“Violence against women and girls is one of the most widespread, persistent and devastating human rights violations in our world today [and] remains largely unreported due to the impunity, silence, stigma and shame surrounding it.” So writes the United Nations on why there is such urgent need to eliminate violence against women. They report that “1 in 3 women and girls experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime, most frequently by an intimate partner”, and that “violence against women is as serious a cause of death and incapacity among women of reproductive age as cancer, and a greater cause of ill health than traffic accidents and malaria combined”. Sexual violence is also used as a brutal and terrifying tactic in conflict.
Wednesday 25th November marks the beginning of the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence.
The 16 days symbolically link the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on November 25th and Human Rights Day on December 10th. November 25th is also White Ribbon Day, when men wear a white ribbon to show their commitment to opposing violence against women. The ribbon represents a pledge they will never take part in, condone or stay silent about violence against women.
A series of webinars will run through the 16 days to help people across the Anglican Communion engage with gender justice issues that underlie forms of violence against women.
Organised by the Anglican Communion’s Director for Gender Justice, Mandy Marshall, there are four webinars addressing different aspects of gender justice: addressing gender-based violence around the Communion; engaging men; theology and prayer; advocacy.
There is also a further webinar on how to identify the signs of domestic abuse. This session will be repeated at different times to suit different regions of the Communion.
Full details and registration links here.
In conversation with the Anglican Alliance’s Programme and Communication Manager, Mandy explained who the webinars are aimed at, why people should join them and her thoughts on gender justice in the Anglican Communion, six months into her role.
Who are the webinars for? Who can join?
The webinars are for anyone and everyone who’s interested in gender justice issues to find out more. You don’t need any knowledge coming into these webinars. It’s a chance to listen and learn and ask questions of the panel of experts. You can come to one of them or all of them. It doesn’t matter. Just make sure that you register!
People are really busy at the moment and trying to cope with COVID. Why do these webinars matter and why, afterwards, will people be glad they joined the webinars?
Everyone has been impacted by Covid. When we look at women’s rights and gender justice issues, a recent report said we’ve gone back 25 years in 25 weeks. I think that’s a serious enough statement for us to think about whether we are contributing to that set back, making sure we go forwards. What these webinars do is to give us the space to sit and reflect on the current situation, what has gone wrong and what can we do to bring about a change.
Covid has had a drastic impact on gender issues and gender justice. With more people staying at home, the burden of household responsibility is yet again falling on women. With men being at home, it’s a good time to reflect on whether we are managing our household equally, rather than expecting one partner to do it. That might be a small example, but it leads on to availability, accessibility and inclusivity for other aspects of life – for work, for church, for leadership, etc.
It is crucially important to create this space because we can often go through life not thinking about these issues – or thinking we’re fine. For the session on men, you might think “Well I’m not involved in gender-based violence”, but what are you doing to stop it in other people: do you have the courage to call out your friends and what things do you let slide that you shouldn’t?
You’ve been in post since April. What encouragements and challenges to do with gender justice do you see in the Anglican Communion?
[The challenges are] the ones that are shared in most places – it’s getting people to recognise that there is a big issue, to take it seriously and to prioritise it – and to fund it. That’s the case in any big organisation. Some people will get the issue and see it, while others will question why there’s a director for gender justice. But actually, this affects everybody, the whole human race. Gender affects everyone. We might think of it as a women’s issue, but it’s not. It’s a human issue. It affects men too. In most countries around the world, we sit in a context where men have had the priority, the privilege and the entitlement for many years – and the power. And yet as a church we’re called to humble ourselves and not grasp onto power, because Jesus didn’t. Are we using that power well and are we using it in the service of others?
So, gender in itself is a huge, huge issue. Obviously, we have a very patriarchal institution in the Anglican church and there are some challenges within the structures and the systems that still need to change to bring about a more just and equal place and space for people to flourish. But also, culturally and personally, we need to start with ourselves and ask ourselves whether we really treat people equally, whether we use the power God has given us for the benefit of others or are we holding onto it because we like the position and status we have? So, there’s a necessary element of reflection for everybody personally and then to think about where our culture is complicit in keeping women where they are.
This is also about allowing men to flourish because we have stereotypes that say what a man should be. We limit them. These stereotypes don’t benefit anyone. If we don’t allow every individual to be who God created them to be, then we miss out on the uniqueness and the gift they bring to this earth.
I’m delighted by how much work there is going on around the Anglican Communion – how much activity there is trying to bring about change and challenging things. Often this is by women. So, the encouragement is not to leave it all up to women, but for men to be involved and challenge one another. And it’s often done on a shoestring budget and not prioritised as much as it could be, so the challenge to bishops and archbishops is to make sure that gender justice is prioritised, planned, strategized, prioritised and fully funded in their provinces and not an afterthought or left to the Mothers’ Union. There is a lot of cheer-leading needed, as well as an acknowledgement of the hard work that many women have done over the years.
Promoting equality is one of the three global priorities of the Anglican Alliance in our mandate is to connect, equip and inspire the worldwide Anglican family to work for a world free of poverty and injustice and to safeguard creation.
See also Domestic Abuse and COVID-19 – how churches can respond, a joint resource from the Anglican Consultative Council and Anglican Alliance.
The Anglican Alliance, the General Secretary of the Anglican Communion and the Anglican Communion’s Director for Gender Justice this week signed a Declaration of Humanity calling for the prevention of sexual violence in conflict and denouncing the stigma faced by survivors, including children born of sexual violence. See our separate web story here.