16 Days: Action to End Violence against Women

This single-side of A4 16 Days of Action Guide revised for 2017 offers some basic facts as well as resources for prayer and action. Download it here.

Holocaust Memorial Day, Homeless Sunday, Short Notes: 22 Jan 2017

In this week’s prayer email:

  • Holocaust Memorial Day (27 January)
  • Homeless Sunday Prayer
  • Short Notes: US Climate Policy, The Gambia, Brazil, Hope in the Middle East

Christ is the world’s light – the promised one who will drive away darkness and lead us in paths of peace. That’s a core message in this week’s Revised Common Lectionary texts
… as is the call for us to be “un
ited in the same mind and the same purpose.” Are we ready to turn towards the light and follow in the way Christ reveals? And are we prepared to seek unity through and in Christ?

Holocaust Memorial Day (27 January)

The theme for this year’s Holocaust Memorial Day is “How can life go on?” and is inspired by a quote from Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel:

“For the survivor death is not the problem. Death was an everyday occurrence. We learned to live with Death. The problem is to adjust to life, to living. You must teach us about living.”

The theme is deliberately framed as a question, asking us to engage with a variety of issues faced by survivors of genocide, wherever it occurs. The question not only speaks to the experiences of those in the past, but also shines a light on some contemporary issues, including the issues faced by people caught up in and displaced by ethnic cleansing and large-scale conflict, and the capacity of false information to shape public opinion and potentially disastrously shift the political landscape.

The first questions the Holocaust Memorial Day materials invite us to think about surround the trauma experienced by survivors of genocide and how they come to terms with the past. How can people rebuild their lives after such unimaginable suffering? “Many of those who survive suffer post-traumatic stress and depression, while the smallest of reminders such as scenes in films, smells, tastes or certain clothes can trigger memories of what happened.”

Chanrithy Him, a survivor of the genocide in Cambodia says, “The sight of someone dressed entirely in black would trigger a memory – the uniforms of the Khmer Rouge. And for a moment it would paralyse me as if I was under a spell… Memories seep back to me in ways I hadn’t imagined.”

For survivors, the question of how life can go on is closely linked to the question of where it goes on. Tens of thousands, even millions, of survivors find themselves dislocated when the genocide itself ends, and for many the aftermath of genocide, rather than bringing relief, brings fresh suffering, adding to their trauma.

Kitty Hart-Moxon, a survivor of the Holocaust, recalled, “When they came to collect us from Dover one of the first things my uncle said to me was ‘I don’t want you to talk about anything that happened to you. I don’t want my girls upset’. It was a huge disappointment that nobody wanted to know, it was horrific. I was really, really angry, not only about what happened, but the reaction from other people.”

Blanka Rothschild recalls her return to her family home in Poland at the end of World War II. Blanka, the child of non-observant Jews, had spent the first four years in the Lodz ghetto. She was then deported to Ravensbrück concentration camp and subsequently transferred to forced labour in an aeroplane factory, where the beatings she received left her spine permanently damaged. The advancing Russian army brought liberation, but of a confusing and uncertain kind: escape and food was juxtaposed with some of the escapees being shot and others raped. When the war in Europe was finally over it was difficult for survivors to know where to go. Eventually Blanka joined a group of men and women making their way back to Poland on foot. She recalls what happened when she finally made it back to Lodz:

“Our house was still standing. And the so-called superintendent was still the same one. And when he saw me, he thought that he… that he saw a ghost! He said in Polish, ‘How come I survived? Why did I come back?’ This was the greeting I received. When I wanted to go upstairs to our place, our apartment, a large place, the people wouldn’t let me in… My Poland was not my Poland any more”.

Blanka felt so unwelcome in Poland that she left, eventually making her way to a new life in America where she was taken in at first by her great uncle and his wife. “[She] was the most wonderful, wonderful lady who made me feel good, warm. She hugged me. She kissed me. And that’s what I needed. That’s what I needed. I didn’t need material things. I just wanted to be loved, to belong. And that was the beginning.”

The waves of trauma experienced by Holocaust and genocide survivors like Blanka have strong resonance in the current refugee crises. People escaping horror, oppression and conflict do not necessarily find sanctuary and security; their presence does not necessarily evoke compassion but scepticism and hostility. This has been all too evident in both mainstream and social media coverage of migration and refugee resettlement in mainland Europe and the UK in recent months.

