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01 November 2013

The war on womankind

The war on womankind

Photo: 'Sarah' by Gareth Barton, Flame International

Every year, 60 million girls are sexually assaulted on their way to school. Each day, 40 women are raped in the South Kivu Province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In Tajikistan, 58 per cent of women report physical and/or sexual abuse from their husbands. In England and Wales, two women a week are killed by a violent partner or ex-partner.

Need I go on?

According to Major General Patrick Carnmaert, former UN peacekeeping operation commander in the DRC: "It is now more dangerous to be a woman than to be a soldier in conflict."

This is an assault on womankind. But it is nothing new. All over our world, throughout history, women have been the victims of gender-based violence. They have suffered and been broken in a society in which we are all led to believe that a woman is unworthy, her body shameful, her existence less than.

The Church is not blameless in this. It was Tertullian - an early Church father - after all who once said: "Woman is a temple built over a sewer."

It seems consistent attacks on women around the world reflect a remnant of the wrongly-held thought that women do not possess the imago dei in the same way that men do; that woman is 'other'.

The problem of gender-based hatred and violence is gigantic and unfathomable, stretching throughout the centuries and across the globe like a boulder gathering pace despite our efforts and shouts for it to stop. But amid the overwhelming statistics and the mourning over the attacks on our gender as a whole are the seemingly smaller tales of the victims: real, individual, personal stories; shattered dreams, broken hearts, hope eradicated.

Like the story of 16-year-old Liz, who is now in a wheelchair after having been gang-raped by six men before being thrown into a pit latrine in Kenya. This week more than 1.2 million signed a petition demanding justice for her after three of the men accused of her rape were not officially prosecuted but merely ordered to cut grass around the police station.

Something in us cries out for justice. We long for a day when we will see it done. But we also long to see some glimmers of justice now. That's why figures released from the Crown Prosecution Service this week showing that police are referring fewer cases to prosecutors, despite more people reporting them, are so disheartening.

We long to see justice for the weak and the vulnerable. Because in the upside down nature of the kingdom of God, they are the ones who must come first.

It is the broken, ashamed, outcast and violated whom Christ's heart is for. It is their personal story he steps into, just as he does with the woman with the issue of blood and the Samaritan woman.

Yesterday, at the World Council of Churches 10th assembly in Busan, South Korea, I joined hundreds of others – both male and female – in wearing black. The symbolic action at the assembly – whose theme is "God of life, lead us to justice and peace" – was part of the revival of the Thursdays in Black campaign to stand in solidarity with victims of gender-based violence around the world.

Several ecumenical and church initiatives have been influenced by the campaign, including the Ecumenical Decade of Churches in Solidarity with Women and the Women in Black campaign which was started during the Balkan war in the 1990s. There, Serbian women called for solidarity in speaking out against rape as a weapon in war.

Earlier this week, I was at a pre-meeting of the assembly with hundreds of other women from around the world to explore how we can make the world a more just place for all women.

I heard stories of women from villages in the Congo raped and pillaged. I heard the story of a blind woman from India gang-raped by five men. I heard a woman from Latin America who brought us all to tears with her gut-wrenching lament to God for victims and the children of victims around the world.

Despite the seeming hopelessness of the situation, here I found strength. Because here were the world's women gathered to say enough is enough – that no more can we stand for women's bodies to be used as weapons of war; their individual stories shattered by violence.

Here were the women of the Church across the globe standing up despite their pain to take action, finding strength in the God of life: the one who leads us to justice and peace.

Chine Mbubaegbu is head of media and communications at the Evangelical Alliance and author of Am I Beautiful? (Authentic)