Reflecting on the theme of the World Council of Churches’ (WCC) upcoming assembly in Busan, “God of life, lead us to justice and peace,” an ecumenical conference in Johannesburg addressed violence against women and children with disabilities.

Organized by the WCC’s Ecumenical Disability Advocates Network (EDAN), the conference was held from Feb. 27-March 2, hosted by “The Haven,” a shelter in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa providing protection to victims of domestic violence and abuse.

The conference pointed out the vulnerability of women and children with disabilities, who are often targets of sexual, emotional, psychological and physical abuse in conflict situations as well as in relatively peaceful environments.

Calling violence a universal issue, the conference statement highlighted the need for “women with disabilities to make their contribution towards educating and empowering women to stand against all forms of discrimination.”

The statement noted the “church has neglected its prophetic voice and has remained silent on the issue of violence and sexual abuse of women and children with disabilities.”

It went on to say that there are “cultural practices and beliefs that have exposed the women and children with disabilities to sexual abuse.” Therefore, “ignorance of the various communities regarding women and children with disabilities have led to their marginalization and lack of protection.”

The conference facilitated the dialogue of women with disabilities to make their contribution towards empowering women, so that they can take a stand against all forms of discrimination and become agents for social change.

This is only possible through involvement of women with disabilities in advocacy and healing of memories, entrepreneurship as well as care giving, stressed the participants.

The participants, most of them women with disabilities themselves, came from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Madagascar, Burundi, Kenya, South Africa, Togo and the United Sates.