Even people who resettle through official channels describe feeling uncertain of their welcome. In her article, “I’m a refugee who escaped war and genocide in Bosnia. If you think resettlement is easy, read this”, Arnesa Buljusmic Kustura writes, “To be a refugee these days means to wake up almost each morning and witness anti-refugee sentiment plastered on the news and social media.” She describes the almost four-year process she had to go through before she was allowed to settle in the US: “Interview after interview was conducted by UN Refugee Agency official to ensure that my family and I were speaking the truth. The process of telling our story of trauma lasted a couple of years. Each interview conducted meant reliving the trauma of being under siege in Sarajevo, of being held in concentration camps in Visegrad… In 2002, when we finally settled in America we assumed our journey towards emotional safety had finally been reached. However, as refugees we continued to be subjected to interviews by government officials, medical and psychological exams, biometric testing, and visits from Immigration and Department of Human Services Case Managers.” Despite these experiences, Arnesa is grateful for “the privilege of coming to build a life in America” and reflects, “Since then, as a way of giving back thanks, I became involved in activism, volunteering, and continuous community engagement. Choosing to give back, as much as I could, rather than take,” but adds, “To the pundits that share anti-refugee sentiment, however, none of this matters.”

A second equally pertinent question the Holocaust Memorial Day resources invite us to explore concerns the denial and trivialisation of the Holocaust and other genocides. “Denial,” they note,” is the final stage of genocide.” It is not just the Holocaust that is the target of denial. This article, “Denying Genocide in the Face of Science”, catalogues the denial in Bosnia of the Srebrenica massacre in 1995.

This year, Holocaust Memorial Day sees the release of the film Denial, which tells the story of the legal battle for historical truth between Deborah Lipstadt and David Irving, who sued her for libel when she described him as a Holocaust denier. Lipstadt won the case.

In the light of all the historical record, photographic evidence, personal testimony – and indeed the outcome of the trial – it seems almost inconceivable that Holocaust denial and trivialisation can continue today, especially when information sharing through social media can so easily take people to reliable, factual information. And yet, not only does denial continue, but social media aids and abets it. David Irving today claims a large and growing following and still says, “History evolves. The truth about the Holocaust is gradually coming out. And this is thanks to the internet. It’s how this new generation finds me. There’s a general belief among people out there that they are being misled.”

David Hare, who wrote the screenplay for Denial has written about how and why he took on the task. His reflections lucidly set out the broader significance of the trial – and the phenomenon of Holocaust denial – for us today. He discusses his decision to “stick rigidly to the exact words used inside [the court]. I could not allow any neo-fascist critic later to claim that I had re-written the testimony” and he reflects on the role of the social media. “In an internet age it is, at first glance, democratic to say that everyone is entitled to their own opinion. That is surely true. It is however a fatal step to then claim that all opinions are equal. Some opinions are backed by fact. Others are not. And those that are not backed by fact are worth considerably less than those that are.”

He continues, “There are some subjects about which two points of view are not equally valid. We are entering, in politics especially, a post-factual era in which it is apparently permissible for public figures to assert things without evidence, and then to justify their assertions by adding “Well, that’s my opinion” – as though that in itself was some kind of justification. It isn’t.”

“Post-truth” was the Oxford English Dictionary’s word of the year for 2016, defining it as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” The word saw a massive increase in usage from mid May last year. This environment has been accompanied by the growing phenomenon of fake news – raising challenging and serious questions about how and where we source our information. Deliberate lies and appeals to emotion led to the vilification and murder of millions of Jews in the last century. Commemorating the Holocaust is not simply an important act of remembering its victims. Reflecting on its origins, and allowing our exploration to inform our response to our own times both honours those who died and those who survived and might provide us with much-needed insight into where continued care is always necessary.

This Holocaust memorial day please pray…

  • For the survivors of the Holocaust and other genocides – that they would find strength, courage and support to rebuild their lives and come to terms, as far as it’s possible, with their experiences
  • For all people displaced by genocide, conflict and other traumatic causes – that they might find understanding and sanctuary, and an end to their suffering rather than further suffering
  • For the people in the places to which survivors come – that they might be willing to understand, have empathy and be supportive both emotionally and practically.
  • For us all as we try to reject what is false and stand up for what is good – that we may be vigilant, wise and discerning and strive always to act and react with integrity and love.

Homeless Sunday Prayer

Earlier this month we provided a link to the Homeless Sunday resources. One of the main ones is this prayer – might you use it in your Sunday service or at another point in the coming week?

