Rowan Williams: 'Inequality generates violence'

Published 12 May 2014  |  
(Photo: Keith Blundy)

Dr Rowan Williams has branded inequality as one of the main causes of violence, and called for the redistribution of power in countries beset by conflict.

Speaking at a parliamentary lecture on Friday evening, the former Archbishop of Canterbury argued that "inequalities...are so often generators of other sorts of violence".

"Inequalities of power, in the form of radically unequal levels of access to decision-making, process of law, education and civic freedoms, are often described as forms of 'structural' violence," he noted.

"The truth is that poverty and a sense of powerlessness are regularly among the major drivers of violence; while violence in turn is a major driver of poverty. So what we must do is recognise the vicious circle here, and ask where and how we break it."

Lord Williams recently took up Christian Aid's 'Live Below the Line' challenge to stand in solidarity with the 1.2 billion people around the world who survive on less than £1 a day; a feat he described as "impossible".

"Every moment I was conscious I could walk away from this but what about all the people who can't walk away?" he said of the unenviable task.

On Friday, he was keen to assert that women are often those who suffer most in conflict-ridden countries, and that patriarchal structures must be remodelled if true equality is to be established.

"The prevalence of violence and discrimination against women in so many situations of conflict or deprivation or both...robs half the human race of its freedom to nurture, educate and develop its own capacity and that of the next generation," Williams declared to a packed room.

"If – as all experience currently suggests – women are likely to be the key agents in health care, nutritional education, micro-finance operations and the rehabilitation and care of the traumatised...gender-based violence clearly becomes not simply a question of unacceptable individual behaviour but a matter of intense social damage."

Williams furthered this comment by referring to "the dehumanising treatment of women" as a result of the attempt of "economically or socially disempowered males to assert authority".

"It signals a contempt towards what women do to sustain social goods; it limits or even destroys an immensely significant capacity for transmitting to a new generation the values and possibilities of human culture," he added.

To combat these inequalities, both power and wealth must be redistributed, which poses a "deep" question for the Church, Williams said. He also shared the importance of giving women an "audible worldwide voice", and working to transform ingrained attitudes that disempower and abuse women.

It is not "a matter of rectifying some small malfunctions in a male-dominated system," he concluded.

Christian Aid Week is running from May 11 to May 17, and is this year raising funds for communities and countries suffering under violence. For more information on how to get involved, click here.

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