In this week’s email:

  • Countering Violence against Women and Girls
  • Nepal
  • Short Note: US Cabinet Appointments

For many churches, this is the last Sunday of the church year – and the Revised Common Lectionary readings celebrate the reign of Christ as king. As we come to the end of a year which has often felt quite tumultuous for many people around the world, we give thanks once more for the knowledge that Christ – the one through whom all things were created, our redeemer and our saviour – is indeed the ruler over all.

Countering Violence against Women and Girls

What is Violence against Women and Girls? And how prevalent is it?
The United Nations defines violence against women as “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or mental harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.”

A frequently cited study on the prevalence of violence against women and girls, which was published in 2013 under the auspices of the World Health Organization, used a definition that includes “violence by an intimate partner (intimate partner violence) and rape/sexual assault and other forms of sexual violence [being forced to perform an unwanted sexual act] perpetrated by someone other than a partner (non-partner sexual violence), as well as female genital mutilation, honour killings and the trafficking of women.”

How common is such violence? Focusing on two areas – intimate partner violence and non-partner sexual violence – the 2013 report estimated that over 35% of women globally had experienced one or both, with 30% of women experiencing intimate partner violence at some point during their lifetime. Estimates varied greatly by country, with rates of intimate partner violence for individual countries ranging from a low of 15% to a high of 71%. The high-income countries, including the UK, are, as a group, about in the middle. What is particularly worrying is that the data are probably if anything on the low side: the report itself notes that there are, for example, no statistics for non-partner sexual violence in the Eastern Mediterranean and that new evidence suggests the Pacific statistics it used were probably far lower than the reality.

This year’s 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence  returns to the theme of ‘From Peace in the Home to Peace in the World: Make Education Safe for All!’ reminding us that violence against women and girls takes place in many settings, including those that should be havens of safety, such as schools – where students can face “sexual violence and abuse on the way or within education settings; and discrimination in the availability of essential infrastructure such as adequate and safely accessible sanitary facilities.”  To use some examples cited by the UN, one study found that one in four girls say that they never feel comfortable using school latrines; a 2010 survey by the Ministry of National Education in Côte d’Ivoire found that 47% of teachers reported having elicited sexual relations with students and in South Africa, a national survey found that 8% of secondary girls had experienced severe sexual assault or rape in the previous year while at school. Nor are schools the only ‘safe spaces’ that may not be as safe as they ought to be: in a well-known survey of British Methodist ministers and lay workers, 1 in 4 of the women who responded reported having experienced intimate partner violence.

Why is this coming up now? annual campaign to “galvanize action to end violence against women and girls around the world.” The 16 Days of Activism start on November 25th because that is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women and run until December 10th, Human Rights Day. The campaign, which is in its 25th year, symbolically links the two dates to make the connection that violence against women is a violation of women’s rights.

The 25th of November is also White Ribbon Day, when many men who want to show their commitment to opposing violence against women wear a white ribbon. The ribbon symbolises their pledge “never to commit, condone, or remain silent about men’s violence against women in all its forms.”

What are these campaigns?

The 16 Days campaign started in 1991 when the first Women’s Global Leadership Institute   established it as a way of raising awareness of gender-based violence and encouraging networking amongst women working in the area. The movement grew dramatically, to the extent that over 5,167 organizations in 187 countries have organized around the 16 Days Campaign. An interfaith coalition has also formed around the 16 days, providing a variety of faith-based resources.

The White Ribbon Campaign was started in 1991 in Canada, in response to a mass shooting of women in Montreal. It is now established in 60 countries. The campaign notes: “The White Ribbon is a symbol of hope for a world where women and girls can live free from the fear of violence. Wearing the ribbon is about challenging the acceptability of violence – by getting men involved, helping women to break the silence, and encouraging everyone to come together to build a better world for all.”

The White Ribbon Campaign recognises the expertise and central role of women in challenging violence against women, encourages local White Ribbon groups to keep in dialogue with women’s groups in their community and “tries to make sure we are of real financial benefit to shelters for abused women, rape crisis centres, and women’s advocacy programs”. They are wary of the disproportionate media attention they have sometimes received. Nonetheless, their focus is specifically on men, recognizing that men are the main perpetrators of violence against women and that this is where change needs to happen. It allows men to speak to other men about the issue and challenge attitudes and behaviour. Pen portraits of what three men are doing to fight violence and discrimination against women can be found here.

What does this mean for churches?
Our Christian faith teaches that men and women alike are made in the image and likeness of God and should be treated with dignity and respect. It makes clear that love – not the abuse of power – is the model for relationships, and that marriages are to foster relationships of love, without harshness and violence. But while one would expect the churches, therefore, to speak out clearly against gender-based violence and work to assist those affected by it, they’ve often remained relatively silent. Many people don’t feel comfortable talking about the topic, or don’t want to acknowledge the extent to which it’s an issue.

In order to encourage greater prayer and action, many Christian organisations engage with the 16 Days campaign: these include the Anglican Communion, the Christian AIDS Bureau of Southern Africa, the Mothers’ Union, Restored and the World Council of Churches.

Churches around the world are using the time for prayer and action. To take some examples from last year, in Calcutta, over 150 church leaders, heads of educational institutions and students took part in an ecumenical seminar, at which survivors of violence shared their stories, and which provided a forum for participants both to learn, develop networks and share what they were doing to tackle abuse. In  Fiji, an interfaith “talanoa” (an indigenous Polynesian approach to sharing) was convened for religious leaders to seek faith-based responses to the pervasive problem of violence against women. In South Africa, the We Will Speak Out coalition launched the 16 days in Gauteng with a gathering to discuss the role of faith communities in responding to sexual and gender based violence and share stories of where they were having an impact. You can find more examples of 16 days activities here.