Loving God, in your house there is room for everyone.
Help us as we strive for a world where everyone has a home that truly meets their needs.
Give us the grace to welcome strangers and refugees.
Give us the insight to see where inequality hurts.
Fill us with courage to do our part.
Save us from being overwhelmed by the scale of the housing crisis,
and show us, O Lord, where to begin.

Amen


Short Notes: US Climate Policy, The Gambia, Brazil, Hope in the Middle East

US Climate Policy

We’ll be looking over the next weeks at what the new Trump presidency may mean for US policy in various areas. In the meantime, you might want to look at two useful items the John Ray Initiative has produced on Trump and climate change – a short post by John Weaver and a briefing paper by Martin Hodson. Pray, with respect to environmental policy, for wisdom for the new administration, whose initial policy statements – put up on the White House website within minutes of the inauguration – are not unencouraging. Pray also in thanksgiving for the numerous people at state and local level for whom care for creation is a vital part of policymaking, whatever happens at the federal level. On the day of the inauguration, for example, California announced its plan to cut its emission by 40% by 2030 – and California’s economy is so large that its decisions have ramifications beyond its borders.

The Gambia

Pray for the people and incoming government of The Gambia. In December of last year, former President Yahya Jammeh, who ruled for twenty-two years, initially accepted – and then rejected – the results of an election which he lost. His attempts to remain in power have now ended following the swearing-in of his successor in Senegal and the deployment of troops from surrounding states. Jammeh has agreed to leave The Gambia (his full statement is here). His successor, President Adam Barrow, has already indicated that he intends to make significant changes, including setting up a truth and reconciliation commission to investigate past government abuses and rejoining the Commonwealth and International Criminal Court – and there is a sense of optimism among many in the capital.

Tens of thousands of Gambians had fled for fear of fighting in the country. Pray that they will return safely, that the new president and those assisting him will govern justly and well, and that the country will enjoy peace, justice and stability.

Brazil

Brazilian Supreme Court Judge Teori Zavascki was killed on Thursday in a small plane crash. Zavascki was a leading figure in Brazil’s ‘Lava-Jato’ (Operation Car Wash) anti-corruption investigations.

The Supreme Court was due shortly to analyse plea-bargain agreements relating to one part of the investigations. It had been thought that this might involve releasing testimony relating to these agreements to the public – and that the testimony could be explosive, with allegations against some of the country’s highest ranking politicians, including the President.

The government has declared three days of national mourning – but the implications of the judge’s death will be far longer lasting: it’s unclear how the Lava-Jato process will move forward, and how a new rapporteur will be appointed. The concerns many have surrounding the death (the judge’s son noted that ‘many people would have celebrated’ the death – though he hoped it was simply a fatality and not a murder) are also likely to be resolved quickly, although an investigation into the incident has been started.

Please pray for consolation for family, friends and colleagues of all who were killed in the crash; for a swift, full and transparent investigation of its circumstances; for the appointment of someone of rigourous ethics as the new rapporteur for Lava-Jato; and for the continued efforts to promote justice and transparency in the Brazilian political system.

Hope in the Middle East

We’ve been at several meetings recently where people working with Middle Eastern agencies and churches have spoken about under-the-radar efforts to bring hope and healing to people and areas that have suffered because of the region’s conflicts. Many of these efforts can’t be reported – though some can: if you speak French or Arabic, do take a look at this film which shows how different groups, including Fair Trade Lebanon, are helping to integrate and assist both Syrian refugees and their host communities. Fair Trade Lebanon, for example, is helping people in six communities – especially women – to work together in food production. They’re  bringing together Syrian and Lebanese women to share their knowledge and recipes as they produce products for sale. “If I weren’t working [here],” one Syrian woman says, “I’d be staying at home. My mother’s sick, and she can’t work. My sister and I help our father to ensure that our household has an income.” “The cooperation is very important for both our communities,” adds a Lebanese woman. “It would be good if there could be a centre like this in every village, [enabling people] to cooperate and to help each other at the same time.”

It’s worth knowing as we hear wave on wave of bleak news that positive things are happening. Please pray for agencies like Fair Trade Lebanon, as they seek to offer people dignity and work for peace. And pray especially for churches in the region. Give thanks for the ways that God is at work in and through them and pray that the worldwide body of Christ may give them support through prayer and material sustenance in ways that enable them to bring hope and healing within their own communities and to others.

