I’ve been mulling over the contents of a talk I’m giving next week to launch my book WITNESS – there is so much to say but need to focus myself. I’ve started by making a plan, but keep getting distracted by my frustration at constantly feeling I’m bothering folk by bringing attention to this issue. I’m happy in the knowledge that those attending the launch will be interested in the issues raised in my book: Gender Based Violence and the things that keep women stuck in these relationships, including beliefs learned at home and in Church.
2001 – 2010 was designated The Decade to Overcome Violence by the World Council of Churches. A great deal of work was done across the Christian traditions to raise awareness of Gender Based Violence throughout the decade. In 2006 when I spoke to the women in my faith tradition (Roman Catholic) who had been involved in raising awareness, one shared with me the difficulty of engaging parish priests. They spoke to many priests who responded by saying ‘we don’t have that kind of problem in here.’ Given the UK figures we had then, 1 in 6 women experienced intimate partner violence at some point in their life, making the response of these priest clearly uninformed. (The current figure is 1 in 4 women experience Gender Based Violence at some point in their lives). Scottish Women’s Aid had a Faith Groups Forum which came together to try and collate the work across the Faith groups and to create suitable resources to make available to religious institutions. FAITH COMMUNITIES: 10 things you can do to stop domestic abuse is the resource we created, copied in this page from the Church of Scotland’s website.
As the decade rolled on, limited resources put Domestic Abuse on the back burner for the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland due to statutory requirements to put safeguarding practice in place for children and vulnerable adults. In 2010, with the help of Fr Chris Boles, Superior at the Lauriston Jesuit Centre in Edinburgh, I organised an awareness raising event during the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence inviting speakers from Scottish Women’s Aid , Fife Forum on Domestic Violence, and Feminist Theologian and Activist Dr Lesley Orr. Due to the 16 Days of Activism coinciding with Advent in the Christian Church, and with Christmas shopping for non church folk, it meant, despite good publicity, only 50 people, mainly women, attended. It was a very informative and engaging day, and enlightening speaking to women who suffered intimate partner violence, especially their feelings and concerns about their church’s teaching on marriage.
It seems to me that Advent and the 16 Days of Activism can go very well together. Advent is about preparing for the birth of Jesus, with a focus on Mary and Joseph and the trials they endured – especially Mary, an unwed pregnant woman in a traditional society. There is so much scope to reflect on women’s experience of GBV, particularly given the escalation in violence and control when women are pregnant. Mary’s must have felt insecure in her situation, given Joseph could back out of their marriage; folk probably shunned her and pointed fingers at her leaving her feeling isolated and unsure of how she would take care of her baby without a community of support. There is no indication that Mary was abused; Joseph chose to look after her, but her feelings echo some of the feelings of abused women: confusion, insecurity, isolation. Advent and Christmas focus on this little family in dire need and fearful for their lives. We also give our attention to our own family lives, so, when better can we discuss violence in our homes? Pregnancy is a flashpoint for increase in violence against women, as is Christmas.
Our traditions and myths encourage feelings of cosiness, anticipation and warmth, while the lived reality for so many women and children is one of fear and crisis. We anticipate the cosy Christmas card scene; we put so much energy into achieving it, and for some Christmas is a great time for families, but many more experience walking on egg shells and praying the day goes by without incident, hoping THIS year will be a good year.
People of all faiths celebrate festivals that focus on the family. I believe it is time to take a long hard look at how life is lived by so many of us, and discuss within our traditions how we can be faithful to our beliefs, as children of God.
The week of Valentine’s Day may seem an odd time to discuss this, but Valentine’s Day is also the One Billion Rising Day, so it’s timely to reflect on GBV and our Faith Communities response, and gives us time to make plans for 16 Days of Activism 2017.