About 1 in 3 women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual violence from an intimate partner or a non-partner at some point in their lives. At least 200 million women and girls alive today have undergone female genital mutilation. An estimated 246 million girls and boys experience school-related violence every year and 1 in 4 girls say that they never feel comfortable using school latrines.
These are not just numbers. These are official statistics published by UN Women, WHO, the World Bank and other reputable organizations, painting a grim picture on the global reality and burden of gender-based violence.
According to a paper titled ‘Violence Against Women and Girls – A Compendium of Monitoring and Evaluation Indicators,’ published in 2008 by USAID: “Gender-based violence (GBV) is the general term used to capture violence that occurs as a result of the normative role expectations associated with each gender, along with the unequal power relationships between the two genders, within the context of a specific society” (Shelah S. Bloom 2008, p 14).
“The primary targets of GBV are women and adolescent girls, but not only are they at high risk of GBV, they also suffer exacerbated consequences as compared with what men endure. As a result of gender discrimination and their lower socio-economic status, women have fewer options and less resources at their disposal to avoid or escape abusive situations and to seek justice. They also suffer consequences (on their sexual and reproductive health), including forced and unwanted pregnancies, unsafe abortions and resulting deaths, traumatic fistula, and higher risks of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV” (UNFPA – Strategy and Framework for Action to Addressing GBV).
Tackling gender-based violence is a complex matter. It could mean policy formulation or an overthrow of entire societal social-cultural formations, running deep into stubborn traditions.
One organization whose founders and staff unashamedly identify as Christians, has emerged to contribute to the fight against gender-based violence. Press Red is a UK-based, non-profit, volunteer-led organization, passionate about seeing change on the issues of violence against women and girls in the UK and abroad.
How is Press Red fighting gender-based violence? How much impact do they expect to make?
I recently spoke with Press Red founder Michele Hawthorne and Katy Adams who is the Strategy and Operations Director. Here are excerpts from the interview:
Eric: Please introduce Press Red to our readers.
Michele: Press Red began in 2016 after I listened to Elaine Storkey speaking at a Christian festival: what she said about how women and girls are abused worldwide affected me so deeply that I knew I had to do something. So, I got together with some amazing volunteers, and we organized the first ever Press Red conference for 350 delegates in September 2017. Almost unbelievably, Elaine was free to talk on the only two days our venue was available, and many other incredible speakers and influencers were also available and willing to donate their time; it really felt like God was on the move.
Ever since this first conference, Press Red has continued to work towards its mission of informing people of the crimes being committed against women and girls, and inspiring and assisting them to initiate change. We want to bring the reality of the healing nature of Jesus’ resurrection into the lives of all those affected by this violence, to break harmful cycles and enable them to flourish within their families and communities. We use talks, music, drama, art, and social media to raise awareness, and are building a network of local churches here in the UK to encourage them to become a positive example to the rest of society in respect of how they counsel, support, and protect.
Our vision is for a world where men and women can live in good, healthy relationship with each other as God initially intended. Unfortunately, there is no culture or society where the issues we tackle are not a problem, and so our goal is to take our work internationally.
Press Red exists to tackle a huge problem, but when we work together and call out to God in prayer, we believe that we can and will change the lives of millions across the world.
Eric: What’s in the name Press Red and what does it mean?
Michele: One of our team members is Emma, a singer/songwriter, who woke up one morning with the words ‘Press Red’ repeating in her ear. When she shared them with us, we all knew that they were right, that this was the name for us. Like an emergency alarm, Press Red is a name which encourages us all to understand what we are doing through alerting people to the abuses taking place all across the world.
Eric: Please tell us Press Red’s most outstanding achievements so far.
Katy: In 2017 we ran our first ever conference in Manchester, England. We had over 350 delegates, as well as top academic and Christian speakers including Elaine Storkey, author of Scars Against Humanity, and Carl Beech of Christian Vision for Men. It was a day of huge passion, excitement and commitment which impacted the lives of all those who attended and put Press Red firmly on the map. For this event to happen was hugely exciting and showed to us that God was standing behind our vision.
Eric: What are the most common forms of gender-based violence you have encountered and what are the root causes and impacts?
Katy: Within the UK, recent research undertaken by Dr Kristin Aune at Coventry University has evidenced the prevalence of domestic violence within our churches, estimating that between 20% and 25% of church members (both men and women) have experienced this form of abuse at some point in their lives. These are victims whose suffering is generally hidden from sight, but whose plight needs to be recognised and addressed.