 

Photograph: Homelessness 028, by fio.PSD comunicazione, used under Creative Commons License

Human Rights – 11 December 2016

In this week’s email:

  • Human Rights
  • Praying for areas where rights are under threat

It’s fitting, as we mark Human Rights Day, that this week’s Revised Common Lectionary Gospel reading confronts us with the realities of persecution – in it, we encounter John the Baptist, imprisoned for his criticism of Herod. We remember especially this week all who suffer because of state-sponsored intolerance of their faith in the Christ whom John proclaimed. May they know God’s peace amidst their sufferings, and may we, as fellow followers of Christ, seek to sustain them by our prayers and practical action.

Human Rights

What is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights?

10 December is Human Rights Day – and given that there is much discussion around human rights, it’s worth reminding ourselves of the history of the concepts, as well as praying for areas where people are currently under threat.

December 10 was chosen as Human Rights Day to commemorate the day the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the United Nations in 1948. The Declaration came in response to the atrocities of World War II and, in the words of the human rights group Liberty, the “realisation that although fundamental rights should be respected as a matter of course, without formal protection human rights concepts are of little use to those facing persecution.”

Drafted by a group chaired by Eleanor Roosevelt with members from China, Lebanon, Australia, Chile, France, Great Britain and the Soviet Union, the Declaration’s preamble sets out the aspirations and context that gave it birth. “Recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,” it notes. It then continues: “[D]isregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people…  [I]t is essential… that human rights should be protected by the rule of law.”

Thirty articles follow: these begin with the foundational statements that “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights” and that human rights apply “without distinction” to all people. Twenty further articles enumerate specific civil and political rights:

  • to life, liberty and security of person (Article 3)
  • to freedom from slavery (Article 4) or torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment (Article 5)
  • to recognition as a person before the law, to equal protection and to due process (Articles 6-11),
  • to protection from arbitrary interference with privacy, family, home, or correspondence (Article 12),
  • to freedom of movement within states, to leave states (Article 13), to seek and enjoy asylum in case of persecution (Article 14) and to a nationality (Article 15)
  • to enter into consensual marriage (Article 16)
  • to own property (Article 17)
  • to freedom of thought, conscience and religion (Article 18), freedom of opinion and expression (Article 19), and freedom of association (Article 20)
  • to take part in government and access public services (Article 21)

Six subsequent articles enumerate social, cultural and economic rights:

  • to social security (Article 22), to work, free choice of employment, just and
    favourable conditions of work, protection against unemployment, equal pay for equal
    work, just and favourable remuneration ensuring for a person and their family an existence worthy of human dignity, and the right to form and to join trade unions (Article 23), to rest and leisure (Article 24)
  • to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of oneself and one’s family and to special protection for all mothers and children, regardless of the child’s status (Article 25)
  • to education (Article 26)
  • to participation in cultural and artistic life (Article 27)

Oxford Public International Law has an interesting summary article on the genesis of the document and the influences on what was included – as well on the debates which led to its being a Declaration of the General Assembly, which has moral force but is not binding on member states and does not have treaty status.

In terms of its impact, the human rights organisation Liberty has described the Declaration as “one of the most important agreements in the history of human rights” and former Archbishop Rowan Williams, in a lecture which looks at some of the tensions around human rights, has spoken of it as “a landmark in the history of moral consciousness”.

What conventions support it – and how does it relate to the UK?

The Declaration was quickly followed by other instruments to give it effect in different contexts. Most relevantly for the UK, the newly formed Council of Europe created in 1950 the European Convention on Human Rights, which picks up primarily on the civil/political articles of the Universal Declaration, as well as on the right to education. The European Convention sets out both a series of rights and the extent to which some of them (privacy, freedoms of thought, conscience, religion, expression, assembly and association) are qualified by considerations such as the interests of the public safety or the rights of others. The UK played a significant role in creating and writing the European Convention and was one of the first to sign it on November 4th 1950. Helpful visual aids for each of the articles of the Convention can be found here.

The European Court of Human Rights followed in 1959, to rule on allegations of violations of the Convention. Other regional conventions and courts have also been adopted – for example the American Convention on Human Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and conventions on specific issues have also been adopted (such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on Torture).

The UK has allowed individuals to apply to the European Court of Human Rights since 1966, but the 1998 Human Rights Act made the European Convention directly enforceable in the UK, meaning that people who feel their rights have been breached can take their case to a British court rather than European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. The Human Rights Act also requires public bodies, such as local authorities and the police, to respect and protect human rights and, in the words of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, “in practice it means that Parliament will nearly always seek to ensure that new laws are compatible with the rights set out in the European Convention on Human Rights” (even though Parliament actually remains sovereign).

