CHURCHES across the UK are being urged to recognise the United Nations International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, which this year falls on Sunday, as an opportunity to confront domestic abuse within the community.
The UN is hosting 16 days of events from Sunday, ending on Human Rights Day on 10 December, to campaign for the worldwide end to gender-based violence.
“Violence against women and girls is one of the most widespread, persistent and devastating human rights violations in our world today [and] remains largely unreported due to the impunity, silence, stigma and shame surrounding it,” its campaign page states.
The day — also known as White Ribbon Day — was established by the UN in 1999, after the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women was issued by the UN General Assembly in 1993. It defines violence against women as “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women”.
The theme this year is “Orange the World: #HearMeToo”, intended to amplify the impact of the ongoing campaign “UNiTE to End Violence against Women”, when people are encouraged to wear something orange on the 25th of each month to show “a brighter future” for women and girls.
The World Council of Churches (WCC) is among the organisations taking part, and is encouraging Christians to wear black on Thursdays as a sign of solidarity with victims of domestic violence.
“We have seen many women starting to speak out on their experience of sexual violence,” it says. “In ecumenical circles, the Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace has created a safe-enough space for such stories to be heard.
“Many faith-based organisations and coalitions work together to advocate for the dignity of girls and women, and highlight the crucial work that faith-based actors are doing during these 16 Days, and every day, to eliminate gender-based violence.”
Mothers’ Union plans to be active. “Action takes all sorts of forms, depending on the context of where our members are based. But what is important is that they do take action,” its chief executive, Bev Jullien, said.
A survey conducted by Coventry University earlier this year of 438 Christians from 129 churches in Cumbria suggests that most churches are falling short in responding to cases of domestic abuse within the congregation and community (News, 23 March).
Emotional abuse was the most common experienced among churchgoers: sexual, financial, and spiritual abuse were reported by a much higher proportion of women. Many churchgoers were unaware of the domestic abuse within the congregation.
Natalie Collins, a gender-justice specialist who co-founded the Christian Feminist Network, writes in the Church Times this week: “Because the date falls on a Sunday this year, there is an opportunity for church leaders and congregations to acknowledge the harm that women and girls endure.”
This encompasses sexual violence and harassment, female genital mutilation, forced marriage, child marriage, infanticide, sex-selective abortion, reproductive coercion, trafficking, and online abuse, she says.
“Whether through a focus during intercessions, an invitation to local domestic-abuse or rape-crisis services to contribute to the service, or a sermon focused on the issues, churches can choose to raise awareness of the injustices that women and girls face.” (the Christian magazine Sojourners has recently released 100 sermons about domestic and sexual violence to provide ideas for preachers and interested others.)
Ms Collins has organised a one-day conference in March next year to explore a Christian faith perspective on male violence in the light of the social media campaigns #metoo and #churchtoo.