Deborah Jamieson has served government at the highest level on the subject of gender based violence (GBV). Here she addresses key questions about the Church and access to justice.
Chief Executive Officer of Eliminate Domestic Violence the Global Foundation (EDV)and former Senior Policy Advisor for the Domestic Violence Team at the Home Office. She has also served as Team Leader on Violence Against Women at the Cabinet Office.
The problem of domestic violence doesn’t necessarily start with a violent act. What are its roots?
It’s usually part of power and control. It can start with psychological coercion and control. It can be financial. And one of the important things to remember is the impact globally is that women aged 15 to 44 are more at risk of rape or domestic violence than they are from cancer, motor accidents, war and malaria. So it is something that we all need to be working towards reducing and eliminating. It’s also affecting over 133 million children per year who are witnessing violence in their home.
So, what can be done to effectively stop it?
Well there’s a whole range of things, but a lot of it is about forming partnerships and working together. And starting with young people. Having young people challenge harmful attitudes and behaviour will help us change the future for generations. There are things all of us can do, in whatever capacity we’re working, and also through the Church.
Has the Church failed so far to do something about this? Has it been in denial?
I think some churches haven’t known how to approach this topic or the impact that they might have on advice given. One of our partners is Restored. Restored is a Christian organisation working to reduce violence against women and they have guidance for churches. I think many churches need to understand the dynamics behind domestic violence and what appropriate advice and support is possible.
To what extent is patriarchy operational in western countries like the UK?
We still have problems in the UK of things like forced marriage and honour based violence (and it’s better to call it dishonour based violence). And that can be perpetrated by the partner, the husband, but also the extended family more widely. Forced marriage is where one or both parties are under duress and do not consent to the marriage. A forced marriage unit has been set up in the UK which is helping to reduce that and they see well over 1,200 to 1,400 incidents a year where they’re helping girls (or even sometimes young boys) who are being taken abroad and forced into marriage. There is also female genital mutilation (FGM) and that is another thing that is perpetrated by family, extended family and community, and often done to very young girls.
While the UK has a pretty coherent view on forced marriage, marital rape and FGM, on an international level, such as at the UN, there is less clarity because of differing cultural attitudes to these practices. How are we to deal with that?
Many countries are now signing up to things like the Convention on the Elimination of Violence Against Women, there is also across Europe the Istanbul Convention which went live in May this year. And that looks across [the spectrum of] violence against women, including FGM and forced marriage, and looks at how all the different sectors should play a role in trying to reduce it. It encourages states to take a more active response. As an example, it was launched in Istanbul and in Turkey the government there launched more robust legislation around violence against women.
In countries from Mozambique to Afghanistan, there may be formal rights enshrined in the law, but there seems to be a huge gap between that and people actually being able to access those rights. How does one bridge that gap?
Well, you’re correct there. There is a big problem with the actual enforcement of legislation and what we try to do is work with countries and states and organisations with a model that can help reduce violence against women. And that includes through programme design and implementation and advocacy and research and policy. Some countries are quite resistant, and again there are very challenging and harmful attitudes and behaviour and it may take much longer to have a positive impact on that country or on that state.
What kinds of things could faith groups be doing to help?
They can raise awareness and they can also download things like the [Restored] guidance for churches. There are faith groups across the UK that are also addressing this issue, and more widely around the world. We are the lead partner for Peace One Day for the Reducing Domestic Violence coalition. And within that coalition we have a wide range of groups across all sectors, including some faith groups, that are participating and raising awareness. And in the UK this year, as an example, we have a large number of police forces that took part and tried to raise awareness and drive greater learning around this issue.
Can you work with religious groups that have a theology that proposes strongly differentiated gender roles if they are against things like domestic violence?
Yes, because I think sometimes people don’t understand the true impact of domestic violence and believe it may not happen in their community. Our patron, Baroness Scotland, had a round table with community and faith leaders while she was in government and it was extremely helpful. One of the ways to encourage participation from every religious leader around the table was to discuss specific case studies. And I think many were shocked at some of the cases that had occurred. They had believed that it couldn’t happen in their community and afterwards were more willing to participate and be a positive lever of change.
How important is it to be challenging other examples of patriarchy in our society (I’m thinking of the campaign against page three as one of the examples) in fighting gender based violence?
I think it’s important to raise awareness and to try and eliminate very negative stereotypes of women. The Geena Davis Institute recently conducted a study, including in the UK, on the number of and the impact of women in film. Studies like that help to raise awareness that we need to do more and better around the way women are portrayed in film, in television and in the media, and the impact it has on young people in particular.
Cuts to Legal Aid in the UK will potentially mean that victims of domestic violence will not be able to access their rights. Do you have a view on that?
Yes, it has had a negative impact. There is a higher threshold for domestic violence victims to meet in order to prove that they are victims of domestic violence and should receive Legal Aid. There are some organisations that do help free of charge to give restraining orders and things like that, but we do need to make sure victims have adequate access to justice and are legally represented, particularly when the perpetrators may use the court system to suppress them either through custody disputes or frightening them from even going to court. There are independent domestic violence advisors that do help them through the court process and if they choose not to go to court they help them with safety planning and other really important issues.
And in terms of the scale of the problem, are those non-governmental or charity bodies sufficient to meet the challenge?
There’s a lot of funding cuts. Therefore, there’s a big campaign going on right now to save the refuges, because there have been cuts to refuges and some of the specialist ones have been having to close down. So I think one of the things that’s important is that this is an issue for everyone and cuts to services for women and children shouldn’t be the first cuts made.
If you have one message to faith groups in the UK, what would it be?
They can be part of the change that we wish to see in the world. They should be part of the voice challenging harmful attitudes and behaviour and stand up to violence against women.
You can find more information on facing GBV in the Church with the In churches too videos on the Dignity DVD.
Reproduced here with the kind permission of BMS World Mission