Church group is training local congregations on gender-based violence

The 25 November has been designated as the United Nation's Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. Churches around the world are central to this international effort to end gender-based violence.

woman looking out of window and reflecting

The UN estimates that around the world 137 women are killed by a partner or family member every day, and across their lifetime, 1 in 3 women will experience some of physical or sexual violence from a partner.

In Scotland too, we have plenty of work to do. Last year's lockdown saw a drop in violent crime, but it later became clear that domestic violence had soared. And during October 2021 Scottish Government figures show that police recorded 207 rapes or attempted rapes, more than six a day.

As places of trust, relationship and spiritual encouragement, church communities can be a source of comfort and support for women and other vulnerable people.

The Church of Scotland has been working on this issue for over 20 years and formed Integrity, its violence against women task group, to raise awareness about violence against women and to support churches working within their own local communities.

Over the last year, the group has been delivering a training that takes an in-depth look at gender-based violence, and the role of churches in recognising, preventing and responding to this form of violence. It includes practical ways to support people and crucial safeguarding information to consider.

"Violence against women can happen anywhere and comes in many different forms," says Rev Karen Hendry, the group's convener.

"One important way we can end it is by breaking the silence. If we can open conversations within Church communities, we can join together to end rape, child abuse and domestic violence.

"The more we know about how violence affects women and children, the less likely we are to do further harm. With more knowledge we can helpfully and quickly signpost people to professional support."

"Violence isn't always physical, and can include: sexual harassment at work, controlling behaviour in a relationship, stalking, online abuse, spiritual, emotional and psychological abuse, and street harassment.

"Both women and men are more likely to experience violence at the hands of men and all of this violence is unacceptable.

"As Christians we know this is not part of God's plan for us. Gender-based violence is not inevitable and if we work together we can end it."

New work is underway

In Falkirk, Brightons Parish Church has formed a gender-based violence task group to help increase awareness and support women and girls dealing with this form of violence.

Rev Scott Burton says the group is learning about gender-based violence as it plans how best to contribute to ending it.

"Last year our country was profoundly impacted by the injustice and murder of Sarah Everard, and speaking the Sunday afterwards, I reflected on the male privilege I've experienced and how we as a church need to get involved in tackling violence against women," he says.

"That led to a conversation with one of our members who works in this area, and from there the creation of our new team.

"We're still in the early stages of learning about the issue ourselves, before seeking to take this forward more widely with our congregation and parish, but we're firmly committed – and compelled by the Bible – to do more than simply give lip service to this injustice being tackled."

Watch the video to see Brightons Parish Church's online discussion about gender-based violence.

This year Scotland became one of the first countries in the world to target its violence-prevention efforts towards men.

Police Scotland's "Don't be that guy" social media campaign video has been viewed almost 3 million times to date. The video is starting conversations across the country and helping build support among men on how to end violence against women and girls.

It is an innovative campaign but we still have more work to do to end gender-based violence. And congregations have an important role to play.

How you and your church can get involved