Two months on…

How time flies. It’s now two months since the end of the UN Commission on the Status of Women in New York, so what’s happened since?

On returning there has been a flurry of feeding back highlights, key points to consider, consultations with the C of E head office. This is alongside blogging for Restored and doing my normal job. Noting that I need to lead by example, I have met with my MP, Dr Vince Cable, asking him to find out how the UK government plans to take forward the agreed conclusions. I have to admit Dr Cable was humble and said “We’ll do the homework you’ve set us and get back to you”. It took me a month to get the meeting with him  but I am hoping to hear back from him sooner. I have also been using to meet with my own vicar at St Stephen’s Church in Twickenham. That’s been harder than getting an appointment to see my MP due to clashing diaries. I will hopefully meet him in June to discuss what we as a church can do.

I have also done a media interview with Maria Rodrigues Toth on her Woman to Woman show due to go out tomorrow, Friday, at 11am. This was a great opportunity to highlight the issues and also what the church can do. Noting the work of Restored and the free resources available on the website http://www.restorederelationships.org.

I have presented initial findings and recommendations to the Mission and Public Affairs Council in the C of E. I still need to write a formal report for their consideration. The MPA meeting provided a good discussion, not only on what the church is doing locally, but also what can  be done in the future. I will also be conducting a side event at the General Synod in York in July on the issue.

There is still much to do. This week alone we have seen men convicted of raping young women in Oxford. Today there are newspaper reports of a premiership footballer being accused of rape. There is still much work to be done. You would no doubt expect me to do something but I can’t do this alone. I am one voice in the crowd. It can get lost in the noise of society. It needs us all to speak up and speak out if we are to make a sustained change in our culture and society until violence against women has been eradicated.

What will you do?

What do the agreed conclusions mean for us?

Agreed Conclusions

Finally on Wednesday, just as I was about to leave wifi for a few days, the agreed conclusions were put up online by the UN CSW. But what do they mean for us and why are they important? Here’s a brief overview of what we need to take note of and, as you would expect, take action.

1. Firstly the agreed conclusions are not legally binding. Governments are tetchy about signing things at the UN that force them to do things. Indeed there was an ongoing battle at this CSW to ensure the removal of the term ‘sovereignty’ from the text which would mean that countries didn’t really have to implement the conclusions.  This was strongly opposed, after all, if you agree by consensus why would you want a get out clause?  The agreed conclusions do place a strong imperative on governments to implement the agreement, alongside the need to report back next year on actions taken to do just this.

2. The agreed conclusions give NGO’s and churches an opportunity to lobby their respective governments to put into action what they have signed up to do. It’s a great opportunity to see more action, funding, resources, political effort and will to end violence against women. NGO’s and churches can ask governments to indicate how they are implementing the required actions, and if not, to justify why certain things have not happened. I will be asking my MP, Dr Vince Cable, how the government will be implementing the conclusions. Will you do the same?

3. ‘Violence against women and girls is characterised by the use and abuse of power and control in public and private spheres, and is intrinsically linked to gender stereotypes…’ (point 10). This acknowledges what we know in that violence takes place in the home ( private sphere) and IS our business. It is not ‘just a domestic’, nor ‘none of my business’. Gone are the days when we think that what happens behind closed doors is nothing to do with us. It is our business. It is our church. We need to speak out. At a hard-nosed economic end it costs the British public billions of pounds a year to deal with domestic abuse. It costs us all economically, socially, spiritually and in many lost work hours.

4. Gender stereotypes are a cause and consequence of violence against women. Is it time to re-look and examine ourselves to see if we are perpetuating stereotypes of men and women? Do we make subtle remarks? Or obvious ones? Don McPherson challenged us all in the engaging men and boys workshop to not use phrases like ‘Throws like a girl’. He said this did two things; it created unhealthy competition between his son and daughter; and undermined the value of his daughter. Do we still make comments such as ‘woman driver’, ‘must be the time of the month’, ‘don’t be such a girl!’?  Time to change the rhetoric.

