“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28.
A recent survey conducted by UNFPA suggests that 60% of Indian men admit acting violently towards their wives or partners at some point in their lives while 52% of women admitted to experiencing some form of abuse. More specifically, according to this report, more than 70% of men in Uttar Pradesh admitted to abusing their wives or female partners. It is not only adults, but also adolescent males between the ages of 15 and 19 that feel that abusing women is justified. UNICEF’s global report on adolescents 2012 had reported that 57% of adolescent boys in India think a husband is justified in hitting or beating his wife. 53% of adolescent girls also think that wife beating is justified.
Such widespread acceptance of the practice of violence against women is shaped by a culture of patriarchy in which the male head of the house wields unchallenged authority and power. Boys grow up in homes where their father beats their mother on the slightest provocation — when a meal is not properly cooked or when it is ‘not her place’ to speak. Girls also learn early on that abuse is part of their lot in life for being born a girl. They grow up believing that it is a woman’s virtue to suffer in silence, never letting her family know the abuse she faces lest they have a low view of her married life.
In a society like this, even being married into a Christian family may not ensure a life free from violence. Many pastors have been reported to beat their wives, as they also have been shaped by a culture in which husbands feel that they have the right to use force or violence when their wives disobey their instructions, question them, or demonstrate behaviour “inappropriate for a woman”. Such acts are seen as violating the biblical injunction of “submission” of wives to their husbands and hence required to be corrected through the use of physical force.
This year, the Ending Gendercide team started a program teaching the biblical truth of equality and dignity of men and women in rural communities in Uttar Pradesh. In this area, most Christians come from socially disadvantaged communities. They are mostly poor and from lower castes. They are socially marginalized in their own hierarchical society. The teaching on biblical equality and dignity of all human beings despite their caste or gender has a very liberating impact on the listeners. To know that every human is created in the image of God and has therefore been endowed with inherent dignity and worth gives them a great sense of value, and helps them to see others through the same lens brings transforms their relationships. Already, we have started receiving very encouraging testimonies from both men and women in these areas.
The women have shared that after learning about those truths the beatings from their husbands have stopped. The males also shared rather shyly that they no longer beat their wives. Instead, when their tempers rise and they start fighting, they have begun saying sorry to their wives rather than hitting them. This would have been completely unheard of before.
Valuing women and girls is also being reflected in how some fathers care for their daughters. Many fathers are learning the value of educating their daughters and have enrolled them in school. Earlier they would not send daughters to school as they felt it was a waste of time and money because she would eventually just get married and do the household chores for her husband’s family, so what would be the use of her education? They felt it would be better for her to learn to do the household work in her father’s house so that she would not face criticism or complaints for not knowing how to do these things from her husband’s family.
Now we hear a father proudly declare that he understands the importance of educating his daughter. He wishes to see her become an empowered woman who will not accept abuse from her husband and who will be able to earn a self sustaining income so she never has to rely on a man economically. This community is an encouraging example of how learning the truth of equality of men and women can lead to a safer, more promising future for women and girls.Photo provided by 10×10 Educate Girls, Change the World, © 2011