THEOLOGICAL REFLECTION – ON THE ROOT CAUSES OF GENDER-BASED VIOLENCE IN INTIMATE RELATIONSHIPS

By Bishop Margaret B Vertue

As leaders in our societies, we need to take responsibility for the direction the Gender Based Violence tide is taking us. We need to look back to trace the root causes and we need to look forward to begin to turn the tide and find workable patterns of support for all concerned with turning the tide. Change begins with you and me. God’s future for us is restoration.

ROOT CAUSES

Apartheid
No one has been left untouched by Apartheid. We live with the left-over trauma. Allan Boesak and others remind us that inequality and injustice are still the enemy. The unequal society that we experience is driven by segregation. Inequality is a factor but we can have an unequal society and not have gender-based violence. Implications of apartheid will be different for people of Constantia or Philippi.

Education
Under the previous dispensation there was a lack of investment in education with an unfair split of resources, for which we are still paying the price.

Gang culture
With the high rate of unemployment, many of our young people do not know any other way of making a living They have seldom experienced real love. They have not been nurtured or encouraged into the virtues of respect, gentleness and loving kindness. Many have been encouraged to kill and hurt and have experienced graphic violence from an early age. Are we doing enough to diminish the attraction of gangs? Are we offering an alternative, for example “Gangs for good”.

Gender based violence in urban and rural areas
Allow me to mention three examples of root causes of Gender Based Violence within the community where I serve.

Lwandle
People had built shacks on land where a road was to run through. After failed negotiations, authorities sent in bulldozers. Shacks were flattened, including all possessions. School books and uniforms of children were not spared. The community rallied around and because of pressure of the faith community, the Community hall was opened. When the lights go out in the hall, rape and abuse happens. Children and young people in their midst, regard what is happening as normal. There is no model of peace and harmony of family life. Richard Rohr says nobody is violent or hateful to others unless he first hates his own self. How do we heal that?

Bredasdorp and Khayelitsha
Under-aged young people frequent taverns with owners and authorities being unconcerned about the restriction of age. We know the extent of the problem of substance abuse, human trafficking, bullying, teenage pregnancies but we look the other way and remain trapped in the throes of death.

Still in Bredasdorp, we have the case pending of the 27 year old man having to appear for the murder of his 14 year old girlfriend. They had been in a relationship for the past two years.

Those who have the power to bring about change through practical changes in social circumstances need to be held accountable and not be allowed to wash their hands of the situation and look the other way.

Perpetrators of Violence
Perpetrators of Violence are from all geographical sectors and classes. Social media brings the brutality of Gender Based Violence into our consciousness. Gender Based Violence in intimate relationships respects no one. It carries little or no risk for the perpetrator. Abusive husbands beat their wives and daughters at the slightest provocations, eg should they refuse to cook for them as in the case of Phumelela Silinga who allegedly stabbed his daughter in December 2012 for this reason. The Reeva Steenkamp case puts Domestic Violence into the spotlight. Men are mostly the perpetrators of violence and women mostly the victims. Christopher Panayiotu was denied bail for the murder of his wife, Jayde. In some circles and cultures, Scripture and ‘headship’ are used to beat women into submission. Boys grow up being respected more than girls. It is in our power to confront those who use religion to dehumanise. Often it is about the perceived status of being male. Faith is against treating others as objects or inferior.

Statistics and Root Causes
A 2009 study, “Mortality of women from intimate partner violence in South Africa: A national epidemiological study”, by Abrahams et al, showed that more women are killed by their current or ex-intimate partners in South Africa than in any other country. The World Health Organisation (WHO) says alcohol consumption, especially at harmful and hazardous levels, is a major contributor to intimate partner violence.

HOW DO WE BEGIN TO ADDRESS THE ROOT CAUSES

Children in School
Faith leaders need to get back into the schools and teacher training colleges. We need to raise awareness through schools of ethical values and respect. We need to self reflect and help others to do so. Short and long term consequences of abuse need to be highlighted for both the perpetrator and the victim. Faith leaders need to partner with those who can help our educators to recognise and understand the different levels of development of a child. Proper attention should be paid to levels of development of children (Spiral Dynamics). From an early age it can be detected when the child or young person is using violence as a coping mechanism and an opposite action can be nurtured. Even though the Spiral Dynamics programme of Dr Claire Graves has been around since 1950 and has been taken up in the theory of Ken Wilber’s Integral life plan, I am not familiar with it. However, it does seem worth pursuing by anyone involved in formation as the material expounds levels of development. We often address people at a level where we think they ought to be but they are not. Parents, Educators, Health Workers, Social workers, psychologists and Faith leaders are to find ways to reach into the minds of our young people to change their behaviour. Our values are our strength. We can partner and have community based programmes to respond to gender based violence in intimate relationships.

