In April I was honoured to join a delegation of women from 14 countries across the Anglican Communion. There were priests, social workers, parents, theologians, artists, human rights activists, community development workers, sexual assault experts, university students, among others – all part of an Anglican delegation to the UN Commission on the Status of Women.
Each year, the commission meets in New York alongside Government delegations, and with some 4000 representatives of civil society, to discuss progress towards gender equality. This year’s gathering focused on “women’s empowerment and its link to sustainable development” and progress and barriers to “ending violence against women and girls”.
It was an inspiring and enriching time.
We discovered in new ways that the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – adopted in 2015 – are a unique platform for action on a vision that affirms our longing as Christians to work for the kingdom of God on earth. I realised that the 17 SDGs actually reflect deeply biblical themes of mutual responsibility for living well together, seeking equality for all people as created in the image of God, the responsibility to care for God’s earth, and God’s concern for the vulnerable and marginalised. Importantly, every country, including Australia, is challenged to examine and address these issues in their own context, and to support others in their efforts.
Throughout the gathering, the prevention of family violence, and violence against women and girls, was a key focus. As someone who spent two years listening to devastating stories of violence against women and girls in countries such as Sudan, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, in some ways I was in familiar territory. Through presentations of evidence-based research and programs from governments, UN agencies, development agencies, and faith-based organisations, we learned about the extent to which gender-based violence plagues all countries, at great cost to every society.
But I was unprepared for the breath-taking presentation by the Australian Government delegation on the extent of family violence in our own country. Gender inequality was named as the root cause of violence against women and girls. It was also noted that we are at a watershed moment in Australia in regards to addressing violence within families. As women of faith, we wrestled deeply with these powerful presentations – examining our own lives, our churches and workplaces, in the context of family violence and gender inequality. As Anglicans, we have many people and resources at hand to “change the story” of inequality and violence. We each can ask ourselves – how can the Anglican community in Australia ensure that women, men and children are safe from violence in their homes – in our own country and overseas?
We can also ask ourselves – what can we learn from our Anglican brothers and sisters around the world, who are also grappling with family violence and gender inequality?
For example, in many parts of Africa, the HIV crisis forced church leaders, community workers and theologians to address the reality that gender inequality within homes was the root cause of the epidemic, including in programs supported by Anglican Overseas Aid. Anglicans were at the forefront of a comprehensive campaign to de-stigmatise HIV/AIDS and challenge biblical interpretations that had contributed to entrenched risks.
It is wonderful that the Anglican Church has effectively assessed a deeply significant community issue, realised the church itself was part of the problem, and acted to become part of the solution.
I am utterly convinced that now is the time to ensure that as Anglicans we join this unprecedented wave of action to ensure women, men and children are safe and respected no matter where God has placed them – surely a marker of that reality we all pray for – that God’s kingdom will come on earth, as in heaven.