Interfaith Forum on Violence against Women

Speakers at Family Violence, the missing interfaith dialogue

Religious leaders and family violence practioners from the Jewish, Muslim, and Christian traditions addressed faith responses to violence against women at a forum held at the Islamic Centre of Victoria, on the eve of International Day of Elimination of Violence against Women.

The event was organised to coincide with White Ribbon Day, an Australian initative generating community responses and participation in the International Day of Elimination of Violence against Women. Maryum Chaudhry of the ICV introduced the guests and commenced the forum outlining the need for collaboration and interfaith responses to violence against women.

Ms. Deborah Wiener, Chair of the Jewish Task Force Against Family Violence spoke of a movie called Crime after Crime and outlined the plot of insidious, creeping, hidden violence which resulted in the victim being jailed for 27 years, simply for responding to years of violence against herself.

This introduced both the context about responding to violence, the work of The Jewish Taskforce Against Family Violence together with The Rabbinical Council of Victoria’s ground breaking publication, “WILL MY RABBI BELIEVE ME? Will He Understand?”.

This is a book which may be utilised by any minister of any religion.

Andrew O'Keefe, Chairman of White Ribbon

Next to speak was Andrew O’Keefe, Chairman of White Ribbon Australia. Andrew made two distinctions: violence bwtween men (which tends to be a one off event, often fuelled by an incident) and violence between men and women, which tends to be part of a pattern ~ between husband and wife or couples living in a relationship. Elements of the pattern can be

  • principally between intimate partners
  • who have an emotional connection
  • which has prolonged ramifications
  • and it is something the human race does, worldwide, everywhere, in every culture, every religion, every faith or belief system

Mr O’Keefe told that there is a factor uniting of all religions … their desire to understand the difference between right and wrong. He mentioned The Prophet Muhammad, Jesus Christ, Moses, those who founded religions. They are liberators of the oppressed, they raise the downtrodden up; he cited a Surah from the Koran – “Oh you who believe stand up firmly for justice“. Justice is at the core of all the religions of mankind, and is the attempt of religious leaders to make sense of chaos and restore order in the world.

Treatment, Mr O’Keefe said, was a range of options and targetted to a variety of audiences. Treatment must go beyond an appeal to men to men seeing women as equals, and deserving of respect. This is a basic human right. Women are not tools of men, and are not tools in relationships.

Rabbi Ian Goodhardt speaking

The next speaker was Rabbi Ian Goodhardt, who has experience in Mediation, as a family law mediator. In mediation, it is important to understand dynamics. Rabbi Goodhardt is a great storyteller, and shared one tale about a relationship where the implicit threat of violence caused immense psychological harm to the wife. Rabbi Ian reminded us that violence does not have to physically occur, and the threat of violence is just as damaging.

Sheik Mohamadu Nawas, head of the Victorian Board of Imams addressed the gathering. The experience of imams was this was an emotional issue, often seen as a powerplay in a relationship.

In Islam there are many hadiths about violence against women; this has been brought up in our meetings recently and will continue to be the subject of sermons. In Islam, it is not fitting, it is not “macho” to hit a woman, at any time. It is not manly to release anger against another. A man someone who has self control, who can control his anger, and emotions and not direct them onto others. There are many teachings to this effect in this particular area, in Islam.

The next speaker was Rev. Scott Holmes of the Anglican Church, working in the area of Violence Prevention. Training in the area of family violence is not common for ministers nor in preparation of ordination.

Rev. Scott Holmes has been involved in developing policy in the Anglican Church specifically around the area of violence protection for women. You can read about the work of Rev. Scott Holmes on Stopping Violence Against Women.

In many faith communities, women may have stereotypical roles, or very small roles. Few faith traditions have females in ministry – leadership roles.

He raised three core issues: the first was “It doesn’t happen in our community”, something that prevents recognition of violence per se. This is due models of piety and spirituality which produce images of personal goodness rather than integrity about the way they live their lives.

Another challenge focusses around epistemology, how scriptures are read and applied within faith communities and the nature of divine revelation. Using revelation as a source of Truth over and above other models of recognising truth about what is happening in a community or in a relationship causes a failure to see what the truth might really be.Scriptures are all authored by males; there are no female authors of any scriptures. This has a fair bit of hidden impact.

The final challenge was gender based. Scripture, rites, rituals, are not gender neutral, but rather, focussed around a male, self-revealing divine figure.

Thanks to Maryum Chaudhry of the Islamic Center of Victoria for organising this, to the ICV for hosting, and to the Guest Speakers.