The current Government is proposing to replace the Human Rights Act with a British Bill of Rights and Responsibilities. An even more profound change was mooted in April when then Home Secretary Theresa May called for the UK to leave the ECHR, although she later pulled back from this position during her leadership bid, citing a lack of parliamentary support.

This year’s Human Rights Day: Prayer and Action

The theme for this year’s Human Rights day is “Stand up for someone’s rights today!” How might one do that? There are some suggested areas for prayer below – but what other actions might we take?

One clear avenue is to work through a human rights organisation or organisations – supporting them financially, taking actions they highlight and praying for them. Such support matters. As Archbishop Desmond Tutu, has said, “It means a great deal to those who are oppressed to know that they are not alone. Never let anyone tell you that what you are doing is insignificant.”  Many Christians already support organisations such as Amnesty or Human Rights Watch. Among potentially less-well-known organisations, Christian Solidarity Worldwide and Forum 18 (which takes its name from Article 18 of the Universal Declaration) do effective work on religious freedom, with the former having a broad focus on freedom generally and a more specific focus on issues facing Christians, and the latter providing “original reporting and analysis on violations of freedom of thought, conscience and belief of all people in an objective, truthful and timely manner … [with a] focus on Central Asia, the South Caucasus, Russia and Belarus” and analyses of the situation in Turkey. The International Justice Mission focuses on a range of rights abuses – such as sex trafficking, modern slavery, police brutality, and citizenship rights – that have a particularly heavy impact in poor communities. You can see the story of their work to free an innocent man from prison in Kenya here; they have also rescued a number of child victims of cybersex trafficking, including “Cassie” whose story is told here. And you can read here about their work with police and politicians in Cambodia to transform systems that put vulnerable people at risk.

For our everyday lives, it can be helpful to get reminders on ways to respond if we witness someone being subjected to abuse or harassment. An article offering helpful advice can be found here.

At a policy level within the UK, the status of human rights and the role of the Human Rights Act is a contentious topic. Some of the discussion engages with serious questions and concerns; some is less well-informed; and all takes place in the current highly-charged context. Some very important issues are at stake. In the immediate present, the Methodist Church has a campaign action to take in support of the Human Rights Act. We propose to explore the subject further in the new year and invite you to share your thoughts and perspectives as we undertake this work. If you would like to contribute, please be in touch with Elizabeth at elizabeth@ccow.org.uk.

Following on from Human Rights Day, please pray:

  • For all whose human rights are being violated today – that they might find redress and know fullness of life.
  • For all involved in the education and formation of young people – that they may instill respect for the dignity and value of every human life
  • That governments will respect human rights in both theory and practice
  • For the individuals and organisations that stand up for human rights, often in difficult circumstances – that they might be given wisdom, discernment, resilience, courage, determination and support in the work that they pursue.
  • For ourselves – for wisdom to know when and how to intervene to stand up for people and policies, and for courage to do so


Praying for areas where rights are under threat

  • Colombia
  • Democratic Republic of Congo
  • Myanmar
  • Global Gender-Based Violence
  • … and an action point

Colombia

While rejoicing in the recent steps towards peace, we continue to be concerned about worryingly high levels of violence against human rights defenders, environmental activists, community leaders and trade unionists.

Please pray for wisdom and discernment, courage and safety  for all those seeking to defend human rights, the rights of poor communities, the environment, and the right to organise into trade unions.  Pray that the government will take action to end the culture of impunity for those who attack members of these groups – and will seek to provide safety for all its citizens.

Democratic Republic of Congo

Earlier this year, we wrote about issues surrounding the elections that should be held this year in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Human Rights Watch noted this week:

“Ten days before the December 19, 2016, deadline marking the end of President Joseph Kabila’s constitutionally mandated two-term limit, he still has not made any clear commitment on when or even if he will step down. At the same time, government repression against pro-democracy activists, the political opposition, largely peaceful protesters, and the media has intensified at an alarming rate.”

Please pray that God will give those in power the wisdom and courage to act for the good of the country, and will give those outside of power who are seeking a fair and just democratic process wisdom and courage as they seek to make their points. Pray, too, for wisdom for EU and US leaders as they consider actions to take in response to the unfolding elections crisis.

Myanmar

Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslims have long been regarded as one of the world’s most persecuted people. Effectively rendered stateless by the government of Myanmar, in which they reside, they have been denied adequate access to food and medical care and suffered the destruction of their property as well as violence against individuals, families and communities.

