Most of you will have heard of the massive social media movement #MeToo. It started on Twitter last year to provide a platform for women to share stories of harassment and sexual assault. Sadly, but perhaps not surprisingly, it’s been kept alive by countless women sharing their experiences of such encounters.
It is evidentially clear that violence against women is an issue that spreads far and wide across countries, cultures and social groups. Both the affluent and those living in extreme poverty are at risk of gender-based violence.
- In 2013, 35% of women worldwide had experienced gender based violence, either by someone they know or a stranger.
- Nearly a third of women worldwide have experienced physical and/or sexual violence from an intimate partner.
- 38% of women who are murdered have been killed by an intimate partner. This makes being a woman more dangerous than a soldier in battle.
(Amnesty International and World Health Organisation)
In the UK acts of violence against women are illegal (although the effectiveness of the legal system is sometimes questionable). However there are countries where violence against women is commonplace and acceptable, with no consequences. Acts of violence against women include physical violence, sexual assault, trafficking and forced prostitution. It also includes honour based violence, where women can be killed for bringing ‘shame’ to their family (sometimes because they have refused to enter a forced marriage) (Karma Nirvana), or female genital mutilation- a social, religious or cultural practice where young females’ genitals are partially or totally removed for no medical purpose (NSPCC).
Even in countries where violence against women is illegal, women experience huge barriers to reporting such crimes. These barriers include fear of repercussions from partners and family members, fear of being disbelieved and physical barriers such as no phone access or being unable to leave the house alone. On top of this, many countries lack organised facilities offering post violence care and rehabilitation.
The role of poverty
Poverty is also an essential factor in perpetuating gender based violence:
- Almost a quarter of girls in developing countries never complete primary school. This significantly reduces a women’s opportunities, confidence to assert their rights and ability to challenge attitudes about gender-based violence.
- Children and young women forced into marriage experience significantly reduced life-opportunities and are at an extremely heightened risk of experiencing gender-based violence.
- Women in poverty (and those with finances controlled by an abusive partner) don’t have the physical resources to flee.
- Women who experience gender-based violence may be stigmatised for developing sexually transmitted infections, having pregnancies outside of marriage or miscarrying. Even if a woman legally separates from an abusive spouse, the stigma of doing so may make this impossible.
If Jesus calls us to ‘love your neighbour as you love yourself’ (Matthew 22:39), how do we apply this when tackling the overwhelming issue of gender-based violence? Here are some ideas to get you started:
Take a ‘bottom up’ approach
It’s very easy for people in our society to make supposedly ‘harmless comments’ which derogate or objectify women. However this contributes to creating a culture where gender-based violence is accepted as the norm. Try challenging your mates if you hear them making these types of comments and help them understand the impact of their words.
Why don’t you check out ‘Restored’, a charity which aims to tackle violence against women by getting local churches and local men on board https://www.restoredrelationships.org.
If you’re passionate about working to end violence against women, why not consider financially supporting or promoting international charities who actively strive to tackle violence against women in developing countries.
I’ll leave you with the thoughtful words of Michelle Obama:
‘No country can ever truly flourish if it stifles the potential of its women and deprives itself of the contributions of half of its citizens.’