Our church is ready to stand up for justice, equality and freedom for all women and girls and for an end to all forms of gender based violence. Last Sunday (20th November) was ‘Break the Silence Sunday.’ Break the Silence Sunday was instigated by the Christian Network – Talanoa (CNT), a Fiji based ecumenical network of organised women’s and Christian women’s units. It is marked on the Sunday that immediately precedes November 25, the UN International Day of Elimination of Violence Against Women, and the beginning of 16 days of Activism against gender based violence. It reminds us that we cannot remain silent about issues that so deeply affect our families and communities. Women and girls are made victims too often and it is our duty to engage in dialogue and action to bring it to an end.
Rates of violence against women and children around the world are scary to say the least and it is a widespread problem throughout our own South Pacific region. New Zealand has the fifth worst child abuse record of our 31 OECD countries. The facts are often kept silent because they are uncomfortable to talk about, but that doesn’t make them any less true. The facts are that one child in New Zealand is killed every five weeks. Ninety percent of them are killed by someone they know and most are under the age of five. The facts are that one in four girls and one in eight boys under the age of fifteen have been sexually abused. The facts are that over 5000 children are in the care of the Ministry of Social Development, with over 4000 children living in ‘out of home’ placements. The facts are that one in three New Zealand women have been physically or sexually abused by their partner, and that number jumps to over half when including psychological and emotional abuse. The facts are that half of all New Zealand homicides and more than half of all violent crimes are the result of family violence.
This violence is constantly evident on a global scale. Thirty-two countries legally exempt rape perpetrators from prosecution if they are married to or subsequently marry the victim. Millions of women and girls are victims of human trafficking, modern-day slavery and sexual exploitation. Seven hundred million women today were married before the age of eighteen and more than one third of those were married before fifteen. Child marriage means an end to a girl’s education, severe limitations on her opportunities for the future, and it places her at much greater risk for intimate partner violence. Women and girls of many cultures around the world are continuously faced with intergenerational trauma and the effects of many years of systematic abuse and oppression. Girls and young women in many societies face significant risk to access education with many vulnerable to horrific discriminatory practices, abuse, attacks and harassment. One in five adolescents and one in eleven primary school-aged children are not able to access education. Fifteen million girls are unlikely to ever step foot inside a classroom. This sets the tone for their entire lives meaning that they will have less of a say over their own bodies and lives and be at greater risk of poverty, human trafficking and prostitution, HIV and STI’s, early marriage, early pregnancies and a much higher risk of physical injury and harm. These are merely a few of the facts that barely scratch the surface of gender based violence and complete violation of basic human rights.
These are not just numbers, they are not just percentages, they are human lives, they are mothers, grandmothers, daughters, granddaughters, sisters, nieces, cousins, friends, co-workers, they are people that you see in the supermarket, on television, people who serve you coffee, women anywhere of all races, all religions, all backgrounds, and all levels of income and education. They are people we are called to protect and to love. Violence against women is a global pandemic, but it is not inevitable, and it should never be accepted. As a woman I am compelled to write something, but this is a task for all of us. My father just spoke in Christchurch on Break the Silence Sunday of the duty of God’s people not to stay silent, not to leave this to the government, but to speak out and act, stating that “if every Christian speaks out, there will be such a torrent, the whole world will stand up and listen”.
What better way to begin to make a stand than the 16 days of activism. It is an international campaign that highlights the link between violence against women and human rights by beginning on November 25th, the UN International Day of Elimination of Violence Against Women and spanning through to December 10th, Human Rights Day. This year’s theme is “From Peace in the Home to Peace in the World – Make Education Safe for all.” Significant days that fall in this time frame include:
- Nov 25 - The Un International Day of Elimination of Violence Against Women;
- Nov 29 - International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People;
- Nov 29 - International Women Human Rights Defenders Day;
- Dec 1 - World AIDS Day;
- Dec 2 - International Day for the Abolition of Slavery;
- Dec 3 - International Day of Disabled Persons;
- Dec 5 - International Volunteer Day for Economic and Social Development;
- Dec 6 - Anniversary of the Montreal Massacre which is observed as the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against women in Canada
- Dec 10 - Human Rights Day
What better time for us to make a stand against injustice. This year, a collective wide effort by the Fiji Council of Churches (FCC) has begun to mark the 16 Days of Activism within the church and many churches are rightfully following suit. The aims of the campaign are to increase women’s safety; to highlight the nature and prevalence of violence against women; to raise awareness of violence against women as a human rights issue; to show solidarity among women around the world; to promote women’s leadership; and to lobby the government.
Church organisations in the Pacific are helping women and working against domestic abuse. The Christian Network – Talanoa (CNT), is a Fiji based ecumenical network of organised women’s and Christian women’s units and was the first to instigate Break the Silence Sunday in 2013. They are working towards removing the culture of silence and shame around violence against women especially in faith-based settings and they meet monthly at the House of Sarah. The House of Sarah is partially funded by the New Zealand church through Anglican Missions. It is an inspiring organisation championed by the Association of Anglican Women (AAW) and opened by the late Jabez Bryce in December 2009. Its aim is simple - to provide a listening ear, support and a place of refuge for those who need it the most. It has drawn many people to its doors, provided care, prayer and counselling and contributed toward an immeasurable difference in the lives of many women. It is the only provider of specifically Christian counselling services in the region and it also provides referral to various women services and training on women’s rights and gender based violence issues. It has pursued ecumenical partnerships to encourage Christians to work together to end gender-based violence in the Pacific and continues to offer counselling, visits, and women’s referral groups across the Diocese.
These are issues that affect all of us, and our brothers and sisters in the Pacific are leading the way and taking a stand. Why does the church need to participate? From the position of the House of Sarah - we participate to break the silence within our church and our families about family violence; to affirm as Christians that we are all equal and made in the image of God; to affirm as Christians that violence has no place within our families, our Church, our schools, or our communities; and to add our voices and prayers to those around the world seeking the elimination of gender based violence. Do not accept violence or injustice. Do not accept anything less than God’s love for all people. Make a stand for all the women and girls in your life and Break the Silence in your homes, families, churches, workplaces and communities. All of us need to Break the Silence not just one Sunday a year but every day. Because “if every Christian speaks out, there will be such a torrent, the whole world will stand up and listen.”
- More information on the House of Sarah is available on their website website www.houseofsarah.org, contact firstname.lastname@example.org for information on how you your your parish can support this project
- More information on the 16 Days Campaign are available on the UN Women’s website www.unwomen.org