#16Days: The Pandemic of Violence Against Women
By Yvonne O’Neal, Diocese of New York
In commemoration of the 30th anniversary of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, the Task Force on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault and the Office of Congregational Vitality and Formation of the Diocese of New York held a virtual round table discussion, People of Faith Respond to the Hidden Pandemic: Violence Against Women. The 16 Days run from November 25 – International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women to December 10 – International Human Rights Day. I conceptualized the December 1 round table and invited the participants. Our esteemed moderator was Krishanti Dharmaraj, executive director of the Center for Women’s Global Leadership, the coordinator of the 16 Days.
We desired to have diverse interfaith voices – Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh — discuss what people of faith can do to end violence against women and girls, which increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, dubbed the hidden pandemic or shadow pandemic. Our goal was to ask questions and present solutions. But, unfortunately, religion, culture, and tradition combine to bring about femicide, the most extreme form of gender-based violence (GBV). The statistics on GBV are startling – one in three women worldwide experience physical or sexual violence, primarily by an intimate partner. These women are sitting in our pews, the perpetrators are sitting in our pews, yet we rarely hear about GBV from our pulpits.
We believe that a world without violence is possible, however long it takes to achieve. Indeed, there are six matriarchal communities, five indigenous, where GBV is nonexistent. Ending the patriarchy is my mantra! The Rev. Sereima Lolmaloma from Fiji, Anglican Diocese of Polynesia, reported that in 2016 churches in Polynesia first addressed the issue of GBV with the One Voice Campaign. Recognizing the complicity of religion, Polynesia revisited gender in theology, changed the narrative, resulting in a significant shift in attitudes and a reduction of GBV.
Men need to be a part of the conversations on GBV, noted Fred Sullivan of the Man Up Campaign. He works with mixed-gender groups to bring about sensitivity and understanding. Jacqueline Ebanks of the New York City Commission on Gender Equity discussed the many ways New York City focuses on safety for all, using an intersectional lens to achieve gender equity.
At Krishanti’s suggestion, I invited three respondents. Carl Murrell agreed with Fred Sullivan that we must engage men and boys; this is not solely a women’s issue. As Dr. Pam Rajput observed, faith-based organizations have played a critical role in preventing violence against women. Unfortunately, there has been no mention of the 16 Days from any church in the British Virgin Islands, and Judith Charles would like to see some advocacy and action around GBV there where perpetrators seem to get a pass.
What should our churches be doing? Let’s implement Break the Silence Sunday during the 16 Days with a sermon on GBV from every pulpit. Let’s change the narrative of the Biblical stories, and make them relevant to our lives today. Let’s stop the corporatization of the bodies of women and girls in the sex trade, another form of GBV. Let’s encourage our bishops, priests, deacons, and lay leaders to take action to end GBV. Let’s #OrangetheWorld and wear orange on the 25th of each month. Let’s value the dignity of every human being as women and men are equally made in the image of God. We demand gender equality and justice!
The video recording of the round table discussion will be posted on the Episcopal Diocese of New York website.
About the author: Yvonne O’Neal is committed to social justice and human rights advocacy and has found a platform on One Boat: International Chaplaincy for Covid Times. A member of the Standing Committee of the Diocese of New York, she serves on the Task Force Against Human Trafficking and the Task Force on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault. She is the vice-chair of the NGO Committee on Financing for Development and a member of the NGO Committee to Stop Trafficking in Persons. Yvonne is serving her first term on the Board of Trustees of the Church Pension and The Church Club of New York. She is a warden at the Church of the Holy Trinity in Manhattan.