Tomorrow we celebrate International Women’s Day. To mark that occasion we are planning to spend the rest of the month blogging about challenges facing women and girls around the world and look at the hope and healing God is raising up. The violence and abuse that women face has long been an issue that has touched me, having heard so many difficult stories. A while back I wrote the following for my personal newsletter…
Over lunch today Nam was telling me about the life of the woman that is helping us plant grass at our home. We’ll call her Vanessa. Vanessa looks for work on building sites. Like all women on the sites, she has the lowest job hauling around the rocks, bricks and cement—tough work. Vanessa was actually raised in a reasonably well-off family, had a good job and a nice house in the city. She married a scumbag (my words not hers) who would regularly beat her. Tiring of her, he found a girlfriend and locked Vanessa in the house so that she wouldn’t cause problems… Eventually, Vanessa divorced her husband, but he went to where she was working and caused so many problems that she lost her job. So now she works as a daily laborer—looking for work that no one else will do. Her husband died in 2007 and, according to her, has been haunting her ever since.
It’s not too dissimilar from our housekeeper. She married a seemingly good guy. He was studying architecture and earning a reasonable living. Three years ago his mother died, and he and his father started drinking. He drinks from morning to night and beats her on a regular basis. When he found out that she was pregnant, he threw her out of the house in the middle of the night. He then turned up and tried to tell us we shouldn’t employ her. Needless to say unlike most employers we resisted the threats and continued to employ her. However, nothing has changed. They still live together, he is still a drunk, and she still considers it her lot in life to be beaten by him, punishment for sins in a previous life.
Next week one of my husband’s closest school friends is coming to stay. She reports her life is unbearable since divorcing her husband. Why did she divorce him? Because he had numerous other girlfriends which he would flaunt in front of her, he would beat her regularly and would lock her in the house whenever he went out so that she couldn’t escape. He took her phone off her and disconnected the home phone. When she finally did escape, he found her and had his mother come and watch her all day to make sure that she never had contact with anyone, including her family. Eventually she was able to contact her mother who informed her it was normal and she should get used to it and be a better wife.
These aren’t particularly special stories, they were just three that passed through my life that week. While I wrote these stories for my personal newsletter, they were never included. I backed away from the topic. Why? For the same reason as I have heard given by churches in India and the USA. Because the issue of women is tricky. As a woman in leadership, I already feel vulnerable and judged. I fear being labelled as a feminist on a war against men. And so I’ve stayed silent on the topic of women.
Over the past few years as I have come to understand more, I have come to realise that I can’t stay silent. Speaking up about the issue is worth being judged by others, being misunderstood. The Bible tells us that we are to “speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute” (Proverbs 31:8). We need to speak out. Not to do so is sin.
Too often we have our issues confused. In India, while the problem of rape has become a common topic in society, the church has been reluctant to say anything. Behind closed doors they speak only of modesty, never (that I have heard of) about lust. When we ask to do conferences that start to address the value of women in an effort to counter gendercide, the church is reluctant, terrified that women will become ‘overly empowered’. And yet India is not alone. As Christians we have been slow to speak out, because the issue of women is, and I quote (from a US church), “controversial.”
As for me, I’m repenting. While there are still little girls being raped, neglected and killed, while there are women being abused, locked up and murdered, I am going to speak out. Because let’s be honest, there’s nothing controversial about saying we need to end such abuse. It’s time for the church to step into the forefront. We need to raise our voices.