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Christian charities help disadvantaged women feel ‘visible’, says Theos report

11 March 2022

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ORGANISATIONS working with disadvantaged women have much to learn from Christian charities in the sector, a report from the think tank Theos suggests.

Researchers said that women facing severe disadvantage, including sexual exploitation and abuse, were being failed by the legal and welfare systems in the UK, and left invisible, with sometimes fatal consequences.

In contrast, they examined the approach taken by Christian charities working with these women to explore the ways in which their distinctive care was making women feel “truly visible” again.

The report Valuing Women: Making women visible was published to coincide with International Women’s Day on Tuesday.

It looks at six Christian charities who are working with women who face severe and multiple disadvantages, including abuse, mental ill-health, homelessness, trauma, sexual exploitation, and drug or alcohol abuse.

Researchers said that these women were often “unseen” in society, and were being “failed” by a system that was “increasingly not fit for purpose” and “unable to holistically support” them. Women were often described as “too complex” for agencies to deal with.

Community social-care services are under severe strain from funding cuts that had disproportionately affected women, the report says.

“When women are unable to access effective, trustworthy, and reliable helping services, there can be fatal consequences. Effective help for women needs to understand the impact of the things that happen to women, provide continuity of care, and build trusting, respectful relationships.”

The report suggests that other institutions could learn from the example of the Christian charities working in this field: Amber Chaplains, Caritas Bakhita House, Eve, the Salvation Army-run Faith House, Lighthouse, and Youth with a Mission.

Staff and volunteers in the six charities “took a distinctive approach which made the women they worked with truly visible through their regard”, researchers found.

Drawing on their faith and the resources of the charity, they were committed to a continuity of care which built trust among the women whom they were helping.

“They valued the women they worked with and described their work as a privilege. A number commented that they met women in the image of God, as equals with whom it was a privilege to work,” the report says.

“For many their faith was a source of strength and comfort, in which prayer could be offered as a gift, provided an opportunity to reflect on their work, or was experienced as a source of unity.”

The report concludes that there is “much to be learned” from the experiences of staff and volunteers who are working with disadvantaged women.

The director of Theos, Chine McDonald, said: “Women all over the world face barriers, many of them suffering from extreme and intersecting inequalities including poverty and sexual violence, and barriers to progress.

“But, closer to home, there exists a group of women often unseen, who face severe and multiple disadvantages, and who are being failed by health and social care, criminal justice, housing, and wider policy in the UK unable to meet the complex needs these women face.

“We hope that by focusing on the important role Christian organisations in the social-care sector can play in tackling the disadvantages women face, we can demonstrate the role of faith in society, and how people motivated by their faith can contribute to flourishing communities.”

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