Violence Against Women – a challenge for all in the Church

Fiona Buchanan, local development officer for the Church of Scotland, reflects on gender justice and the Church.

The Church of Scotland recently demonstrated its commitment to gender justice with a campaign encouraging people to speak out in opposition to violence against women.

Fiona Buchanan, local development officer for the Church and campaign organiser, reflects on the issue.

"Equality between men and women is surely one of the fundamentals of a fair society"
Shami Chakrabarti, Director of Liberty

You don't have to look far these days to uncover the reality that we still have a long way to go to achieve gender equality and gender justice. Open a newspaper and the pages are littered with stories reflecting the challenging and often dangerous experiences women face on a daily basis because of their gender - both in the UK and throughout the world.

In the UK we see this manifested in the scandalous under-representation of women in public life, with women making up just one in five MPs. We see it in the chilling statistics of violence that permeate our newspapers: that around 90,000 women are raped each year in the UK alone - that's almost 2,000 per week. The rate of conviction is only 7 per cent. Two women a week in the UK are murdered by their partner or ex-partner.

We also see gender inequality displayed through the casual objectification of women's bodies: in advertising, the media, in newspapers like the Sun, and also through street and workplace harassment, as distressingly documented by the EverydaySexism project and bravely challenged by the Hollaback campaign.

Randomly dispersed throughout the pages of a newspaper they may not appear significant – but piece them together and they form a web of haunting experiences and voices that underpin the declaration by Amnesty International of violence against women as "the greatest human rights scandal of our time".

But to what extent is the lack of gender justice and the resulting violence against women an issue for the Church? And how can we even begin to address it?

The Church of Scotland has demonstrated clearly its commitment to responding to violence against women as a fundamental matter of faith. We know that many ministers and congregations have supported individual women in their midst, and over the last two years Councils and Departments in the Church of Scotland have risen to the challenge to identify specific and practical responses to address and prevent violence against women. The culmination of this work has been the creation of the Violence Against Women Task Group, which consists of a broad range of members from across the Church with the remit of creating a clear strategy for enabling gender justice to become central to the Church's life and work. The task group also seeks to engage with the broader public debate on violence against women, as demonstrated by its recent Speak Out! Campaign as part of the 16 days of activism to end gender based violence.

The work of the task group does not seek to diminish the voices of anyone - male or female - who experiences violence. Yet we continue to see many forms of violence overwhelmingly directed at women specifically because of their gender and linked to society's expectations of women. Violence is also too often perpetrated by men against other men, and male homicide is a well-known scar on Scotland's social fabric.The Church recognises that culturally held gender norms and values have created a landscape in which expectations about men and women's roles in society are limiting and damaging – for everyone.

The Violence Against Women Task Group seeks to make explicit and challenge these gender constructions, and the structures and ideologies in the Church and in broader society that perpetuate gender injustice and lead to violence against women. We need women, and we need men, to be those challenging voices.

Support services:
Women's Aid
Rape Crisis