Dionne Gravesande highlights how women throughout the world are disadvantaged, vulnerable and subject to violence, and outlines the steps Christians can take to make the world a better place for women
In December 2011, the world population hit 6,973,738,433, and national records show five people are added to the world’s population every two seconds. That’s a lot of people! And of this 6.9 billion people, 3.4 billion are women, so making sense of data relating to women is uncomfortable reading, since in many places the concept of good news for women is just not a reality.
Violence against women and girls is a global pandemic around the world. Among women aged between 15and 44, acts of violence cause more deaths and disability than cancer, malaria, traffic accidents and war combined (UN statistics).
“Violence against women and girls is a global pandemic …Among women aged between 15 and 44, acts of violence cause more deaths and disability than cancer, malaria, traffic accidents and war combined.”
The book of Ruth informs us that violence and rape against women is not a new issue. In Ruth 2:23, Naomi said to Ruth, her daughter in-law: “It will be good for you, my daughter, to go with the women who work for him, because in someone else’s field you might be harmed.” Every woman should be able to feel safe at home and in the community. Yet, just like Ruth, women can fall victims to crime on their way to or from work, or about their daily business.
Worldwide, millions of women who are the victims of crime often have difficulty in getting fair treatment, because of the fear and stigma around speaking out, or because the legal system might be complex and overwhelming. As a result of these barriers, many women do not report the crime, or do not press charges against their attackers.
If we return to the book of Ruth, in Chapter 1:6 we learn Naomi and her two daughters also understood the plight of refugee women fleeing poverty and hunger. It is true that women are most likely to be poor, hungry and refugees, so take a moment to consider these 10 facts concerning women:
- Households of lone mothers with young children are especially vulnerable
- Older women are more likely to have less money than older men in theUKand overseas
- In many (but not all) African countries and half of Asian countries, women’s poverty is made worse by restrictions on their ability to own land or property
- One in three women worldwide have been beaten, coerced into sex, or are abused in some other way
- Another two million girls between the ages of 5 and 15 are abducted, sold or trafficked into the illegal sex market (International Humanitarian Campaign Against the Exploitation of Children)
- Two thirds of the children who receive less than four years education are girls (www.learningpartnership.org)
- Women produce nearly 80% of the food on the planet, but receive less than 10% agricultural assistance, ie. access to land seeds, fertiliser or information (www.iamapeacekeeper.com)
- More than 1 billion people live in abject poverty on less than $1 a day; 70% of those people are women (www.kamilat.org)
- Women own around only 1% of the world’s land
- 80% of the world’s 27 million refugees are women
Education, paid employment, political participation and representation are essential to the achievement of gender equality and women’s empowerment. Why is it that girls do not enjoy parity of access to all levels of education? Why is there a global gender pay gap and segregation, and exclusion of too many women from paid work, far less career opportunities? This is not primarily about technical machinery and adjustments to achieve numerical parity. It’s about power.
As Christians, we are called to go the extra mile because our vision and motivation is the Jesus’ Nazarene Manifesto, as spelt out in the Gospel of Luke. Our task is “to bring Good News to the poor; to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind; to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour” (Luke 4:18). Churches can help and support women, who are victims of violence, by doing some of the following:
Become a safe place. Make the church a refuge for victims of violence against women.
Educate the congregation. Routinely include instructional information in monthly newsletters, on bulletin boards, and in marriage preparation classes, and consider sponsoring an educational seminar on violence against women.
Speak out. Talk about sexual assault and domestic violence from the pulpit. A church leader can have a powerful impact on people’s attitudes and beliefs.
Lead by example. Volunteer to serve on the board of trustees at the local sexual assault or domestic violence programme, or train to become a crisis volunteer.
Offer space. Consider working with your local authority to offer meeting space for educational seminars and weekly support groups, or to serve as a supervised visitation site when parents need a safe place to visit their children.
Prepare to be a resource. Seek out training from professionals in the fields of sexual assault, dating and domestic violence, and stalking. Do the theological and scriptural homework necessary to better understand and respond to sexual assault, and dating and domestic violence.
Address internal issues. Encourage continued efforts to address allegations of abuse by religious leaders, to ensure that religious leaders are a safe resource for victims and their children.
Dionne Gravesande is Head of Church and Young People’s Relationships at Christian Aid