Such activities can make a profound difference. The Provincial President of the Mothers’ Union in Papua New Guinea has shared that following a mass sit-in by women – including members of the Mothers’ Union and other church groups – in their country, the government brought in laws making it illegal to beat your wife.

What can we do – in prayer and action?
Some thoughts ….

  • Join women around the world in lighting a candle and/or holding prayer vigil on the 25th, whether privately or in your church. You might wish to use the Mothers’ Union’s prayer for the day:

    Loving Lord, we light this candle
    to remember all who are affected
    by gender-based violence,
    and as a symbol of hope
    as we pray for a world
    which is free from all forms
    of violence and abuse.

    The light shines in the darkness,
    and the darkness has not overcome it.
    John 1:5

  • Use a daily prayer resource such as those from We will speak out or  Tearfund (both older, but still good) to pray throughout the 16 Days.
  • Print off some copies of the Mothers’ Union’s signposting leaflet (which talks about gender-based violence and gives information on whom to contact for help) or Reformed’s informative poster and put them in your church. It’s especially helpful to place them in areas where women can look at them while alone.
  • Wear – and/or encourage others to wear – a white ribbon in support of the White Ribbon Campaign … and talk with others or use social media to spread the message about what you’re doing. You might also want to look at Restored’s First Man Standing campaign, which has a helpful video and Bible studies for men’s groups.
  • Download, read and discuss with others in your church the Restored resource for churches on domestic violence.
  • Advocate! The Mothers’ Union has a specific suggestion about writing on issues around child support.
  • Find out more about what people are doing globally – on Thursday 1 December, the International Anglican Women’s Network is collaborating with the Anglican Alliance to run a webinar on ‘Anglicans tackling Gender-based Violence’. The webinar will faeture a panel of speakers from around the Anglican Communion who will share about how they are marking this year’s 16 Days of Activism and how they are tackling gender-based violence all the year round. The webinar, on World AIDS Day, will also reflect on the related issues of HIV and AIDS.
  • Give to organisations that are working locally and globally to counter violence against women. You may want to look at organisations that have this as their primary focus, such as RestoredRefuge, Stop the Traffik, 28TooMany, Women’s Aid, and Women at the Well. Or you might want to look at the work that agencies like CAFOD, Christian Aid, Tearfund and others do in this area.
  • In your prayers and intercessions, pray
  • For all women who have been subject to violence, praying for healing of both body and spirit.
  • For the organizations that support them, that their volunteers and staff will have the resilience, wisdom and resources they need.
  • That the 16 Days of Activism and White Ribbon Campaigns will continue to have an impact in changing attitudes and behaviour, especially at a time when other forms of hate speech seem more prevalent.
  • Other prayers can be found from CABSACAFOD or the Mothers’ Union service outline.

    Two of our trustees recently visited their mission partners in Nepal, and have returned with information about the church and prayer requests.

    The first Christian church in Nepal was built in Pokhara in 1952. Nepal now has one of the fastest growing churches in the world – they worship the living God!

    Most church buildings are about the size and shape of a village hall. They are always carpeted and at one end is a raised platform where the worship leaders stand. Some smaller, often newer churches are inside a house and may occupy one complete floor.

    All of the eight we visited in which we had the privilege of taking part in worship had amplified guitar-led music and a small number of young people, often women, who led the singing and also would lead the prayers or read from the Bible. Most had microphones. Songs were sung with great reverence but, when appropriate, with great joy and clapping. The majority of the prayers were said individually but out loud until a crescendo was reached and were then brought to a close by a hallelujah and amen!

    Everyone was so generous to us in their welcome, often feeding us afterwards with a meal but always giving us a drink of tea, Sprite or Coke.

    We visited an orphanage, the Friday Fun Club and a creche, all activities run by the main church. We also visited a leprosy hospital and an old people’s home run by Nepali Christians.

    Please pray for the following areas of concern to Christians in Nepal:

    1. Pray for eight Christians awaiting trial on bail. Their hearing has been postponed until 21 November, at which time they could face a prison sentence of 6 years, be fined or have their case taken to a higher court. This latter decision is not favoured by our friend and pastor,  as the stakes would be higher and the extra publicity unwanted.

    The case against them is that they were talking to students in a secondary school about post traumatic earthquake stress but at the end they handed out leaflets about Jesus and salvation. Students took these home to their parents and some of them then contacted the police, as the teaching of religion is not allowed in schools.

    2.  The government comprises 3 main parties,  but because of differences within the parties coalitions tend to be unstable. The majority party are the Hindu party. There are frequent threats to limit the freedom of Christian worship. There is a potential law forbidding telling children about Jesus and a threat to children’s homes which are often run by Christians.

    3. The traditional culture and caste system can pose some problems for the church:
    (a) Some of the churches tend to have a majority of one particular caste.
    (b) If a pastor marries a couple from different castes then he can face severe
    repercussions from his local community. For this reason, some pastors are reluctant
    to undertake such marriages, or find the consequences difficult.

    4.  The church is not allowed to own the land on which it is built unless they had already registered for this. Otherwise the church buildings have to be registered in an individual’s name or in a group of names. This has led to problems as the individual or a group of individuals within the registered group may reclaim the building or the land at a future date.

    5.  We were told that there is a need for Christians to become involved in the civil service, the law etc., so they can be the salt and light in these important areas. There is already a Christian fellowship within the army and the police.

    Short Note: US Cabinet Appointments

    Please pray as the process of making cabinet appointments continues, asking God to grant wisdom and discernment to those nominating leaders as they begin to provide names for key posts; to those nominated as they begin to formulate positions; and to those who will scrutinise and vote on the appointments.