By Rochelle Nakhid
Coordinator, Ministry for Migrants and Refugees,
Living Water Community
“Every violence inflicted on women is a profanation of God, born of a woman. Humanity’s salvation came from the body of a woman: By how we treat a woman’s body, we can understand our level of humanity….” – Pope Francis
This World Day for Migrants and Refugees, amidst a pandemic-dominated world, we remain appalled that women continue to face even more obstacles and barriers to their safety and wellbeing.
While all women face this struggle regardless of circumstance, it is oftentimes the poor, the disabled, the marginalised, the migrants and the refugees that suffer disproportionately.
In recent times, we have seen an increase in violence against women, both locals and migrants and refugees. It remains disheartening that we women still have to live a life of fear, fear of men we know and even love, and fear of strangers who choose to harm us.
Similar to global trends, we have also seen an increase in intimate partner violence against women during COVID-19. Women, trying to keep safe from the virus, are exposed to yet another threat at home.
Just a few weeks ago after the attack against another Venezuelan woman, I noted that these acts of violence by men against women are acts of cowardice. Acts committed by men who feel so powerless that they gain a sense of power in harming and hurting a defenseless woman, including ones they may profess to love.
While more support for families, parent role modelling of appropriate behaviour, early intervention, dialogue (intra family and also societal) on consent, power, on social norms and equitable power sharing arrangements, and also on respect for human rights and the dignity of the person is needed to prevent gender-based violence, there are other actions and actors that also play a role in addressing this dynamic.
Very disturbing is the bystander culture that we see, where neighbours and friends are aware of abuse, yet turn a blind eye.
Men have been shown to be the most effective at preventing other men from harming women. This is the kind of courage and support that us women desperately need, and which can help to address gender-based violence.
What’s greatly needed is people, including other men, who will not only defend us, but prevent violence towards us. In fact, there are many positive constructions of masculinity that uphold gender equity and respect for women, greater exploration, and encouragement of this is necessary.
The Church can certainly play a role in encouraging these dialogues and keeping this issue at the forefront of our minds.
Additionally, and as we strive to provide at Living Water Community, women often need safe spaces to move to when they make that decision or are able to leave a difficult situation. Most importantly, they also need a way to provide for themselves, in a safe workplace where they don’t need to fear harassment from their employers.
Thus, the private sector also has a role to play in providing these safe workplace environments and implementing adequate human resource policies that allow for easy reporting of workplace harassment, and protection for the whistleblower. Labour inspectorate monitoring of conditions of smaller enterprises can also help to unearth illegal or undignified practices.
The police service also plays an important role. We congratulate the police service for the creation of the gender-based violence unit earlier this year, and remain committed to working with them on this issue, both to improve referral pathways but also to support with adequate capacity to work with migrants and refugees, whether it be language capacity, cultural competency, psychosocial support, information etc. Timely interventions save lives, we can only hope that moving forward this can be strengthened.
It is our hope that society, and the Church, takes stock of the urgent need to address gender-based violence before more of our women face a similar fate.
This World Day for Migrants and Refugees, and every day of our lives, we all can play a part in protecting human rights and upholding human dignity.