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