poverty and further violence.

By adopting a holistic approach involving religious leaders, survivors of violence and students, the Church is working hard to raise awareness and prevent violence against women. Priest Melakesina is eager to use the knowledge he gained at the trainings and sees himself integral in ending the cycle of violence against women.

“Many members of the congregation come to me when they have problems. With knowledge on gender-based violence, I intervene and try to prevent it from happening,” he says. “Priests have a major role to play in ending gender-based violence.

Photo Credit: UN Women

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GGmaSheila D.
GGmaSheila D.2 years ago

Of course, priests have the responsibility of ending this violence...many times it has been the priests who started it all, who were on power trips. However, I don't think they'll have as easy of a time stopping those who are on their own, religion-sanctioned, power trips,enjoying the power they get from vilolence, especially against those weaker.

Tony C.
Tony C.2 years ago

I believe that a class in RESPECT and RESPONSIBILITY and later on in sex education would be the most important class that a child could take. These would prepare them for life. For example one child who is good in sports would help another child who is not. Maybe that other child is good in math or science or other subjects and could help the child who is good in sports. It would be a win win for all children. Children would learn no child should be bullied because of any differences such as gender, race, religion, LGBT , size big, little, tall, short, overweight, thinness and others) Early on they would learn to respect the differences, not use it as an excuse to bully. Mandatory Sex education would be taught so that children should respect other children and any question a child has about sex should be answered. These classes would continue until graduation and hopefully they would take what they learned into their future lives.

Moira P.
Moira P.2 years ago

That is good to see this priest realising his responsibility as an opinion leader in the community and going ahead and exercising it. I hope he encourages more opinion leaders to follow suit.

Andre Yokers
Andre Yokers2 years ago

Hope to see good fruit from this effort!

Hugh W.
.2 years ago

I agree with the article. I also, think if many of the world religious leaders were really interested in the religion and the helping of people, rather than the money, that would help address this and many other societal issues.

Nigeria, U.K. and the U.S. are the first to come to mind that the religious leaders look towards the god of money rather than any true God. There are a lot of good religious leaders, but they need to help get rid of the fraudulent thieves that pretend to be pastors, and become rich off their poor congregations.

Kanako I.
Kanako I.2 years ago

many, especially in developing countries follow religious authorities such as priests and pastors blindly. they should be responbible to use their authority corerctly to bring something good to society.

A F.
A F.2 years ago

Every little bit helps. The problem is overwhelming and pervasive. Thank you for posting!

Angie B.
Angelene B.2 years ago

Perfect example of how to use male privilege for good.

Jaime A.
Jaime Alves2 years ago


Brian M.
Past Member 2 years ago

Priests of all religions should speak out for an end to violence against all people, but especially call for an end to violence against women and children.