Relationships and Patterns of Support

Here I have more questions than answers:

  • How much support and how much control is there in intimate relationships? We need to find ways of supporting perpetrators and victims. Workshops of anger management, financial management, projection, communication skills, the language of leadership, forgiveness. masculinity and femininity could be arranged. Healing of Memories workshops get to root causes of anger and help bring about change.
  • Violent people tend to use violence as their guarantee of security. Such walls must be demolished. A safe space needs to be created where hard conversations can be had. Couples can be taught the power of listening to and not speaking for or at each other.
  • Couples can be challenged as to whether the friends they have, truly have their best interests at heart.

The media has a crucial role to play in motivating change in attitude and behaviour.

Biblical texts
For me, a helpful resource from Scripture is the Beatitudes in the fifth chapter of the gospel of St Matthew. I refer to a translation in ‘Prayers of the Cosmos’ by Neil Douglas-Klotz. He offers one possible new translation from the Aramaic and I quote three verses:

“Blessed are those in emotional turmoil; they shall be united inside by love.

“Aligned with the One are those whose lives radiate from a core of love; they shall see God everywhere.

“Blessed are those who plant peace each season; they shall be named the children of God.”

Jesus can be offered as a role model for men. Jesus cried. He was gentle and compassionate but could be firm when needed. Men can be helped to find their identity in simply being loved by God. Not easy but not impossible for this breakthrough to take place if genuine human love has not been experienced.

Inner healing
Victims and perpetrators of Gender Based Violence in intimate relationships, need inner healing. Healing of Memories workshops offered by Michael Lapsley and his team can be considered. There is no disgrace being a survivor of gender violence. The shame is on the perpetrator. The perpetrator needs help in transforming their attitude towards their victim. We need to actively bring men in as partners, not as enemies. Ending gender violence is a vital issue of peace and security in intimate relationships. Men need inner healing to give up their assumed dominance, culture of entitlement. Violence respects no one, not even the perpetrator. Our places of worship need to be safe spaces for men and women to speak out and deal with their brokenness and find inner healing. A healing team is needed in every parish or area. Partners in intimate relationships must be helped to lift the stigma of being a perpetrator or victim and be helped to see that they can be valued members of society. Most men are not perpetrators of gender based violence. Good men need to stand up, get involved, speak out and act. “For evil to flourish, it only takes good men to do nothing”.

Moral and Theological leadership
Faith leaders are often the first to hear of Gender Based violence. Some survivors of Gender Based Violence underline the failure of many churches to offer refuge or comfort. Faith leaders must know the social and legal networks at their disposal. We cannot remain ignorant of the law. South Africa is an angry nation. Another root cause of gender based violence in intimate relationships could arise when expectations are not met. Nelson Mandela said : “My freedom and yours cannot be separated”. As faith leaders we have a tremendous capacity to mobilise our people in small and immense ways to turn the tide of gender based violence in intimate relationships. Women in ministry need to bring their gifts to compliment their male counterparts and male counterparts need to value and appreciate the female contribution. Dr Katherine Jefferts Schori, first woman primate of the Anglican Communion, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the USA, in the Church Times of 29 May 2015 says: “Women’s awareness and experience of marginalisation can motivate compassionate responses within the Body of Christ. Women are closer in society to the oppressed and unfree, she said and have a willingness to build bridges across boundaries in order to confront the principalities and powers.”

CONCLUSION
In Psalm 31:14 we read “I hear the whispering of many” in the streets. Indeed I have and it has therefore been difficult for me to separate gender based violence in intimate relationships from other forms of violence. We are in the throes of death but we have it in our power to throw off the shackles of gender based violence and be open to a miracle of change to reshape communities. “No sun sets without leaving a history” (African Proverb) Are we choosing to be intentional and focused in taking responsibility to change the course of history regarding Gender Violence in Intimate Relationships or are we going to continue to undervalue people and not let their voice be heard or respected?