5. In these agreed conclusions we see a reference to religious institutions. This is something I was lobbying for as part of the Church of England’s key messages. The Commission strongly condemned ‘invoking any custom, tradition or religious consideration to avoid their obligations’. This means we cannot justify violence against women and girls through our theology, scriptures and cultural practices. It means that we as a church, need to examine ourselves and see if anything we are doing directly or indirectly leads to violence against women. If we did this it could have wide reaching implications on the way we are as church, what we preach and teach to ensure that there is no misunderstanding nor misinterpretation of scripture that could lead to justifying violence. None of us would deliberately (mis)use scripture to coerce and manipulate right? I wish I could sit here and say a resounding yes to that. But I have listened to enough stories of Christian women both in the UK and overseas, that tell a different story. ‘I expect my wife to bow down before me as I bow down before Christ’ are the words of a rural Zimbabwean Pastor that will ring in my ears for years to come. Yes some of it is theological education and understanding the hermeneutics and exegesis of the Bible. Alongside this we have to remember and recall that the church is full of recovering sinners, addicted to sin. We are all at different points in our journey of faith, but we cannot allow abuse to happen along that journey. We need to challenge the abuse happening in our churches.

6. Under x its states ‘Prevent, investigate and punish acts of violence against women and girls that are perpetrated by people in positions of authority, such as teachers, religious leaders,…’ Here the governments are specifically asked not to give any special ‘get out of jail free cards’ to our vicars, curates, Bishops and Archbishops. When we see violence happen we need to take action, no matter how hard it may seem. There is a victim on the other end who needs our support, care and compassion. We need to be more victim and survivor centered in our approach and response to violence against women to avoid any collusion with a perpetrator of abuse.

7.  Part B headlines ‘Addressing structural and underlying causes and risk factors so as to prevent violence against women and girls’ (VAWG). In here we see a host of action and reaffirmation of action to prevent VAWG including addressing ‘unequal power relations between men and women‘. This will no doubt ring alarm bells for some. The Church of England will need to look at this and see how it wants to take this forward. As we have seen at Synod, there are strong views on both sides about women bishops debate. Does this constitute a violence against women denying them a right to progress in their calling? Some would argue strongly that it does, others that this is not a violence but staying tune to Biblical teaching. One thing is for sure, we need to be aware of how unequal power relations can lead to violence and make steps to ensure that violence does not result from the decisions we make.

8. ‘Engage, educate, encourage and support men and boys to take responsibility for their behaviour‘ A focus of this CSW was women and men working together to end violence against women. Men talking to men, calling out violence, challenging themselves and their dominate cultural masculinities. So in our churches, Men’s breakfasts, Men’s work groups how are we going to open up the space to actively talk about masculinities (note plural) and it’s impact on our relationships at home, work, church etc.

9. ‘Recognise the role the media can play in eliminating gender stereotypes….and refraining from presenting them as inferior beings and exploiting them as sexual objects’. When I see this my mind goes straight to Page 3. How in 2013 do we still have a national newspaper legally allowed to objectify women on a daily basis in a paper that children are allowed to purchase? It does make me really angry that this is defended under the guise of free press. Will we join in the campaign to end page 3 or we will continue to be complicit in this objectification by our silence? I will continue to speak out on this one.

10. Point mm relates specifically to addressing and changing ‘attitudes, behaviours and practices that condone gender stereotypes … and violence against women and girls‘. This recognises the role that religious leaders can play in changing attitudes and behaviours. Getting religious leaders including in here is a victory as it acknowledges the positive role the church can, does and is playing in the UK and internationally in the Anglican Communion to bring violence to and end. Whether it is doing the simple thing of putting posters in the women’s toilets to access help, or going further and teaching and training on how to become a safe church, there is much we can share within the church on ending violence against women.  The church is about positive change, about transformation, about new life, about freedom. Freedom for the survivor of violence and freedom for the perpetrator in being bound by believing abuse of power is better than love and grace. After all the church welcomes all, but don’t expect to leave the same.

