In “The Cross and Gendercide” author Elizabeth Gerhardt asks Christians not to ignore the uncomfortable reality of violence against women that is happening on a global scale. She is synthesizing issues of gender-based oppression with Martin Luther’s theology of cross – a call for the church to speak out on issues of social justice. Gerhardt teaches theology and social ethics at Northeastern Seminary, and part-time at Roberts Wesleyan College, in Rochester, NY. Read the excerpt below:
Violence against women is a serious social, spiritual, health and legal problem in the United States. However, it is only one facet of a complex and tangled web of atrocities committed against women and girls globally. The term gendercide is the best descriptor of this global problem, which impacts women, girls, families and whole societies. Different governmental and private agencies publish varying statistics, but all the numbers are staggering and difficult to absorb and comprehend. Nevertheless, it is important to comprehend the extent and nature of the problem and its complexity in order to understand it as a confessional issue as well as a moral and ethical issue.
Violence against women and girls is defined by the World Health Organization as “any act of gender-based violence that results in physical, sexual, or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion, or arbitrary deprivations of liberty, whether occurring in public or private life.” The violence perpetrated against women and girls occurs in many different settings, including in the home, within the community and during armed conflict. It takes the forms of sexual assault, female genital mutilation (FGM), sex trafficking, domestic violence, forced abortions, infanticide of girl babies, honor killings, rape as a weapon of war, and exploitation of women and girls in labor for profit. Statistics reveal only a small part of the story of women and girls. Each survivor of violence has her own story of how acts of violation shattered her life and the life of her family. Pain and shame have ripped apart both the bodies and psyches of these women and girls along with their families and communities. However, the numbers are also part of this story for they reveal the underlying causes of violence, including domination, misogyny and objectification of females. They also point to the grave sin of gendercide, which needs to be addressed by the whole of the church as a confessional issue rather than as a moral and legal issue, which only marginalizes the problem.
The systemic causes of violence against women and girls have social, religious and cultural roots. Historical acceptance of the domination and objectification of females is a reality within every global culture and history. The predominant expression of violence against women in the United States takes the form of domestic violence and sexual assault. More women and girls are injured by a family member or intimate than by a stranger. The word domestic describes the most frequent location of violence; however, it tends to minimize the seriousness of the violence. Women and girls in the United States are not exposed to female genital mutilation, rape used as a weapon of war, acid throwing, female infanticide and other horrific injustices. Nevertheless, the stories of torture, rape, beatings and other forms of violence remain a national tragedy and part of our social fabric. Although all statistics and expressions of violence against women and girls are mind numbing and heart wrenching to hear and read about, it is vital that Christians attempt to absorb the complexity and widespread characteristics of this problem. The sheer numbers of victims and survivors of violence are convincing enough for the church to begin to identify this violence as global gendercide. This is a genocide of women and girls that is more difficult to grasp given that it is a global rather than a local problem. However, the sheer numbers alone reflect the same definitions we have had of other genocides in modern times.
Taken from The Cross and Gendercide by Elizabeth Gerhardt. ©2014 by Elizabeth Gerhardt. Used bypermission of InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove IL 60515-1426.
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