Too many disadvantaged women are 'overlooked' and 'lost' in the system

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Valuable lessons can be learned from Christian organisations in how to care for disadvantaged women and make them "truly visible", a new report by Theos has said.

The publication of "Valuing Women: Making Women Visible" coincides with International Women's Day. 

The report looks at the experience of women who have experienced a variety of issues like abuse, mental ill-health, homelessness, trauma, sexual exploitation, and alcohol or drug abuse. 

It warns that these women are often "unseen" and "face severe and multiple disadvantage".

They report says they are being "failed" by a system that is "increasingly not fit for purpose" and "unable to holistically support" them. 

Authors Dr Kathryn Hodges and Dr Sarah Burch said that there were "sizeable gaps" in the support available to these women. Where support was provided, it was not always in a way that was helpful or "safe" for the women. 

They said there could be "misunderstanding" within institutions about the women's specific needs, and that quality and access of services must be improved.

"When women are unable to access effective, trustworthy, and reliable helping services, there can be fatal consequences," the report reads.

"Effective help for women needs to understand the impact of the things that happen to women, provide continuity of care, and build trusting, respectful relationships."

The report suggested other institutions could learn from the example of six Christian charities working in this field -  Amber Chaplains, Caritas Bakhita House, Eve, the Salvation Army-run Faith House, Lighthouse, and Youth with a Mission.

While the report notes that high levels of care are not unique to the faith-based sector, it said that staff and volunteers within these six charities "took a distinctive approach which made the women they worked with truly visible through their regard".

"They drew on their faith and the resources of their organisations, committing to a continuity of care, which fostered trust," the report said.

"They valued the women they worked with and described their work as a privilege. A number commented that they met women in the image of God, as equals with whom it was a privilege to work.

"For many their faith was a source of strength and comfort, in which prayer could be offered as a gift, provided an opportunity to reflect on their work, or was experienced as a source of unity."

Writing in the foreward to the report, Theos director Chine McDonald said that women experiencing multiple disadvantages were "often overlooked, lost in a system creaking at the seams following years of austerity".

She said that Christian charities were "extremely well placed to make visible the women they work with".

"Internally, their faith motivations and theological understanding of the value of every human being as made in God's image encourage them to treat the women as of equal worth and in no way less deserving of stability, care and love," she said.

"Externally, Christian organisations are supported by their faith community who can act as added resource, including through raising much-needed funds for specific purposes, and enable the organisations to have a level of independence that helps them navigate the systems that are increasingly not fit for purpose.

"We hope this report will go some way towards a better understanding of the complex challenges faced by some of the most disadvantaged women in our society, draw attention to the changes that are needed in supporting women, and demonstrate how the wisdom, experience and practice of Christian organisations might help to meet some of these challenges."