Last month saw the publication of a sobering report on violence (physical, sexual and psychological) against women by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights. They found that “one third of all women in the EU have experienced either physical or sexual violence since the age of 15”. The UK was tied for fourth worst among EU countries.
I wish I could say I was shocked, but I have long known of this woefully under-reported situation. Gender-based abuse goes on mostly behind closed doors and, when it does come to light, the victim is often shamed and blamed. The report itself got a two-minute slot on breakfast telly and one day in the papers. I have to ask myself, “why?”.
Might it have something to do with the pervasive devaluing of women in our society? Women can expect to earn less than men for the same work and to be passed over for leadership posts. We are expected to laugh off slights and slurs and put-downs both socially and in the workplace and to tolerate intrusive remarks about our appearance and actions. Our strengths are often negatively valued (he is assertive, she is pushy). Even our public identity is frequently derivative, based on a relationship rather than ourselves.
It pains me that the church is no different, and indeed is lagging behind in several areas (women bishops?). The Jesus I see in the gospels is unusually respectful and welcoming to women. He takes them seriously and entrusts his message to them as well as counting them among his friends. I believe that it is only when we recover this kind of attitude toward women that we can begin to deal with gender-based discrimination and violence.
The Revd Canon Robbin Clark, Dean of Women Clergy