March 4, 2015 / Author: Andrea Rhodes
Marking International Women’s Day, March 8
Say the word ‘Caribbean’ and many people think of wide sandy beaches, palm trees and holidays – a kind of paradise. But for a growing number of women there, life is anything but paradise, blighted by the violence they experience at home. That’s why Bible Societies in the region are using the Bible to tackle this increasing scourge, with encouraging results.
*Mary had been trapped in a violent relationship for many years, with her partner’s attacks landing her in hospital several times. She was desperate for help but had no idea what to do. When the Bible Society began equipping churches to assist victims of domestic violence, Mary finally received the help she needed and is starting to turn her life around.
“If only this help had been available earlier, I wouldn’t have spent so many years of my life being victimised,” she says wistfully.
Mary lives in Jamaica but her story is chillingly common across the Caribbean. Although it’s hard to get accurate statistics for each country, the incidence of domestic violence in the region is significant and growing: around 33% of women in Jamaica and27% of women in Barbados, for instance, are victims of some form of domestic violence. It accounts for a large percentage of the region’s crime statistics, too – about 25% of all murders are committed in the home. Nearly all the victims are women.
“The rise in violence against women seems unstoppable, despite the efforts of many women’s organisations,” comments Erny Van Axel of the Suriname Bible Society. “As Christians we must stand up and let every man, woman and child know that God condemns violence. We need to help them know what the Bible says – that all people are made in God’s image and have the right to be treated with love, respect and dignity.”
This is what Bible Societies across the Caribbean have started doing in recent years, with a particular focus on equipping churches to do this work.
“Quite often the church is the first port of call for women suffering domestic violence,” comments Rev Courtney Stewart of the Bible Society in the West Indies. “But our church leaders aren’t taught about domestic violence at seminary, so they don’t really know how to deal with it. That’s why so many pastors, Sunday School teachers and community leaders are now requesting the training we and our partners are carrying out.”
Hundreds of people across the Caribbean have already been trained in how to spot the signs of domestic violence and offer sensitive and effective counselling and advice, using two Bible-based booklets – ‘Stop the Violence’ for adults and ‘I love my body’ for children.
13-year-old Gabbie* in Haiti who was sexually abused while living in a tent city after the 2010 earthquake says that the counselling she received from a church leader who had received domestic violence training has really helped her.
“It has helped me to understand that if I keep quiet about what happened there is no way to stop the violence,” she said. “I’ve also learned that I don’t have to be ashamed.”
Haiti has a staggeringly high rate of violence against women – around 80% of women are thought to suffer some kind of abuse – but that figure has increased since the earthquake.
“The earthquake brought about so much anger and frustration,” explains Magda Victor of the Haitian Bible Society. “It destroyed people’s homes and livelihoods and led to greater promiscuity. All this has resulted in even more domestic violence.”
Since 2012, the Haitian Bible Society has been tackling this issue by running domestic violence workshops and airing a radio program to help raise awareness about the issue. The Suriname Bible Society has also been using the radio to spread its message about domestic violence. Listening to the program changed Kleia Emanuels-Mijnsen’s life.
“I was sitting with friends listening to a Gospel radio program when a counselling session on domestic abuse started. As I listened, I knew I had to call the number for help because what they were describing had happened to me. I had been raped and abused by a family friend and had never told anyone or dealt with the pain. It had completely destroyed my relationship with my mother and I mistrusted all men.
“It took months of counselling before I could let go of the bitterness I felt. But I’m now happily married with two sons and am counselling other women.”
The Bible Society of the West Indies is planning to start running the program in the Bahamas in the next few months, where domestic violence is growing, too.
“Please pray as we seek to reap a harvest of rescuing women and children, and the men, too, who are usually the perpetrators of domestic violence,” says Mr Stewart.
* Names changed to protect identity.