Working together to end violence against women

Categories: Changing our World

Pope Francis reminds us we have an obligation to speak out 

One night in early May, 300 teenage girls were abducted by a violent Islamic extremist group in northern Nigeria. The brutal nature of this act quickly ignited a global reaction as demonstrations formed in cities and towns across Africa and throughout the world.

International law enforcement agencies and multi-national military units have been engaged in the effort to free these girls, whose only crime was that of seeking an education.

This abduction of innocent school girls is one example of the many violent acts against women today. A pregnant Pakistani woman was stoned to death because she married the man she loved. In India two teenage cousins were raped and killed, and their bodies hung from a tree. Elsewhere, we continue to read of “honor killings” carried out by members of a woman’s own family.

It may be tempting to notice that all of these examples took place in faraway lands. But violence against women and girls happens here at home as often as it does in Pakistan, India or parts of Africa. Recently, a deranged man went on a shooting rampage targeting women in a California college sorority house. Sexual assaults against women on college campuses and in the U.S. military occur with disturbing regularity.

Violence against women is not new. It has been going on forever, and it happens everywhere. What might be new is a growing global reaction against these many forms of brutal behavior against more than half of the world’s population.

Speaking out 

Catholic social teaching has not often spoken directly about violence against women. An exception was the U.S. Catholic bishops’ 1992 pastoral letter “When I Call for Help: A Pastoral Response to Domestic Violence Against Women” and a later 10th anniversary edition.

The original document notes that domestic violence is the most common form of violence in our society and the least reported crime, especially in isolated rural areas.

More recently, Pope Francis addressed this topic in his 2013 encyclical “The Joy of the Gospel.” He wrote: “Doubly poor are those women who endure situations of exclusion, mistreatment, and violence, since they are frequently less able to defend their rights” (212).

The Holy Father more broadly condemns the human trafficking that is often connected to the abuse of women and girls. In that context, he warned that we must not look the other way and that all of us are involved in these issues. Our “comfortable and silent complicity” indicts us (211).

The women to which these words refer are not only those in Nigeria, Pakistan or India. They are our neighbors, students and family members in the towns and cities of the United States.

We might not be involved directly in human trafficking or prostitution. We might not be involved directly in acts of violence against women. But we know it is all happening, and that is the indictment that Pope Francis issues. We are not ignorant of what is going on. We do know. And, knowledge carries a moral obligation to act, to change what we know is wrong.

Getting involved 

What can we do? We can begin with what is possible. We can become more knowledgeable about the violence against women and girls close to home and find ways to respond. A good way to start this process would be to contact caregivers who deal with this issue on a daily basis.

Here in the Diocese of St. Cloud, that might be Catholic Charities’ Caritas Mental Health Clinic (www. ccstcloud.org; 320-650-1550) or the Central Minnesota Sexual Assault Center (www.cmsac.org; 320- 251-4357) or Anna Marie’s Alliance (www.annamaries.org; 320-253- 6900). Any of these organizations can advise about related services and resources away from St. Cloud.

There appears to be a growing outrage against the horrific acts of violence against women and girls in various countries. We can rejoice in this global solidarity to end such violence, but only if we — especially men — are part of the effort.

Bernie Evans holds the Virgil Michel Ecumenical Chair in Rural Social Ministries at St. John’s University School of Theology/Seminary in Collegeville.