It is said that your mother is your first teacher. I know this to be true. My own mother taught by example. From her, I learned to respect people, regardless of their station in life, and to treat them with empathy and grace.
I am eternally grateful to my mother for choosing my father to be her life partner. A teacher by profession, my father also taught by example. What stands out most is my father’s great respect for women, seeing them as equal to men and having the right to forge their own paths in life. He encouraged and supported my mother in every area of her life. He never hesitated to show his indignance for irresponsible fathers and men who abused women.
Both my parents were clear and consistent in the expectations they set for my sister and me: be people of integrity first, acquire a good education and become financially independent. By their example, they taught us that integrity, education, and economic independence are the solid foundation for building a lifelong partnership and functional family life.
Over the years, I have come to see the social relevance of my parents’ teachings.
In the absence and lack of educational opportunities, some people have limited choices to advance themselves economically. To survive, some people are forced to make compromises, and cannot live with integrity.
I saw this first-hand in my volunteer ministry in the prisons.
Several inmates recounted the hardship that their mothers had to endure at the hands of abusive fathers and step-fathers. The trade-off for domestic abuse was the economic benefit, albeit meagre, that their mothers settled for, because of the limited education or skills that made them jobless or forced them to settle for low-paying jobs. Living in impoverished and strife-filled homes led the inmates to commit petty theft and behave aggressively throughout their adolescent years. This set the stage for the more serious crimes of drug dealing and murder which many of them committed in later years.
I am convinced that domestic violence perptuates the cycle of poverty and contributes to creating criminals.
It can be argued that passing stricter laws, locking away criminals and creating more shelters and services for abused women are ways in which women and the society can be kept safe.
This is the approach that is currently used. Without discrediting the validity of this approach, there are other approaches that focus on prevention and risk mitigation that should be seriously explored and implemented. Revising the way in which women and girls are educated and socialized may provide pathways to preventing conjugal violence against women.
Women gain self confidence and self-esteem when they are empowered to make their own choices, to use their talents and to participate in the economy and in healthy partnerships. Women who are confident in their ability to live the quality life of their choosing, are more likely to attract partners who will treat them with respect in healthy, mutually supportive relationships.
Men who understand gender equality and who treat women as equal partners do not abuse women and thrive in mutually supportive relationships. Religious and cultural traditions have tended to assign women to subservient positions and low-value roles in conjugal relationships and in all other aspects of life. I believe that the Church has an important role to play in reversing traditional beliefs and cultural practices that support the oppression of women.
New approaches to reduce crime, particularly against women
- Improve the condition of women, particularly women who are vulnerable to economic exploitation.
- Align current religious teachings and practices regarding the role of women with the Bible.
I am aware that there are other valid approaches that could be presented. However, I propose these two approaches as I believe they have the scope to make a significant difference in preventing domestic violence and crime. I also make recommendations on how these approaches could be implemented.
Both these approaches aim to benefit not only women, but also their children and the society. Those of us who are in positions of influence or who have the talent and time, should consider ways to follow through on the recommendations outlined below.
- Improving the condition of women
Integrating personal development in education and advocating pay equity are two recommended courses of action that will improve the condition of women.
- Integrate personal development in education and skill-training programs for women and girls, particularly those who are at risk of being exploited, impoverished, and abused. Personal development must involve coaching to develop traits that support self-esteem, such as self-acceptance, goal setting, assertiveness, and resilience. Most importantly, women and girls should be exposed to a wide range of professional choices, mentorship, and entrepreneurial opportunities.
- Advocate and address pay equity, particularly in lower paying jobs and sectors where employees are predominantly women. Pay equity contributes to the improvement of the economic condition of women. Financial independence reduces the likelihood of women to remain in abusive relationships with men. If you are in a leadership position or a member of the board of directors, advocate establishing equitable pay scales in your organization supported by annual or biennial reviews and remuneration targets that are aligned with corporate performance.
2. Align current religious teachings about women with the Bible
In Biblical times, women’s status and freedoms were severely limited by Jewish law and customs as they were in all other cultures at the time. Over the centuries, institutions, including the church have continued to place women at a disadvantage, treating them as the ‘weaker sex,’ and unequal to men. To this day, some religions and denominations in the Christian Church continue to uphold teachings to justify the subjugation of women. The time has come for the Church to commit time and resources to uplift the status of women in the church and the world. Two ways to do this are by (i) reinforcing the equality of the sexes and (ii) by affirming that the development of spiritual qualities is as important as the development of talents.
- Provide clear teachings on the Biblical standard of the equality of the sexes. Wives are venerated partners and cherished, equal companions to their husbands. In Genesis 2 v 24 God established the marital union where husband and wife become ‘one flesh’. In Genesis 2:18 God gave Adam his wife Eve he said that Eve was to be a ‘helper’ to Adam. Contrary to our usual understanding of the word ‘helper’, that implies ‘provider of assistance’ to someone else, the word ‘helper’ is translated from the Hebrew word ‘ezer’ which means ‘power’ or ‘strength.’ So in Genesis 2:18 where Eve is to be a helper to Adam, I would say that God intended that in marriage, Eve would offer “power” or “strength” to Adam as an equal partner. As a ‘helper’, a wife is not to be thought of as second rung at all, but rather as a divine gift, key to humanity’s survival. As a parent, a mother holds equal status to the father of her child/children. When God issued the Ten Commandments on Mt. Sinai in Exodus 20:12, God commanded children to honor both father and mother, thus giving the mother and father equal status as parents.
- Teach, encourage, and allow feminine excellence, particularly in non-traditional roles, to flourish in the Church. The Bible never discounts the female intellect, never downplays the talents and abilities of women, nor does the Bible discourage the right use of women’s spiritual gifts. The most significant women in Scripture were influential not because of what they did or because of their talents, but because of who they were – their character / their virtue. The Bible is filled with examples of women whose influence and actions have served to fulfil God’s plan and purpose for His Church and the world. Women play prominent roles in many key biblical narratives in non-traditional roles such as judges (Deborah), queens (Esther), prophets (Miriam) and warriors (Jael). In their teachings, Church leaders should use these and other women in the Bible, as examples to illustrate the various roles women can play. It is important to highlight that the message these women collectively give is about true feminine excellence that is always exemplified in moral and spiritual qualities rather than by social standing, wealth, or physical appearance.
This latter point on moral and spiritual qualities brings us back to my recommendation on integrating personal development in education and skill training for women and girls and to my parents’ teaching on integrity, education, and economic independence. Women and girls build a high level of self-esteem when they have opportunities to develop spiritually, emotionally, and educationally. They are equipped to advance themselves economically and are less likely to make compromises to accommodate abusive relationships, thus reducing the risk of their spouses and their children committing crimes.
Thanks for taking the time to read this article. Do you have any suggestions or comments on new approaches to reduce domestic violence and other crimes?
Christ in you, the hope of glory. That’s why glory matters!
Stop oppressing women in the church