African religious leaders have heard that gender-based violence is increasingly becoming a weapon of war in the continent's trouble spots, with some saying holy scriptures are being used to justify violence in general - writes Fredrick Nzwili from Nairobi.
"The last two decades have marked the darkest period for women in the continent of Africa," said the Rev Mvume Dandala, general secretary of the All Africa Conference of Churches.
Dandala's statement was part of a speech delivered in his absence on 30 July 2007 at a conference in Nairobi on gender-based violence and HIV and AIDS. "Many of our countries have been at war, and gender-based violence was commonly used as one of the weapons of war," said Dandala, a Methodist from South Africa.
The conference has been organized by Interreligious Council of Kenya, an affiliate of the World Conference of Religions for Peace in Africa and the Constella Group, which runs public health and social programmes in developing countries.
Its goal is to train religious leaders to work against gender-based violence. The US Agency for International Development is financially supporting the 30 July to 3 August event.
"We [religious leaders] are called to help in reconstructing the moral fabric of our congregation and the larger society, especially at a time when gender violence is considered to be an immense contributor to the spread of HIV and AIDS on the continent," said Dandala.
Miriam Were, who heads Kenya's National AIDS Control Council, said some religions were the source of violence.
"People have turned away from some faiths because they have become causes of violence," said Were. She citing alleged religious undertones in the US-led war in Iraq, whilst also noting that some Christians support the war.
"There are suicide bombers (Muslims), where old men are pushing young men to kill other people, promising them seven brides and a heaven," she said.
Muslim Sheikh Shaban Mubaje, Uganda's Grand Mufti, called on religious leaders to interpret scriptures correctly, and warned that improper reading could spark violence.
He later told ENI, "Some Muslim clerics, especially in the Shiite and Sunni sects, justify the killing of each, regardless of whether they are armed or not. This is happening in Iraq, Somalia, Darfur and Palestine. Muslims are fighting fellow Muslims, killing innocent women and even raping."
Mubaje said all religions preached peace, but some clerics were interpreting the teachings to in the cause of self interest, and this was instigating the violence.
[With grateful acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International  is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches]