The International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women is observed on the 25th of November. This monthly newsletter includes Biblical reflections from the Tamar Campaign and an update from Christian Community Services, Mt Kenya (CCS) about their response to violence against women.
The stories of Sarah (whose house was burnt and her shop looted), Mary (who was hospitalized by her husband’s beating), Martha (who is ‘possessed’ by her husband’s relatives though her husband has disowned her), and Lydia (who was blamed for her husband’s illness), shared during the work of CCS, remind us why the elimination of violence against women is so important.
In order to resource your own response to violence against women, below are some links to Biblical reflections from the ‘Tamar Campaign’, which aims to:
- Encourage Churches to openly speak out against abuse and violence
- Promote Bible studies that are centred on violence against women
- Sensitise women to the kind of abuse that exists and to propose ways of dealing with this abuse
- Encourage church ministers to preach against abuse and encourage activism around issues of abuse especially during the Sunday services
- Create an awareness on the link between gender violence and HIV/AIDS
The July 2004 issue of the World Council of Churches journal ‘Ministerial Formation’ (available at http://www.oikoumene.org/fileadmin/files/wcc-main/documents/p5/Ministerial_formation/mf103.pdf) focused on violence against women. The opening 'Letter from the staff states:
It may be that over the years you have found it extremely challenging to preach or teach on violence related issues, especially on rape, incest, violence and people living with disabilities, physical and/or psychological violence at place of work in the church and in multi-faith contexts then this is the issue of Ministerial Formation to read and keep close to your desk.
In these pages, we hear voices and actions taken to address violence and peace-making in a variety of contexts in the church and society. We hear stories of courage, commitment and determination to make a difference in people’s lives. The issue is also rich with bibliography and endnotes that will hopefully lead you to other important resources.
A report on the ‘Tamar Campaign Seminar – Breaking the Chain of Silence’ (available at http://www.fecclaha.org/uploads/Tamar%20Report.pdf) documents a four day training workshop on the TAMAR Campaign in which contextual bible study is used as a tool to discuss and address concerns in sexual and gender based violence.
Christian Community Services (CCS), Mt Kenya
The following stories of Sarah, Mary, and Martha, shared during the work of CCS, remind us why eliminating violence against women is so important:
Sarah is 41 years old. She married when she was 19. Her husband used to work in the government’s Ministry of Agriculture as a Divisional Agriculture Officer. They lived happily as husband and wife in the Mt Kenya Region until when the husband proceeded to further his studies. Sarah's mother–in-law insisted that her son was now an educated man and could no longer live with Sarah, who only had a basic education. The husband did not defend his wife. While he was away, in college, his younger brother attempted to burn her with petrol while she was in her house. The man burnt Sarah's house, but she was rescued by a neighbour.
Sarah was later attacked by her husband's brothers, and was hospitalized for several weeks. While she was in hospital, her shop was broken into by a hired gang. They took everything from the shop. After being discharged from the hospital, Sarah returned to her parents’ home to recover.
Today, Sarah lives with her parents and works as bar attendant at a village shopping centre. This is a job she does not enjoy. She wants to be able to start her own business again. She has two daughters, who are students. The oldest is currently at the university. The children’s fees are paid by Sarah’s relatives, while her husband lives in the city.
Mary, now 42 years old, was married in 1986 and dropped out of school . She moved from her home to the neighbouring district to live with her husband who was a soldier.
Mary's problems started after the arrival of her second child. Her husband started failing to come home. He also stopped supporting her financially. He would beat her whenever he did come home . Mary would go hungry for days before she started begging from neighbours. In 1999, when Mary was expecting her 4th child, the husband attacked her so brutally that she was hospitalized for a month. After leaving the hospital Mary went back to her parents home with her 4 children. She is currently a peasant farmer and she and her children provide farm labour to earn additional income. Her husband has since re-married.
Martha, aged 39 years met her husband after she completed primary school. She was 17 years old. She had several miscarriages before she finally bore a child in 1990. But her mother in law rejected her new grandchild and claimed that the child had not been sired by her son. Martha then realized that her husband had a second wife. When she bore a second child, Martha’s husband left home and went to work and live in Nairobi, he did not come often and Martha suffered under her mother in law who even forbid her from tilling the land. After several years of her husband's absence, Martha was driven out of her matrimonial home by her husband's relatives. Martha moved to a neighbouring village where she started a small business. She lives in great fear of her husband's relatives, who claim she is their property as their son had paid dowry for her.
The Work of CCS
The CCS has been holding trainings and meetings with village leaders to train and sensitize people about human rights. We work with the provincial administration (a Kenyan government structure) to set up committees. The community reports cases of violence against women and children to them. These committees will report cases to a chief, who then orders the arrest and aligning in district courts of those perpetuating the violence. Before we can get to this level, CCS needs to hold several meetings and campaigns with the communities.
The CCS in Mt. Kenya is positioned to serve over 2.5 Million people. We are only able to reach 250,000 in a year, at most. We have begun by working in our own parishes. Now we are working with other Churches to increase our coverage. We are trying to start a community radio programme, where we can carry out public education with a wider coverage.
Violence against women is criminalized, but few community members know this, it is assumed that once a man's family has paid a bride price/dowry, they own the women. Therefore "disciplining" her is their right. We support women facing violence by mobilizing community members through the local Churches. Christians pool resources to: provide temporally shelter, provide transport for a woman to return to her parents home, get a lawyer to help in getting justice, get medical care and even help a woman to settle in a different area. We are just scratching the surface but we have been blessed as the government has in the last 5 years started to train police officers to handle gender violence victims. We now also have female Chiefs and assistant chiefs. We also have some members of parliament that have spoken openly against wife beating - this helps in reducing incidences in their constituencies.
Please remember to pray for CCS
The story of Lydia
Lydia was married in 1994. She had been married for 5 years when her husband fell so ill that he was in and out of hospital for two years. During this time, Lydia struggled to support her husband’s hospital bills and also raise her three children. She did this all alone since her relationship with her in-laws had grown very cold. Her relationship with her in-laws became more strained resulting to physical fights. This fights left her injured, devastated and helpless since no one stood by her in the family. Her parent’s in-law accused her of being the cause of their son’s ailment.
In 1998, when her husband passed away they forcefully evicted her out of her matrimonial home. They pulled down her house and threw her belongings by the roadside. She took a step to report the matter to the local administration through the advice of community and church leaders. This made Lydia’s in– laws soften towards her but they were determined never to let her back to what she had called home for five years.These events caused a lot of stress to Lydia and her children. Her children dropped out of school for a year. Lydia contemplated committing suicide. She approached a community based volunteer working in the area and told her of the agony she was going through. The volunteer introduced her to the Christian Community Services. When her case was presented to local provincial administration, her in-laws were summoned to the Chief’s office. After several meetings, Lydia was given a quarter acre piece of land at her matrimonial home. She then organized a fund raiser through community support that raised Kshs. 4,000. She started buying building materials. The CCS mobilized the Christians and Kshs 5,000 more was raised which was used for buying iron sheets. A CCS board member contributed 3,000 more. Community volunteers came together and provided labour for building the house, the house was completed and occupied in less than a month.
Lydia has since become a Christian and has been trained to teach Sunday school. She has also joined a village support group for widows that was started by the CCS.
Through community support Lydia now lives a healthy social life and her children are now happily attending school. She earns her living through casual labor employment in the neighboring farms. The community is still amazed at how they all came together to support Lydia.