Australia: Parishes urged to welcome men as anti-violence advocates

By Mark Brolly
Posted Jun 11, 2014

[Diocese of Melbourne] Parishes need to welcome men as important bearers of anti-violence messages to other men and boys, according to a report of the Diocese of Melbourne Violence Prevention Program.

Nudging Anglican Parishes to Prevent Violence Against Women said the reach and influence of Anglican organisations and parishes were a significant asset in reducing violence against women locally.

“Changes in violent tolerant attitudes and behaviour toward women and girls require a lengthy commitment from the Diocese, its program partners and parishes to continue with the work,” the report said.

The report, prepared for the Anglican Social Responsibilities Committee in collaboration with Anglicans Promoting Respectful Relationships for Violence Prevention by Dr Ree Bodde, was launched at St Peter’s Eastern Hill on 23 May by Archbishop Philip Freier and Mrs Andrea Coote, the Parliamentary Secretary for Families and Community Services and a member of the parliamentary committee that produced Betrayal of Trust last November after its Inquiry into the Handling of Child Abuse by Religious and Other Non-Government Organisations.

It said the next steps were to extend violence prevention training across the Diocese, share promising practices, disseminate research and online communication, strengthen monitoring and evaluation of the program and seek a three-year extension of the program at the Diocesan Synod in October.

“It is important to use a language and context for parish mobilisation that includes and welcomes men and that recognises that they too are important carriers of anti‐violence messages to other men and boys.”

The Revd Dr Stephen Ames, Program Chair of Anglicans Promoting Equal and Respectful Relationships for Preventing Violence Against Women, said: “We are all shamed by this violence, which so often is ‘payback’ to a woman as the way a man handles his anger, fed by deep dissonances about gender roles and an actual inequality of power.”

Dr Bodde said: “The challenge is for more Anglican communities to shift their paradigm to that of helping prevent violence in the first place and not only responding to the people damaged by violence.”

The report said 34% of women who had had an intimate partner had experienced violence from a partner or ex-partner and one woman was killed in Australia almost every week by a partner or former partner. An estimated one in four children and young people had witnessed domestic violence against their mother or stepmother.

Nudging Anglican Parishes to Prevent Violence Against Women was launched against a backdrop of recent highly publicised incidents of violence against women and children, including the deaths of 11-year-old Luke Batty at the hands of his father after cricket training at Tyabb on 12 February and the fatal daylight stabbing of Fiona Warzywoda, a mother of four children, in a Sunshine street on 16 April, allegedly by her former partner.

Mrs Coote praised the report, and the Anglican Church’s leadership in responding to the parliamentary inquiry last year.

She said violence against women was not inevitable and could be prevented.

“It’s very clear that this is not going to stop unless we do something differently,” Mrs Coote said.

The Revd Scott Holmes, a member of the steering committee for Anglicans Promoting Equal and Respectful Relationships for Preventing Violence Against Women, said there was no underestimating how challenging it was to practise and promoting gender equality and respectful relationships as a way of preventing family violence.

“Society may agree that we want to see an end to men’s violence against women, but when we begin to talk about changing the patriarchal structures that fuel gender inequality and stereotyping, the level of agreement starts to fall away,” he said. “Men, and more often than you think women, challenge the link between gendered violence and gender inequality, they challenge the statistics, they challenge that violence is gendered. As a species we seem to find it more comfortable to live with the injustice we know about rather than make the deep changes that will create a fairer world.”

Mr Holmes, who is Healthy Workplaces senior adviser at YMCA Victoria, cited his experience as coordinator in 2011 of the final year of a three-year project based at Darebin City Council, the Northern Interfaith Respectful Relationships project. People working in the sector would regularly ask him why anyone would bother with such a project.

“For these people, faith communities were far too much part of the problem to ever be able to be part of the solution,” Mr Holmes said. “Women who worked in refuges knew too many stories of women who had been told by their pastors to stay with their violent husbands, who were told that putting up with the violence was the cross they had to bear, who were pointed to scriptures that spoke of the holiness of suffering and sacrifice. There are absolutely faith communities where this still happens, and for this reason many people working in the domestic violence sector would consider faith communities as places where women can never expect to be treated equally, or to be safe.

“I have a lot of sympathy for the people who think this way. I have too many of my own experiences and stories not to. I’ve seen and heard the way female clergy colleagues are treated at clergy gatherings. Or the way women are spoken about more generally.

“I love the fact that Ree has called this report, Nudging Anglican Parishes. Because that’s exactly where we are at the moment – nudging. Not just in faith communities, but pretty much everywhere we are doing this work… We nudge. We ask tricky questions. We poke and prod and try and get a reaction. And we hope that over time – probably a long time – we will see people begin to change. This is why it is so important that we have a long-term, bipartisan approach to this work. We must be committed to it for the long haul.

“So, the work is hard, but it is not impossible,” Mr Holmes said. “Faith communities have a role to play in preventing this violence before it occurs. I am proud that our Anglican Diocese of Melbourne has been taking the lead in this work, but we cannot afford to be complacent. There is still far too much inequality in our world, and there are still far too many women and girls who are suffering because of that inequality.”