This will be an International Women’s Day that I will remember for a long time to come. Not just because I shook the hand of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, but also because of the sense of a step change in seeing violence against women ended. From the number of faith organizations engaged here at the CSW, which has increased considerably since 2010, but also the level of welcome that people of faith have received.
My day started with a workshop in conjunction with Terrie Robinson of the Anglican Communion looking at a church response to violence against women. Entitled ‘We Will Speak Out: Churches ending violence against women’ we aimed to communicate what action the global Anglican communion was taking to end violence against women (VAW) and also, more specifically, what the Church of England is doing.
Terrie started out by looking at the Primates letter from the meeting on Dublin, Ireland in 2011, which states ‘our churches must accept responsibility for our own part in perpetuating oppressive attitudes towards women. In penitence and faith we must move forward in such a way that our churches truly become a living witness to our belief that both women and men are made in the image of God.’ This was followed up with the ACC resolution 15-7 on gender based and domestic violence agreed in November 2012. This, among other points, says the Anglican Communion ‘ endorses and encourages Anglican engagement worldwide with the We Will Speak Out coalition of churches and Christian agencies against sexual violence.’ It goes on to encourage theological colleges to train clergy and ministers on the ‘natured dynamics of gender based violence’ and the theological basis for ending violence against women. It furthermore encourages leaders to engage in campaigns to end violence against women.
My part was to speak out about the Church of England’s action on this issue. Siting the 2004 Synod motion which ‘urges all dioceses to consider ways in which they could (i) work in partnership with other agencies, co-operating sensitively with those serving minority communities, to provide the resources needed by victims and their families; (ii) speak out against the evil of domestic violence; and (iii) work for justice and safety in the homes of this nation.’ This resulted in the publication of Pastoral guidelines in 2006 to help churches respond to the issue of domestic abuse.
Practical examples of churches engaging in ending domestic abuse vary across England. For example my own church, St Stephen’s Twickenham, have had a few of the volunteer staff trained by Restored. We have also put up posters in the toilets for women to access help and support, along with me speaking at two services on the 25th November, the start of the global 16 days of activism to end violence against women. A church in Carlisle is running training for churches across the diocese on addressing domestic abuse and linking in with the local services provided. Each church trained has a ‘champion’ who raises the issue an acts as a point person for women to contact. There are simple things that can be done that can make a big difference. Restored’s church pack is a useful starting point and all the copies at the workshop went very quickly. It seems there isa real thirst for practical tools to respond.
Having dumped our bags at ‘815’ (815 second avenue, the Episcopal Church centre that hosts the Anglican Communion and Ecumenical Women during the CSW, and does it so very well), we headed to the UN for the International Women’s Day march. It was snowing, very cold and wet. On arrival we were given tabards to wear as part of the march. We head off being led by Susan Sarandon to a street near by where we heard speeches from Christie Turlington-Barnes, Mrs Ban, among others. Susan Sarandon read out a letter from Malala (the girl from Pakistan who was shot on her way to school) which encouraged us all to stand up for the rights of girls. A well-timed call as some nations are trying to remove the language of ‘girls’ from the agreed resolutions.
Then Ban Ki-moon came on the platform. Everyone cheered. He is such a respected man by so many of us in working to end violence against women. He has taken action from his inception as UN Secretary General, to highlight the issue of violence against women. He established the baseline data and then moved into action. He encouraged the setting up Say No – UNite which calls on us all to take action to end violence against women, along with his network of male leaders to make a stand to end violence against women. Mr Ban did this at a time when engaging men was nowhere near as popular as it is today. Not surprising he is so well respected.
Cold, wet and soggy after the rally with sopping wet feet, I began to leave the march. As I came to the side of the platform Mr Ban was coming down the steps. I suddenly felt like a teenager at a gig with my hero standing so close. I made my way to the front and shook his hand and said thank you for all that he was doing. Thank you was all I could think of at the time. Thank you for standing with us. Thank you for leading the way for high profile men to make a stand to end violence against women and say no more. Maybe the simple heartfelt thank you was enough. Of course, it’s moment I will be recalling to my friends and family for a long time to come and long after they become bored of hearing the tale!
Restored has a Christian men’s campaign to end violence against women called ‘First Man Standing‘. It already has a good few hundred men signed up around the world committed to speaking up and out about ending violence against women. It’s linked with Christian Vision for Men (CVM) in the UK and also the White Ribbon Campaign UK. So if like Ban Ki-moon you’d like to join in the campaign to end violence against women, sign up here.
Days like International Women’s Day are needed. Needed to highlight the progress made but also the work still to be done. Here’s hoping that next year there will be less women abused and killed due to intimate partner violence. And here’s to a future free from violence.