Most recently, Human Rights Watch and others have reported that following an attack – allegedly by Rohingya militants – on police outposts in one of the townships near the Bangladesh border, “government forces declared Maungdaw district an “operation zone” and began sweeps of the area to find the attackers and lost weapons. They severely restricted the freedom of movement of local populations and imposed extended curfews, which remain in place. With the area sealed off to observers, local sources reported that government forces committed serious human rights abuses, including torture, rape, extrajudicial executions, and widespread destruction of buildings, including mosques.” Human Rights Watch has documented the burning of over a thousand structures; many aid workers (the main providers of health care) are not being allowed into the area, and with the exception of one World Food Programme delivery, humanitarian aid has been blocked; as a result, the UN says that 160,000 vulnerable people have been cut off from health care, school feedings and maternal care. And the allegations of torture, rape and murder are harrowing.

The violence against the Rohingya takes place against a wider background of uncertainty in Myanmar, following government offensives and recent counterattacks in other provinces where ethnic conflict exists. It also takes place in a context where the civilian government leadership shares power with the military, which controls the cabinet posts for defence, home affairs and border affairs, and thus the departments in charge of the operations against the Rohingya.

Agencies are calling for an independent inquiry into military abuses, as well as the immediate lifting of restrictions on access for humanitarian aid (CSW, Human Rights Watch). The UN has called for Aung San Suu Kyi to rein in hardliners, unite the country, and address the Rohingya’s  issues of citizenship and status.

Please pray for the safety and protection of the vulnerable Rohingya and other vulnerable ethnic groups in Myanmar. Pray for justice and healing for those who have suffered traumatic losses. Pray that Aung San Suu Kyi can be a unifying force within the country and can help it to overcome traditional divisions. Pray for the lifting of restrictions on aid, and for long-term changes that give permanent access to citizenship, justice and security to the Rohingya and other minorities. Pray for the government of Bangladesh, as it considers how to respond to the refugees fleeing across its border. Pray for international assistance in support of those who have suffered so much.

Global Gender-Based Violence

No woman should have to suffer gender-based violence – but a frequently cited study on the prevalence of violence against women and girls estimated that during their lifetime, over 35% of women globally had experienced either or both of intimate partner violence and non-partner sexual violence. Pray for all women who have suffered gender-based violence – that God may give them healing and justice.

We pray particularly at this time for women in areas of conflict. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs recently noted how conflict exacerbates extant problems:

“In Syria, where the ongoing conflict has destroyed the fabric of society, 67 per cent of women reported receiving some form of “punishment” from their husbands, 87 per cent of which was physical violence.

Sexual and gender-based violence was already widespread in South Sudan prior to the start of the conflict in December 2013, but it has increased fivefold in recent years. In Leer, Mayendit and Koch counties of Unity, an estimated 1,300 women and girls were raped and 1,600 women and children abducted between April and September 2015.

In Yemen, the reality of violence against women is rooted in gender inequality and discriminatory practices, which are further exacerbated by the current conflict. According to UNFPA, 3.1 million people have been internally displaced since the conflict began, and at least 17,277 GBV incidents have been reported.”

Pray for safety and security from sexual violence for all women and men in conflict zones, for an end to the impunity that often protects perpetrators of conflict-related sexual violence, and for healing and justice for those who have already suffered. Pray, too, for the mending of the fabric of relationships within conflict-ridden societies, of which the violence against women is one manifestation.

That issues around understanding gender-based violence are also present closer to home was made starkly apparent in a recent study conducted across Europe by the European Commission. Asked to state whether they agreed or disagreed with the statement “Violence against women is often provoked by the victim,” more than a third of the respondents in five countries agreed. Asked whether they thought sexual intercourse without consent was justified by circumstances, more than a fifth of respondents in four countries felt that being drunk or having used drugs justified intercourse without consent; more than 15% of respondents in three countries felt that walking alone at night did so; and all told, across the EU 28, 27% of respondents suggested that at least one of the possible circumstances justified sex without consent.

Pray that in all parts of the world, people may understand that violence against women and sex without consent are always unacceptable – and may do everything in their power to end both.

And an action point

It’s not technically a rights issue, as the people in question weren’t seeking asylum and countries have the right to control entry. But there is strong feeling that the Home Office’s refusal to grant visas for three Orthodox archbishops from Iraq and Syria to attend the consecration of the UK’s new Syrian Orthodox Cathedral was questionable and not particularly supportive of church leaders in the Middle East. Might you write to the Home Secretary to express your concern? If you’d like some guidelines, email us.