Keeping the Faith Report
Keeping the Faith: What Survivors from Faith Communities want us to know
In December 2020, the Faith and VAWG coalition published Keeping the Faith: What Survivors from Faith Communities want us to know.
Keeping the Faith emerges in the context the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, during which the ending violence against women and girls (VAWG) sector has been proactively responding to the escalating abuse and the resulting rapidly changing needs of women. Where some strategic gains have been made in highlighting the impact of COVID-19 on women and children being abused by men, the voices and needs of women from faith backgrounds have been conspicuously absent. Many survivors from faith backgrounds have reported that secular specialist services and society, in general, are unable to understand their experiences of abuse, and the barriers to accessing support. Often the unique role religion and spirituality play in their lives and how these manifests in their communities, experiences of abuse and healing is little if understood at all.
Keeping the Faith presents a picture of VAWG as experienced by survivors from faith backgrounds; the gaps in support available to them, and the barriers faced when trying to access support. The report’s key findings outline what women of faith want their faith and community leaders to know, and what women of faith want the government and Specialist Services to know about how they can be supported and empowered.
experiences of survivors of faith have seldom been present in the wider response to COVID-19
The report concludes that the experiences of survivors of faith have seldom been present in the wider response to COVID-19, and this is concerning as the impact of this pandemic has been gendered and intersectional. A lack of disaggregated data to inform policy is a barrier to identifying the scope and scale of the problem, hiding the racial, gendered, and intersectional impact of the pandemic. The report also notes that the pandemic has exacerbated already existing inequalities, as survivors’ inability to leave the home and seek support has emboldened men and increased opportunities to abuse and escalate abuse.
Keeping the Faith also notes that the COVID-19 pandemic was a space of contradictions as it also created opportunities for marginalised women. The pandemic revised the taken for granted status quo as some of the previous patriarchal rules that excluded women were turned upside down. This was illustrated best by the opportunities presented by the online presence of religious congregations because of the lockdown. In many religious congregations where segregation between the sexes is practiced, women were not only able to attend communal worship for the first time, and for some they were in the same virtual ‘rooms’ and spaces to the men. They were also at times visible to their male counterparts. This enabled some women of faith to ‘transgress’ taboo subjects and become more visible in spaces where they were previously excluded. In doing so, the pandemic allowed for the disruption of social norms and created the possibility for change as previously accepted norms such as the exclusion of women from religious spaces can be overcome. This will undoubtedly have important ramifications for future dynamics of power and privilege in religious spaces.
The pandemic also created an important space which has centred religious leadership. Faith-based organisations and religious leaders play a crucial role in times of crisis. They are frequently in positions to advocate for social and legal change. Therefore, it is crucial that religious leaders (particularly men) understand the important role that they play in both upholding of the exclusionary and patriarchal order and the progressing of many positive changes during the pandemic that has led to increased women’s participation, space for action and their influential role in their communities. This will undoubtedly have consequences for the ways in which religious leaders deal with and combat men’s violence towards women and girls in their communities.
Recommendations in Keeping the Faith include:
● Local and central government should evidence the value with which they hold ‘by and for’ organisations and their work by adequately resourcing them and removing barriers to funding.
● Faith communities including leaders should be seen as allies in the fight against VAWG and domestic abuse.
● Create and support spaces like the Faith and VAWG Coalition that understand and appreciate the complexity of the relationship between faith and domestic abuse.