In my lifetime I have made a number of solemn vows-in marriage, in ordination and in installation to various offices in the church. Some months ago, I was invited to make another one. It reads like this: “I will never commit, condone, or remain silent about violence against women.” It’s the vow associated with the White Ribbon Campaign initiated by a number of men in the aftermath of the massacre of 14 women at the cole Polytechnique in Montreal in 1989. The campaign is now an annual event in 55 countries around the world.
As I made my vow in the presence of the Rev. Canon Alice Medcof, who has been a longtime member of the International Anglican Women’s Network (IAWN) in the Anglican Communion, my mind went back to the Primates’ Meeting earlier this year. A major presentation on gender-based violence portrayed the issue as a global phenomenon ranging from domestic abuse to human trafficking to female genital mutilation to the systematic killing of women. Statistics provided by the United Nations make it clear that no country, rich or poor, dictatorship or democracy, has come close to eliminating violence against women.
The primates were challenged to take action on a number of fronts.
· To raise the profile of UN Millennium Development Goals that call for promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women.
· To support initiatives in our parishes and dioceses that respond to violence against women.
· To train clergy and pastors to be aware of the nature and dynamics of gender violence.
· To gather other church leaders and those of other faith traditions to discern how we might speak and act together.
· To ensure publicity and liturgical resources for use on November 25, White Ribbon Day, the first day of the global 16 Days of Activism for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. I refer you to: http://alturl.com/vi7r5
These are practical ways in which I am challenged to live out my solemn vow. In the spirit of our baptismal promise “to respect the dignity of every human being,” I hope we will all embrace this solemn vow with genuine passion and integrity. For deep within it lies the sanctity of human life, beauty before God and mutual respect, one for another.
Let’s wear our ribbon and make good our vow.
Archbishop Fred Hiltz is primate of the Anglican Church of Canada.