Kingdom Voices Speak
Mothers’ Union, Bishops’ Appeal and Tearfund Ireland shared stories and listened to
the reality of gender based violence from a South American and African perspective
– Tobar Mhuire, Crossgar, Tuesday 16th August 2022.
In Ireland, we speak of #no more 1 in 3, referring to the fact that I in 3 women worldwide will experience some form of gender based violence in their lifetime. Yet harrowingly the ladies of DR Congo and South Sudan spoke of it being 2 in 3, often 3 in 3 as a group of three women meet together. A common theme that emerged was that external factors such as climate change, war, disease and political corruption further exacerbate the deep-set cultural and social norms that oppress women.
Domestic violence escalated during covid; whilst some families were united by it, others were driven further apart. In the context of war, frustration outside the home leads to violence inside the home. Financial struggles fuel violence. In some cultures, this leads to child marriage - one mouth less is one less mouth to feed! Changing weather patterns result in women and girls daily travelling further for food, fuel and water, thus placing then at greater risk of rape and violence. Girls may drop out of education or may not have time to study as a consequence of extra hours spent walking. The consequences of climate change are felt most acutely by those who have had the smallest part to play in its occurrence.
Gender inequality perpetuates this cycle of violence and disempowerment: men continue to be regarded as the head of the family and leaders at a societal level leaving women with little control over money. Indeed, culturally, women are not considered as worthy of education. Consequently, many never attend school.
This fuels a general disrespect of women. Women are not prioritised or made to feel valued. The housework, raising of children, fetching of fuel and water, tending the crops and other ‘domestic activities’ go unnoticed as these tasks are not considered ‘work’. Women are responsible for taking care of the family and the household, yet this vital contribution to society goes unrecognised.
When stress levels rise, so does violence. But women do not tend to disclose domestic violence to pastors. This is because most pastors will then talk to the perpetrator, frequently leading to further escalation of violence in the home which often places the woman’s life in danger.
In Burundi, if a woman leaves an abusive home, the husband will usually get another woman into the home, thus closing the doors on his previous wife. If she returns, she must share her husband with the other woman/women. Her children may suffer from neglect and further abuse.
However, there are rumours of light in these forgotten places. Trauma healing initiatives are widespread, generating hope and understanding in family and community situations. This experience can empower women to denounce violence. Lack of external support services for victims has led Mothers’ Union to counsel women to stay in the home and offer advice on right relationships. They also commit to support the woman through prayer and hope filled positive action.
Great emphasis is placed on the transformative power of prayer. It instils HOPE and fosters LOVE, encouraging women to realise their value and worth. One Fathers’ Union in Burundi also explores Christian values and gender equality in the biblical context and works towards positive lasting change. When people turn to Christ, they follow the example of Christ and practice love, kindness and compassion. Through Christ people learn new values and, in living these values, transform communities.
In South Sudan Gender Based Violence workshops and seminars advise girls, create friendly safe spaces and offer counselling. Literacy programmes also discuss health, hygiene, practical, business, and financial matters to equip girls to become more self-reliant. Participants then look at their community through a fresh perspective, praying for and listening to one another. Out of these experiences, community projects such as building a well, a school, a health centre have resulted.
The South American representatives shared about a continent wide parenting programme through which gender justice and Christian values are explored. Often women do not realise they are living in a domestic abusive situation. The MU responded by creating a Violence Meter which lays out a graded progression of violence, primarily sexual and physical. This is helping victims and potential victims, as well as health care and law enforcement personnel, to assess the threat level for any one person. The Violence Meter is handed out in the streets and in church and community settings. https://prebenormen.com/writing/the-violence-meter-check-the-abuse-level
Despite challenging circumstances, ‘the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it,’(John 1:5). God is ever present, in every breath, in every step. The power of prayer is palpable across the continents with many MU groups meeting regularly to pray and worship, travelling long distances to glorify God.
There is a great longing for women to be valued and for a complete transformation of society through a spiritual revival. The Kingdom is to the forefront and women eagerly follow God’s call, looking forward and walking towards the light and love of Jesus, placing their trust in God and their full hope in Him for a brighter, more sustainable future.
‘And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.’
‘I can do all things through Him who strengthens me’.
MU All-Ireland 16 Days Coordinator
CMSI: Church Missionary Society Ireland
SAMS: South American Missionary Society
Postscript: Each participant received a copy of the Restored Ireland edition of ‘A Guide For Churches To Address Domestic Abuse.’ The new Irish based domestic abuse programme, ‘Equipping The Churches To Take Action And End Domestic Abuse’, was discussed and there was a keynote presentation on the biblical perspective. For further information on this course contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
The afternoon was rounded off with a Mary Sumner Day Prayer Walk in the grounds of Tobar Mhuire, Crossgar, led by members of Down & Dromore Mothers’ Union.