On an international level, violence against girls in India occurs at a shocking level: according to Life Association (a charity working with Dalits, the lowest caste in society), at least 1 in 43 girls under the age of 16 are in prostitution as a result of being sold on from bonded labour or trafficked. These figures are higher than those in almost every other country and represent vast numbers of innocent lives lost and destroyed.
Whilst there are many social, emotional, and cultural explanations behind the violence directed at women and girls, we believe that the core reason is Satan’s destruction of the beautiful relationship between men and women which was created by God in the beginning. This hatred of God’s wholeness has led to the many gender-based crimes we see daily all over the world, the impact of which are immeasurable: lives, bodies, and relationships all bear the scars of hurt.
Eric: Some men argue that gender-based violence is a feminist agenda. How are you involving men in the fight against GBV?
Katy: Press Red exists to help victims deal with the results of the crimes committed against them, as well as to tackle the root causes of this harm. Since studies show that most forms of violence against women are committed by men, our work would never succeed without also involving men in the conversation, helping change attitudes, and restore the relationship between the sexes to how God intended it: whole, fruitful, and ultimately good.
Within Press Red, men serve on the leadership team, talk at our conferences, and contribute as volunteers and supporters. We believe that these are issues involving both men and women and, as such, both genders need to be involved in the solution.
Eric: I understand Press Red will be hosting a conference in September. Please, tell us more.
Katy: We are very excited about our conference this year which is being held on 29 September 2018 at the Lighthouse Church in Manchester, England. We will welcome around 500 delegates to a day of talks, stands, networking, and a panel discussion aimed at highlighting issues and raising awareness. Attendees will have the opportunity to link up with organizations and individuals already working in this area and find out how they can get involved and help to make a difference. Tickets are already on sale: to find out more visit http://www.pressred.org/events or search for ‘Press Red Conference’ on EventBrite. We would love to see you there.
Eric: What impact will this conference create both in the short and long term?
Katy: Our prayer is that all delegates will leave the conference with an increased knowledge about gender-based violence: its root causes, its manifestations, and its prevalence. We also hope that they will learn more about what action is already being taken to help both victims and perpetrators of these crimes, and that they will begin to think about how they are being called to help.
Over the longer-term, we want to raise up an army of people who refuse to let these abuses remain hidden: who are committed to changing harmful attitudes and systems. We see the conference as the crucible from which these changes will occur and are excited to see where God will lead our supporters.
Eric: What role should the church and Christians play in ending gender-based violence?
Katy: The church and Christians are called to be an example to the rest of society in their behavior and attitude. We should therefore strive to demonstrate what proper relationships look like, beginning with those in our own lives and church communities. This is something for which every individual must take responsibility, being humble enough to ask for help and assistance if necessary.
On a wider scale, we are called to speak out on behalf of those who don’t have a voice: those who are trapped in cycles of harm and fear, and who deal daily with the impact of these issues. The church can do this as a body, using its weight and influence to lobby for worldwide change, and Christians can do this as individuals or in smaller groups, providing funding and support for organisations seeking to effect a difference.
Critical to all of this is the need for prayer: Christians all over the world need to join with us in praying for change and renewal.
Eric: Explain any roadblocks or challenges that Press Red may be encountering in your work.
Michele: We often struggle to get men involved. As we’ve already explained, the difficulties we are facing are just as much a problem for men as women. We want to see men stand up and speak out about girls being married off as children, wives being controlled and beaten, women carrying the family honour and so being denied any of the freedoms which men enjoy, domestic abuse, FGM, and so on.
We would humbly particularly ask your readers for prayer as we seek to expand our team. We are hugely reliant upon having the right people in post, particularly in the more ‘background’ roles like fundraising or communications, and are actively seeking God’s guidance in this area.
Eric: Please also tell us the key lessons you are learning in the process of advocating against gender-based violence.
Katy: One surprising lesson is that people are often unaware of how prevalent this violence is. The nature of so many of these abuses is that they take place behind closed doors: a key part of our work is therefore alerting people and making them realise how common they unfortunately are.
Another lesson is that, once people understand this, the size of the problem means that few of them know how they can make an impact or believe that anything they do will change things. We are therefore focused on showing how important it is that each and every one of us makes our voice heard in this struggle: when we work together we believe that change can happen.
Eric: Thank you so much for your responses and insights.
Picture of Michele Hawthorne, founder of Press Red.