Working side by side for gender justice

Kate Forbes MSP, writes for Christian Aid on International Women’s Day.
Kate Forbes, Member of Scottish Parliament.
There are 1,560,000 missing girls in the world — and they’re missing just because they’re girls.

That is the World Bank’s estimate of how many baby girls have been lost due to gender-selective infanticide. In other words, females like me are viewed with such little value that they are not worthy of drawing breath or spending more than a few days on earth.

Violence against women is so pervasive that it starts before birth, and dominates women’s lives from the cradle to the grave.

Faced with the global, cross-generational and pandemic nature of gender violence, what difference does faith make? Global movements such as Side by Side draw together faith-based organisations for change, but real change can only start at an individual level.

As a woman with Christian faith, I believe that every human being is of inherent value. Inherent is the key word — we are of inestimable value irrespective of our characteristics, attributes, weaknesses and strengths.

Why? Well the Bible teaches that men and women not only bear the image of an infinitely important God, but that they are loved by that same God and called to love each other as God loves us. Therefore, violence against women, which is a product of a belief that women are of lesser value, is an utter contradiction of Christian beliefs.

What difference does faith make to the elimination of gender violence?

Firstly, it requires us to be honest and upfront about the fact that male domination of, and violence against, women have been pervasive throughout history. It is not new. Domestic violence, sexual assault, human trafficking, rape and FGM are as rife throughout history as they are rife across the world.

Facing up to this truth which runs like a deep, septic scar throughout history is the first step. Doing something about it is the next step.

Secondly, it gives us a heart for the powerless. I love Jesus’ words in the Gospel of Luke that he came ‘to proclaim liberty to the captives’ and ‘to set at liberty those who are oppressed’. A personal faith must be accompanied by tangible love, service and mercy that does not give up until those who are enslaved physically, emotionally or in any other way have been fully freed to live.

Lastly, it calls us to love justice. In the book of Micah, we’re told ‘to act justly and to love mercy’. In other words, there should be frightening consequences for perpetrators of violence. Recently, the Scottish Government announced new legislation to criminalise coercive and controlling behaviour. That sends a strong message to those inflicting violence that their actions are abhorrent.

Rev. Elineide and her sister Elione at a safe house in Brazil. Photo: Christian Aid/T Price

Loving one another side by side

Side by Side is a growing global movement of faith-based organisations who want to see gender justice become a reality across the world. It draws together faith communities in many different countries and, in each country, works in partnership wherever possible to meet local challenges in bringing about justice and equality for all people.

The Scottish chapter of Side by Side explores how we can stand in solidarity with people and faith communities across the world who are working for gender justice, often in extreme and dangerous circumstances.

During the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence in December 2016, inspired by the work of the Anglican Episcopal Church of Brazil, the Scottish Episcopal Church and Christian Aid launched a Biblical discussion toolkit: Loving One Another.

Change and a desire for justice requires faith and I reckon we’ve all got a lot more faith than we assume.

If we define faith as confident hope for a future result or assurance of things we cannot (yet) see, then ensuring equality and justice for all, regardless of gender, in every aspect of life, from our politics to our health service, must rely on a faith-driven, future-focused confidence.

It is my humble experience that the bigger the change required, the more faith we need. Followed by a lot of hard work, grit and determination.