Why the Church must be on the frontlines of the fight to stop violence against women

Night after night, 14-year-old Sadhna was sold for sex from a private brothel in Kolkata. With your support, IJM was able to work with local police, find the brothel, and mobilise a rescue operation to free Sadhna (pictured left with her IJM social worker). Today, Sadhna says, "My dream is to complete my education and get a job as a social worker, to hear the stories of other girls and help them."(Photo: IJM/UK)

Today's International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women comes at a pivotal moment. By now we all know there are wider consequences to the Covid-19 pandemic beyond health, but this crisis is having a particularly brutal impact when it comes to violence against women.

Even before the pandemic, it was estimated that one in three women worldwide would experience some form of physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence in their lifetimes. On top of this, during the Covid-19 pandemic, reports of domestic violence have increased by 20-40% in some countries. Nearly every country where International Justice Mission works saw an increase in gender-based violence during lockdowns. The UN goes as far as labelling violence against women the "shadow pandemic."

The Church has an opportunity right now to take practical action, to shine a light into the shadow and refuse to let this increase in abuse happen on our watch.

Throughout the Bible, it is clear that ending injustice is deeply on the heart of God. It is made absolutely clear that Christians are called to stand up for the most vulnerable in society. James 1:27 says: "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress."

Throughout his life, Jesus showed us examples of this, like in Luke 7 where Jesus comforts a widow who has lost her son. Just as in Biblical times, some of the most exploited people in our world today are still the widows and the orphans.

One woman who knows about this first-hand is Acola Christine in Uganda. After her first husband was tragically killed and her second husband became abusive, she had to move back to her father's house.

Acola Christine's father welcomed her back into his home with her children, and after his death, he left his estate to Acola Christine to manage. However, one of her neighbours soon began taking advantage of the fact she was a single woman by herself. He started encroaching on the land, planting his own trees, and destroying her crops.

It began to seem that no matter how hard Acola Christine worked to start businesses, grow crops, or purchase livestock, any fruits of that labour would be quickly taken by her neighbour. Finally, he told them he wanted them off the land completely.

At first Acola Christine remained resolutely on her land. However, late one evening, the neighbour came with friends to attack them.

"When they came, they started by fighting and then by breaking the walls of the huts. When I heard, I decided to run out of the house because I was scared that the house would fall on top of me. When I ran out of the house, one of them caught me and beat me. Everyone was running at that particular time for their own lives," she says.

Despite these extremely difficult circumstances, Acola Christine remains hopeful because of her faith in God: "What gives me hope is only our fellowship in God...Sometimes when we are just seated here, when everyone is just lost in their own thoughts, you'll find one of us coming up with an idea to just come together and worship God. Then we sit, we pray together, we then sing praises. You'll find children jumping up, praising God, and then we'll pray together to conclude everything. We will then find our footing at that particular time...So our only hope right now is in God."

IJM is supporting Acola Christine to fight for her land and support her family. Our team has been offering legal support through court representation on every case that involves Christine. One criminal case has been decided in their favour, but there is another case ongoing. Her family continues to navigate ongoing legal battles for their land, suffering the intimidation and manipulation of their violent neighbour and his associates. Now, due to Covid-19, there are further delays to her case.

Please pray for safety for Acola Christine and her family, for strength as what she is facing at the moment is very tough and for a swift resolution to her case in court.

Your prayers matter.

We believe that God wants to bring hope into dark situations and to see justice – and, at IJM, we have seen that God uses ordinary people to do extraordinary things. In fact in Mukuno County in Uganda, where IJM has been working to address the violent seizure of property from widows and orphans, we have seen a 50% decrease in the prevalence of the crime over just four years.

IJM's Uganda team work in partnership with local law enforcement to help support women and children who've experienced violence, to bring them to safety and see abusers held to account. We also work with local authorities and community groups to see an end to violence against women and children. But today, the challenge is greater than ever. Our teams have seen the deeply troubling impact of the pandemic first-hand – even receiving reports of women killed in their homes during lockdowns.

Yet, as Acola Christine shows us, we must not give up hope – and we must not stop fighting for justice. At IJM we have seen very clearly how God cares deeply about ending injustice, and how each of us can be part of change.

Whatever our job is and wherever we live, each of us can stand against violence against women – locally and globally, through everyday acts like prayer, giving to anti-violence organisations and women's refuges and being aware of what's happening to those around us.

In 2020, this international day of awareness and activism on violence against women holds special significance. While so many of us are sheltering at home to protect our families and communities from the spread of Covid-19, for women and children who live with their abusers, home can be the most dangerous place in the world. And so today, more than ever, we must take stock of our response to this enduring crime and recommit ourselves to ending it.

Will you pray for resolution in cases like Acola Christine's, that she would be safe, and granted justice and closure? Will you pause now and pray for women in our communities and around the world who are experiencing violence. Will you choose to act?

The Church has always been called to stand up for women and children. Today, as they face increases in abuse and exploitation due to Covid-19, it is more important than ever. We cannot watch passively as this "shadow pandemic" grows – it is time to stand up against injustice.

David Westlake is the CEO of IJM UK, which works worldwide to end slavery.