The Church must lead in transforming social attitudes about gender inequality as part of the fight against HIV/AIDS, said a Christian agency on the closing day of the 17th International AIDS Conference.
"There is a desperate need for the leadership of the Church to smarten up to gender-related issues like violence and issues of power and control," said Tearfund's chief executive Matthew Frost on Friday. "Gender inequality is one of the key drivers of the pandemic. The Church is in a key position to transform attitudes within the community. It cannot remain silent."
Lyn Lusi, who works with women affected by sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), said gender inequalities leave women "disempowered" and more vulnerable to violence, including rape.
"There are new laws about sexual violence in DRC, but any law without the collaboration of the community is useless," said Lusi, who works for Tearfund's partner HEAL Africa. "Social attitudes which condone violence against women, and stigmatizes those who have been raped must be confronted."
She added that the Church is an "influential voice" and is in the best position to change the deep-rooted attitudes about gender.
"It was the Church that stood on the front line against slavery, and against apartheid," Lusi said. "Now the Church must stand up against gender injustice."
Gender and gender-based violence have been major themes at this year's AIDS conference in Mexico City.
Earlier at an HIV pre-conference, Kay Warren of Saddleback Church had also called the Church to action on ending gender-based violence. She said like gender-based violence, the Church is everywhere.
"The Church is the hope of the world, and God's plan for dealing with the problems of the world," Warren said at the Ecumenical Alliance Pre-Conference. "Whether dealing with violence, poverty, orphans or AIDS – if we don't start with the Church, we are starting at the wrong end of the equation."
Warren shared about her own personal experience of being sexually molested as a child, and said like many women she had no one to turn to or speak with about her situation – especially in her church.
She urged the Church to speak up for those who have no voice.
Tearfund's international director, Peter Grant, also stressed the Church's role.
"The Church must take a lead in its key position to challenge gender stereotypes that increase women's vulnerability to HIV," he said.
"But it cannot work in isolation," he noted. "In collaboration with one another, the Church, other faith and civil society groups, governments and donors can make a stronger difference."