You can read the full agreed conclusions here. They are not simply for governments to implement but for us too. After all we create our culture and our environment together. We can contribute to keeping it the same or challenge and change it. What do you want to do? 

Statement from the Anglican Communion Delegation at the UN CSW 57th Session March 2013

Statement from the Anglican Communion Delegation at the 57th Session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, March 2013

A Call to Raise our Voices: Faith in Action

Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed.Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.

Isaiah 1.17

We, the Anglican Communion delegation of women from 14 Churches and 17 countries, gathered in New York, 4 to 15 March 2013, to participate in the 57th session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (UN CSW57).The priority theme for UN CSW57 was ‘The Elimination and Prevention of All Forms of Violence against Women and Girls’.

As women of faith and representing the diversity of the Anglican family of Churches, we observed the proceedings of UN CSW57 and listened to a wide range of speakers. Where possible we met face to face with our country missions to the UN in order to advocate directly with them on behalf of women and girls in our different regions. We also participated in a full programme of UN and non-governmental side events dedicated to the priority theme. These meetings and side events gave us an opportunity to learn, and to share insights and concerns from our home contexts with government representatives, members of other church and faith traditions and non-governmental organisations. We were also able to share with others the progress we have made in many of our Churches, where leaders have spoken out and championed the work needed to end violence against women and girls and care for survivors, and where resources have been developed to assist our moving forward.

We thank God for the progress we have made. However, violence against women and girls continues as a global and often hidden pandemic.

Women and girls make up more than half the world’s population but many of them live in the shadow of violence and abuse with up to seven in ten women having undergone physical and/or sexual violence. Violence against women and girls takes on multiple forms - physical, sexual, psychological, social and economic, and includes interpersonal/domestic violence, rape, human trafficking, female genital mutilation and forced prostitution. It is a proven fact that violence against women and girls adversely impacts all of society. Violence against women and girls is a cause and consequence of gender inequality and gender injustice, compounded by numerous forms of discrimination.

The Church worldwide must be part of the solution.  Wetherefore urge all the Churches of the Anglican Communion:

1. to continue and build on the positive work already being undertaken towards the eradication of violence against women and girls
2. where silence and inaction persist, to end it. Speak out and begin the work.
3. to include men and boys as an integral part of seeking solutions to, and eradicating violence against women and girls
4. to implement Anglican Consultative Council Resolutions 15.07 on gender-based and domestic violence and 15.10 on the trafficking of persons
5. to encourage churches at parish level to become places of refuge and safety and participate actively in addressing violence against women and girls
6. to create awareness and provide training for clergy and the laity to recognise violence and to address it effectively.

 

We draw attention to existing resources around the Anglican Communion to facilitate and empower churches in their work towards eradicating violence against women and girls.

We affirm that all people are made in the image of God and that violence against women and girls mars God’s creation. We also affirm that Scripture brings the message of freedom, justice and love.

We call the Churches to recover their prophetic voice in speaking out against the gross injustice of violence against women and girls.

We challenge our Churches to become agents of justice, peace and reconciliation. Reconciliation must be preceded by transformation and accountability. As the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Revd Justin Welby, recently reflected: ‘There is a challenge to active cooperation with the life of God in our lives now. We live and we serve. The recognition by the Samaritan of the other as his neighbour leads to action, not mere existence. He becomes a herald of reconciliation.’

We are deeply grateful to the Anglican Communion Office at the UN for facilitating and supporting the Anglican presence at UN CSW57, and to The Episcopal Church for offering us space and a warm welcome within the Episcopal Church Center. We also extend heartfelt thanks to the many volunteers who so generously gave of their time to extend to us hospitality and care. We enjoyed and benefitted considerably from the fellowship of other Anglican and Episcopal women and men present in New York for events surrounding UN CSW57, and sincerely appreciated our interaction with Ecumenical Women, an international coalition of churches and ecumenical organisations which have status with the Economic & Social Council (ECOSOC) at the United Nations.

