Only once in the past six years has Lyn van Rooyen forgotten to wear black on a Thursday. The director of Johannesburg’s Christian AIDS Bureau for Southern Africa first participated in Thursdays in Black because it seemed like a simple way to raise awareness about gender-based violence. She had no idea the worldwide campaign, of which The United Church of Canada is a part, would profoundly impact her life. Now her organization runs the Thursdays in Black website and its social media platforms.
On wearing black: It has become a spiritual discipline for me. I literally wear black head to toe. Getting dressed in the morning every Thursday, very often I say, “Today I wear black for” — [and name] whoever was in the news that week in South Africa.
On conversations: I was booking to fly somewhere, and the woman behind the counter said to me, “I see your [Thursdays in Black] pin. My daughter is being abused by her husband. What should I do?” So with your body, without throwing rocks, you create space. You’re creating awareness.
On the church's role in ending gender-based violence: South Africa has a very strong history of the church being involved with social justice. Gender-based violence is one of the new struggles. As a faith community, it’s easier for us to get involved in care and support, so we’ll open a safe house or counsel traumatized women. We’re not always as good with prevention or advocacy. For me, Thursdays in Black is a non-threatening first step to becoming involved.
On backlash: In this macho culture, there’s a movement where men think, “You believe you have control? Well, I’ll show you. I’ll decide when you have sex, not you.” We had what the IT guys called “mass attacks” about 18 months ago when there were 300 hacking attempts an hour. They literally destroyed the Thursdays In Black website to the extent that we had to rebuild it from scratch. These are not just a few deranged individuals. There are people who are invested in rape culture.
On change: Knowledge doesn’t change anything. People change when attitudes and paradigms change. Knowledge can play a role, but that’s why we find it so important to work with faith leaders and work through the faith sector. Because if you work from a faith perspective, you change paradigms.
On longevity: Thursdays in Black will continue to run because it has built up a momentum of its own. But it needs a base, which is why we have a website. I don’t want it to be controlled. To me, that’s the magic. Anyone can do this. This morning, I got an email asking, “Where do you apply to be part of Thursdays In Black?” You don’t apply. If you wear black, you’re part of it. Just do it.
The above interview has been edited for length and clarity.
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