During these 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, I’ve been thinking about donkeys and plows.
Late last month, my friends at Episcopal Relief & Development announced that they, together with the Anglican Diocesan Development and Relief Organisation (ADDRO) in the Diocese of Tamale, Ghana, have been awarded a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The funds will provide loans for women smallholder farmers to acquire a donkey, a plow and a cart for plowing their own fields and renting to others.
What do the donkeys and plows have to do with ending gender-based violence? Plenty, as I learned last summer when I traveled to the Diocese of Tamale in northern Ghana with 18 other Episcopalians on an Episcopal Relief & Development pilgrimage. There I met women farmers, market stall owners, seamstresses and rice mill operators who are benefitting from economic empowerment programs made possible by Anglicans in Ghana and Episcopalians who support Episcopal Relief & Development.
In a region of the country that has seen little of the economic prosperity recently enjoyed in the south, these Ghanaian businesswomen are gaining small measures of economic independence that increase their authority in their households and their ability to make decisions for them and their children. As a result, they are reducing their risk for gender-based violence.
Last year during the 16 Days of Activism, Impatient Optimists—a blog of the Gates Foundation—quoted Stella Dube, a Zimbabwean women who owns five market stands, explaining how economic empowerment reduces gender-based violence:
“When I started making enough to pay for the children’s school fees, clothe and feed them, as if by magic the abuse from my husband abruptly stopped. It was as if he had gained some new found respect for me and started treating me as his equal. He has not raised his fist to me in seven years and I think he fears that if he does it again I am empowered enough to leave him and start a life for myself or worse report him to the police.”
In the same blog post, Adeline Sibanda from UN-Women amplifies Dube’s experience. “Gender based violence against women in most families is a result of over dependence on men,” she says. “If women can be empowered economically and are earning, they will not be violated.”
The intersection of poverty and gender-based violence isn’t just found across the ocean. Here in the United States, while women of all economic levels can be vulnerable to gender-based violence, the Department of Justice reports that women living in disadvantaged neighborhoods are more than twice as likely to be the victims of intimate violence compared with women in more advantaged neighborhoods. The ACLU reports that in Minnesota in 2003, 46 percent of homeless women reported that they had previously stayed in abusive relationships because they had nowhere else to go.
These women may not need donkeys and plows, but they do need Episcopalians and other people of faith to advocate for safety net programs, job training and other measures that can lift women and children out of poverty and provide the dignity and independence that makes them less vulnerable to gender-based violence.
I entered seminary just a few weeks after the Philadelphia Eleven were ordained, and during my career as a priest, our church has made great strides toward accepting the authority of women, lay and ordained, and expanding our understanding of gender and sexuality as gifts from God. But much of our work for equality in the last forty years has disproportionately benefited women who are white, privileged and educated. If we Episcopalians can mount the kind of effort to end gender-based violence that we mounted to achieve the ordination of women, I am confident we can get results.
Our baptismal promises call us to accept this challenge and Resolution A139 of the 2012 General Convention gives us the roadmap. It’s my hope that the 16 Days of Activism will renew our resolve to work for women’s empowerment not only for ourselves, but also for all women living in poverty across the Anglican Communion.
Many thanks to Gay for her leadership and for sharing this reflection with us!