This article examines religious leaders' engagements with gender transformative activism during prevention training workshops for sexual and gender-based violence. I draw on ethnographic fieldwork carried out in 2017 and 2018 in a South African NGO that promotes gender equality and human rights across Africa. My aim is twofold: to explore the tensions between the private and public dimensions of religious leaders' engagement with gender transformative activism; and to demonstrate how they navigate those tensions by co-creating an 'interstitial' language and social space that allows them to conform new emotional repertoires, meanings and practices that ought to transform their gendered relations. I argue that doing so enables leaders to become tactical when engaging with gender activism in adverse religious contexts. By acting in the form of tactical activism, they establish interstices where religious and secular stances on gender can intersect whilst at the same time coping with the difficulties of inducing change in the given patriarchal structures. © 2021 Brill Academic Publishers. All rights reserved.