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Church joins in as UN bids to end violence against women

01 March 2013


To the point: women protest against gender-based violence as part of the One Billion Rising day of action on 14 February

To the point: women protest against gender-based violence as part of the One Billion Rising day of action on 14 February

ENDING violence against women is the theme of this year's United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (UNCSW). The Church of England will be represented in New York to argue that faith groups can play a vital part in fulfilling the goal.

Hundreds of delegates are expected to attend the 57th session of the Commission, which takes place at the UN's headquarters from 4 to 15 March. Representing the Church of England will be Mandy Marshall, co-founder of Restored, an international Christian alliance to end violence against women. Earlier this month, she said that her brief was "to promote the importance of using the local church in addressing gender-based violence".

In consultation with the Mission and Public Affairs Committee of the Church of England, ten "key messages" have been developed. The first calls on governments to involve faith groups in tackling violence against women, noting that "the church is often the point in the community where survivors turn for help, and sometimes the only community service available." The briefing also states that: "The Church of England is committed to developing a culture of openness in the churches to combat impunity, challenge stigma, shame and silence around the issues of violence against women and girls, recognising that violence against women and girls needs to be addressed within the church."

On Wednesday, Ms Marshall said: "We need to create an environment where women can come forward and disclose abuse, to be dealt with appropriately, and recognise that we do have domestic violence in our churches." A 2011 survey by the Evangelical Alliance found that about one in ten of the 1219 respondents had at least once suffered physical abuse or violence, and seven per cent said that they had perpetrated it.

Draft agreed conclusions have been published by the Commission. Ms Marshall said that the UK Government had been "working a lot behind the scenes" to prevent a repeat of last year's meeting, where no conclusions were agreed, after conservative groups came together to block resolutions on sexual and reproductive rights.

She will host two "side events" in New York, one with the Anglican Communion, and another for Restored with the Mothers' Union, called A Relationship-based Approach to Ending Violence Against Women.

The UNCSW was founded in 1946 as a body "dedicated to ensuring women's equality and to promoting women's rights". A report prepared by the secretary-general of the UN in advance of next month's meeting observes that "there has been very little work done towards fulfilling the obligation of States in respect of prevention". It also says: "Religious leaders, as well as faith institutions, can play a crucial role in the prevention of violence against women by interpreting religious texts and being conduits of social norms and beliefs."

The Restored resource pack for churches is available at www.restoredrelationships.org/resources/info/51/

Inner motives. This month, in a debate in the House of Lords on women's safety, the Bishop of Derby, Dr Alastair Redfern, argued that the Government must engage with faith communities, "which are particularly concerned with people's inner motives and moral values". Better standards of behaviour would emerge "not just from regulation and agencies but from moral conviction and the culture of self-discipline that make adult people proper citizens, and would be a major step in bringing this terrible problem under control".


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