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How GBV impacts women from different cultural and social milieus

In August 2022, 30 Bishops and their spouses from Peru, Argentina Uruguay, Chile, Egypt, South Sudan, DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo) and Burundi were brought to Ireland after the Lambeth Conference ended. They spent the week celebrating, interacting and engaging in different activities. The week was advertised under the name, ‘Kingdom Voices’.

17 Aug 2022

Jacqui Armstrong, the MU All-Ireland Coordinator for 16 Days of Activism, shared that it was a privilege for Mothers’ Union to listen to the ground reality of gender-based violence from a South American and African perspective. She said, “In Ireland, we speak of No more 1 in 3, referring to the fact that 1 in 3 women worldwide will experience some form of gender-based violence in their lifetime. Yet harrowingly the ladies of DR Congo and South Sudan spoke of it being 2 in 3, often 3 in 3”. A common theme that emerged was: climate change, war, disease and political corruption further exacerbate the deep-set cultural and social norms that oppress women.

Domestic violence escalated during covid. Whilst some families were united by it, others were driven further apart. In the context of war, frustration outside the home leads to violence inside the home. Financial struggles fuel violence. In some cultures, this leads to child marriage - one mouth less is one less mouth to feed! Climate change plays its part, as the people who contributed least to it, suffer the most. Changing weather patterns result in women and girls travelling further for food, fuel and water, thus placing them at greater risk of rape and violence. Girls may drop out of education or may not have time to study as a consequence of extra hours spent walking. 

Cultural factors and gender inequality continue to play a huge role as men continue to be regarded as the head of the family with few women seen as worthy of leadership positions, and even then, if a woman works she may not have control of her salary. It was noted that both men and women can perpetuate the cultural gender norms by passing on harmful attitudes to their children. Political corruption is rife with politicians protecting their own interests. A tiny minority of politicians are women, with the majority of government posts handed to men. Culturally, women are not considered as worthy of education, and consequently many never attend school.

This is consistent with general disrespect towards women. Women are not prioritised and their needs are not considered important. They do the housework, raise the children, fetch fuel and water, tend the crops etc., yet most of their efforts go unnoticed as they’re not considered as ‘work’. Women are responsible for taking care of the family and the family household. When stress levels rise, so does violence. Women do not tend to disclose domestic violence to pastors, as most pastors will then talk to the perpetrators and this frequently leads to further escalation of violence in the home, often placing the woman’s life in danger.

In Burundi, if a woman leaves an abusive home, the husband more often than not gets another woman into the home, thus closing the doors on his previous wife. If she returns, she must share her husband with the other woman/women. The children may suffer from neglect and further abuse. There is lack of support services for these women. However, the Mothers’ Union through the Literacy & Financial Education Programme helps women gain financial autonomy by being part of a savings group and setting up their own small business. They also offer support to women through prayer alongside this hope filled positive action.

Great emphasis is placed on the transformative power of prayer. It instils hope and fosters love for one another and for the distressing situations families find themselves facing on a daily basis. Evangelising plays a clear transformative role. When people turn to Christ, they follow the example of Christ and turn to love, kindness, and compassion. Through Christ people learn new values and, in living these values, transform communities.

In many dioceses, very positive steps are being taken by the church to tackle gender-based violence. In Burundi women are encouraged through bible study and prayer to realise their value and worth. In addition, the MU literacy programme is key to empowering women to play an equal part in society. In South Sudan, GBV workshops and seminars advise girls, create friendly and safe spaces, and offer counselling. Participants look at their community through a fresh perspective, pray and listen, often resulting in community projects e.g. a well, a school, a health centre etc. Literacy programmes also discuss health, hygiene, practical, business, and financial matters to equip women and girls to become more self-reliant.

South America has a continent-wide parenting programme through which gender justice and Christian values are explored. We learnt of the usefulness of the support and counselling of women affected by gender-based violence and were introduced to the concept of a violence meter. Often women do not realise that they are living in an abusive situation. The violence meter lays out a graded progression of violence, primarily sexual and physical. The concept is useful for victims and potential victims, for health care and law enforcement personnel to assess the threat level for any person. The violence meter is handed out in the streets and in church and community settings:

Jacqui talked about how it was a tremendous privilege to meet and chat with the ladies. She said, “As caretakers of God’s wonderful planet, may we continue to be inspired by the inspiration and resilience of those who suffer because of our use of world resources. What we do today affects their tomorrow”.

There is a great longing for women to be valued and for a complete transformation of society through a spiritual revival. Despite challenging circumstances, ‘the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it,’(John 1:5). God is ever present, in every breath, in every step. The power of prayer is palpable across the continents.  In Burundi and South Sudan Mothers’ Union groups meet locally every morning to pray, every week to worship and travel long distances to glorify God through worship, prayer and discussion.

‘And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.’ 2 Corinthians 9:8

‘I can do all things through Him who strengthens me’. Philippians 4:13