We commit ourselves to promoting the Five Marks of Mission, and in particular to seeking to transform unjust structures of society, challenging violence of every kind and pursuing peace and reconciliation. We pray for God’s grace and guidance as we strive to participate in God’s transforming mission in the world.

Redefining Courage

New Report

So today I read an article published by UN Women that leads into some research to be published in July on men admitting violence against women in the Asia Pacific area. Using a combination of four UN agencies to collect the data, it shows in some cases, that 1 in 2 men have used violence against a woman. It goes on to state that 1 in 4 admitted raping a woman and 1 in 25 admitted participating in a gang rape. See news report here

Shocked?

I have so many reactions to this data and information. At an emotional level I am deeply saddened, outraged, angry, frustrated, want to shake my hands at God and say ‘where is the justice? Where is he love?’ in all of this. Alongside the phrase from the song by Welsh singer, songwriter Martyn Joseph, ‘do we really do these things to one another?’ (‘Precious’, Martyn Joseph). This sits with thinking about every single woman and girl affected by this violence. As we all know, behind these statistics is a human being, a woman, a woman with dashed hopes and dreams, a woman violated to her core. At an intellectual level I am wondering how the men who do not abuse feel about this report. How do they feel that yet again there is a huge body of data screaming out about abuse some men commit? And for the perpetrators, how many men simply did not admit to violence because of fear, shame or the stigma. Are the levels excruciatingly higher? I need to see the full report in July to see the complete results.

Underlying causes

What it does state is that gender inequality fuels violence against women. The report states a sense of entitlement by some men for sex. Where does this sense of superiority over each other stem from? Is it cultural? Is it religious? Do our churches fuel it with our scriptures? Do we allow space to discuss gender issues within our churches or do we shy away from it thinking its a contentious issue? When gender inequality results in a sense of superiority over another, a sense of entitlement to sex, that creates an enabling environment for violence to occur, then we have get over our fear of debate, discussion, argument even, and engage in theological studies that reveal what the Bible says about men and women. We will disagree, but can we agree that you cannot use scripture to justify violence? For me it is a misuse and abuse of scripture to justify abuse of power and control over another person. It goes against the very concept of love and grace, yet do we acknowledge the subtle ways in which certain interpretations can lead to abuse of power and control? Do we allow it to be misunderstood by not addressing gender issues head on? (pun intended) We can’t ignore it and hope that it resolves itself, or that someone else will do the thinking for us. We owe it to the women being abused to look again, to challenge ourselves, to ‘get over’ the annoyance with the debate and address it.

Perhaps we  think that these levels of violence only happen ‘over there’ and not in our own country. That they don’t happen in our church put perhaps that other one down the road or across town. We sometimes unconsciously reject what we don’t want to see. We deflect the attention elsewhere because acknowledging there is an issue means we have to deal with it and that can be long, hard and messy. It could also challenge us to the core. Do we want to be able to spot violence and abuse and address it?

Redefining Courage

This report was launched at an event about engaging men and boys in ending violence against women. It is encouraging men to take positive action. To stem the cultural tide of acceptability of the seemingly increasing levels of violence against women globally. We need to embrace a spectrum of masculinities and not a narrow view of masculinity sold to us by Hollywood and not God. [A side note: how many men in films do you see resolving conflict by steady positive negotiation?]. We need to redefine courage. Courage is challenging your friend,  your brother, father, work colleague, pastor when they make sexist comments, put women down, objectify women, when their attitude displays a sense of superiority over a woman. It’s hard because we all like to be liked and challenging a mate may mean a fracture in that friendship. Yet if we are to see violence against women reduced we need to close down the acceptance space. If we don’t challenge, if we don’t speak out and remain silent, then the space has been taken over with acceptability. After all you can’t challenge another person by simply thinking they are wrong. They need to hear it. You need to speak out. We all do.

