17 July 2015
Why is violence against women so common?
The global epidemic of domestic and sexual abuse is estimated to affect
one in three women worldwide. As Baroness Scotland said this week: “If
this was a disease, there would a massive outcry and response”.
Violence against women is continually in the news, with an average of two women a week being killed in the UK by their partner or former partner. This week we also had President Obama alluding to allegations of sexual abuse against Bill Cosby and the BBC reporting that there have been over 11,000 so-called honour crimes, mainly against women, in the UK over the past five years. Most of these crimes are committed by men and are supplemented by the ongoing abuse and harassment that has been so well captured by the Everyday Sexism website. What has gone wrong in the relationship between men and women?
The roots of these broken relationships lie in the Fall. In Genesis 3:16 God says to the woman “…your desire will be for your husband and he will rule over you.” This predicts a bitter reality of male domination that has characterised our world throughout its history. But that doesn’t mean that it is something to be accepted. Rather we are called to witness to the kingdom of God where there is no more suffering (Revelation 21:4) and no discrimination against women (Galatians 3:28).
The drivers of violence against women are twofold; the ongoing inequality between men and women and the choices that people make to use their power abusively.
Patriarchy is a word that is not often used in Christian debates. This may be because it comes too close to home when we look at our male-dominated institutions and churches. Or it may be because it feels too technical a word from a world of gender politics that is hostile to faith. Perhaps we should translate it into three words with which we are much more familiar – power, privilege and entitlement. All of us have power in different contexts. How do we use it? As a man, I enjoy a vast number of privileges, many I am not even aware of. And what do we, as men, believe to be our entitlements: to get my own way, my instructions not to be questioned, to have my meals cooked, the housework done for me, to have sex on demand? Such attitudes are the doorways to abuse.
This is all very grim, but there are two substantial positive points to challenge this reality.
The first is that the New Testament teaches that there is a different way to be a man and to use power. Jesus modelled respect, the life of a servant, positive relationships and the giving up of power. He trusted and respected women and received financial support from them. He calls on us all to love and to serve. Christian men in particular are called on to love their wives sacrificially (Ephesians 5:25) and to treat all women with respect (1 Timothy 5:2). Christians should be at the forefront of women’s empowerment and ending violence against them. Why are we so often lagging behind?
Secondly there are a growing group of Christians and others who want to change this. This week I attended a meeting at the House of Lords hosted by Lord McColl where a range of faith leaders endorsed a declaration affirming the equality of women and men and pledging to end abuse. Restored, where I work, has a men’s campaign, First Man Standing, which calls on men to respect all women, join us, challenge other men and sign up to a pledge against abuse.
Violence against women is an epidemic that we all have a part in seeking to address. What are you going to do?
Peter Grant is the co-director of Restored, a Christian alliance working to end violence against women
Read more: Faith leaders unite to reject domestic violence