By Michelle Boonzaaier, IAM Senior Process Coordinator

Joining with academic and civil society partners to collaborate around common goals is something that we do often as IAM staff members. We are regularly invited to share our work, expertise and experience in various spaces. The event that I was invited to by UKZN and Aids Healthcare Foundation (AHF) was different in that it addressed something that was much closer to home.

When survivors of sexual violence find voice, the presence of faith becomes something almost tangible. Faith takes on a less fuzzy, less abstract form. It takes on the form of stories with bodies. Bodies that finally hear the words, “we believe you.”

For almost 25 years IAM has used dialogue as a preferred method of engagement. At this event it became clear that dialogue – words and stories that come to life from a deep body experience – remains a way to connect people – academics, activists, people of faith, faith leaders and survivors as sexual violence.

This recent experience at UKZN amongst others have reminded me that dialogue – as an act of finding words – needs to include more bodies with even more diverse experiences and ways of expressing our thoughts and emotions. When we open our doors to dialogue, the door has to remain wide open and the invitation has to remain open ended to diverse groups of people from varied experiences. When we do this it offers textures to our stories and understanding of diversity. In the faith communities that we work in issues of human sexuality and diversity have most often been met with silence. The simple act of encouraging these communities to engage in dialogue becomes a critical building block for our work. Finding words that help us engage with the intersections of violence, sexual and gender identity and expression and faith as it touches out stories and our lives is critical in our work. We at IAM continue to explore the whole spectrum of ways to approach dialogue to find the necessary entry points that can help us to better engage with the faith communities we work in.

Photo credit: Alexa Sedge