It’s not easy. We need to support and encourage one another into action. That’s why Restored have established First Man Standing. It’s a group of Christian men around the world standing up, speaking out, taking action.

We owe it to the women suffering in silence. We owe it to the men to operate in healthy masculinities. We owe it to our generations to speak out and say no to violence against women. We owe it to our church to rise up and raise our voices, to break the silence, to be a place of safety for women.

It’s time to act. Together we can end violence against women. Come on- we can do it!

Resources

For resources on ending violence against women and identifying the signs of abuse, and to download a free pack for churches see Restored‘s website http://www.restoredrelationships.org

The Anglican Communion has a collection of resources listed for churches ending gender based violence. These can be accessed here

 

The Waiting

The last few days have been mainly silent on how the negotiations have been going on attempting to reach agreed conclusions. The last version we have received is number 3 but that was on Tuesday morning (or was it Monday?). We are in a time of waiting, hoping and praying. Praying for positive agreed conclusions to come out of this Commission on the Status of Women. Hoping that ‘difficult texts’ will be negotiated positively and making a positive impact on women’s lives around the world. Waiting for government and UN staff to do the job they are skilled an trained to do. We have to wait and trust them having given feedback on what we would like to see.

In the midst of the silence and waiting are rumours, statements and articles. An article was circulated earlier in the week that was not exactly positive on reaching agreed conclusions. It was too early at that point to make a call. Rumours to be encouraged about the conclusions and rumours, sometimes backed up with published articles, that would seem agreed conclusions would and should not be reached.

The UK government has been working behind the scenes for months before we arrived at the UN trying to ensure that this year we get agreed conclusions. The work has continued in earnest since the CSW started. This morning on twitter Sir Mark Lyall Grant, UK Ambassador to the UN stated ‘Entering the CSW endgame. But will need further push from PR’s today to reach agreement on difficult outstanding issues.’ We are with him on that. With him to move forward so that many women’s lives will be saved, that governments, including our own, will be challenged into doing more to end the scourge of violence against women and girls. After all you can’t reach and realise your full potential in life when someone is abusing you, beating you, controlling you, coercing you, manipulating you and using you as a sex object.

We wait, we pray, we hope for agreed conclusions. Come on governments of the world – listen to the plea and the cry of the hearts of many women and men around the world. We are watching you.

A lack of courage?

Firstly, apologies that there has been a bit of blog silence over the last few days. Like all conferences, there are shifting priorities as the conference progresses. The last few days have been a mixture of attending some government sponsored events, NGO events, lobbying and networking. This sits alongside linking in with the rest of my Anglican Communion colleagues from around the globe. 13 nationalities are present here at the CSW. And of course dealing with emails from the ‘normal’ job back home. However I do acknowledge that it is very handy being a Co-Director, having my Co-Director, back in the UK holding the fort whilst I am away here.

Measuring Prevention Programmes

Over the last few days I have heard from an Australian delegation on a multi-sectoral response to ending violence against women. One of the issues that I keep asking is how do people measure prevention programmes that often is linked to securing funding. The answer is generally the same; it’s difficult, use proxy indicators, and governments appear not to like to fund the work. Instead funding often relies on trust funding, individuals who invest in the programmes. It makes me wonder about why governments appear to shy away from making an investment in prevention programmes. Is it a lack of courage? Is the rhetoric couched in accountability and the need to see results? Yet the governments work for us so do we demand this from our government? Do we expect to see quick results when it comes to ending violence against women?

Cost of Domestic Abuse

Of course we need to be accountable for the money we spend on the issue and we all want to be as effective as possible. Yet it can’t be ignored that behaviour change takes time. And time is money. There are different figures about how much the UK spends on addressing domestic abuse including services, police, medical support etc. One figure is £36 billion a year. This might now have reduced to £24 billion a year (which is not necessarily a good thing). I’m sure we would all like to see this figure reduced because men who chose to abuse have stopped, women are empowered, and healthy relationships flourish.

In the meantime, are we prepared to invest in the long term to see sustained behaviour change?