MAKING THE PLEDGE
Some figures make you wince and want to turn away. Here are a couple for the UK.
Two women a week are murdered by their current or ex-partner.
One in five women has experienced sexual assault.
Violence against women still pervades society and in some ways it has got a lot worse. With the emergence of social media in the last decade, a vista of threatened violence has been unleashed online. The power of words to intimidate and harass has never been starker. In the modern era, most of the harm against women has been effected in private. In the more recent digital age, the cruelty is public. It is also unashamed. Women are being bullied in ways intended to frighten them away from public roles. This trend has only just begun, so we have to make up our minds where we stand on it. And what we are going to do.
The global White Ribbon campaign (www.whiteribbon.org.uk) asks men not to commit violence against women. This should be an easy one to sign up to. But the pledge goes further than this.
It asks men to promise they will never excuse or remain silent over violence or threats of violence against women.
This is harder.
We rarely anticipate when the moment comes to stand up for truth and justice. It catches us by surprise, like a lightening strike we see before we are able to respond to it. This makes an adequate response even easier to flunk. To turn a deaf ear to what has been said - even a blind eye to what has been written – because it is convenient or we are afraid.
There is a big story in the life of Jesus where a woman, apparently caught in adultery, is hauled into his presence by religious leaders. She is surrounded by men making the accusation against her in a very public place. If found guilty, she would meet a terrible, violent end. But her alleged misdemeanour is not the focus of the religious leaders. She is simply a pawn in a game they want to play with Jesus. Her predicament is used instrumentally.
Jesus, curiously doodling on the ground with his finger, draws attention away from her humiliation, puncturing the tension. And he saves her life by holding a mirror up to the men gathered around her: ‘let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her’.
The story is usually seen as a study in the vice of hypocrisy. But it is also about the averting of violence on a lone woman by a group of men, achieved by one man who stood apart.
Samantha Power, former Obama aide and leading humanitarian activist, said there are many bystanders in life, but she coined the term ‘upstanders’ to describe those who speak out against violence.
I invite men to make the pledge with me. To be an upstander when it counts. To make the world a safer place for women to live and flourish in. Where love, equality, respect and kindness are signposts to a greater world to come.
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