Archbishop Fred Hiltz would like every Anglican in Canada to join him in wearing a white ribbon. This symbol demonstrates his support for the White Ribbon Campaign to end violence against women and girls everywhere.
The campaign is “directly related to our baptismal vows to respect the dignity of every human being,” says Archbishop Hiltz, who is primate of the Anglican Church of Canada.
Ironically, the campaign was the brainchild not of women but of a group of Toronto men who launched the initiative 20 years ago in response to the massacre of 14 women at Montreal’s École Polytechnique in 1989.
The annual event, which takes place from Nov. 25 to Dec. 6 in 55 countries, seeks to change behaviour through education and advocacy. Dec. 6 is the anniversary of the massacre. This year, Nov. 25 marks the UN Day for the Eradication of Violence Against Women and the global launch of the 16 Days of Activism to End Violence Against Women.
Violence against women is not specific to one culture, one race or any age group, says Tanja Futter, a member of the International Anglican Women’s Network (IAWN). “We see violence against women in every single culture,” says Futter, who is also a clinic/outreach nurse at the Scarborough Hospital’s sexual assault and domestic violence care centre.
According to the Canadian Women’s Foundation website, a woman is killed by her intimate partner, on average, every six days in Canada. And every year, there are more 40,000 arrests resulting from domestic violence. This represents about 12 per cent of all violent crimes in Canada. It is suspected that the real incidence of domestic violence in Canada is much higher, since only a small percentage of cases are reported to police.
Last summer, Futter and other IAWN representatives, including the Rev. Canon Alice Medcof, IAWN coordinator for Canada, met with Archbishop Hiltz to discuss the campaign to end violence against women. “Admitting that violence happens in Canada means that we, as a church, we, as a people, need to step in and address it,” says Futter. The White Ribbon Campaign takes a stand by saying, “We are going to change these learned behaviours” through education and advocacy, she adds.
IAWN, which represents Anglican women in the Anglican Consultative Council, has identified the campaign to end violence against women as priority work, says Laura Wilson, IAWN treasurer. Churches can play a role by “spreading the word, making people aware” of abuses committed against women and girls, she adds.
Violence against women also can include verbal and emotional abuse, sexual abuse, marital rape and sex trafficking as well as forced labour, genital mutilation and forced marriage. Wilson points out that women fleeing domestic violence need support, and faith “is a major part of that social support system that many people have.”
In February, the primates of the Anglican Communion pledged to work toward eliminating violence against women and girls. “…Our churches must accept responsibility for our own part in perpetuating oppressive attitudes towards women,” they said in a letter.
In March 2011, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams urged churches to play a role in ending sexual violence. “It is of the utmost importance that churches and all communities of faith continue to hold before the world’s eyes the absolute priority for justice and dignity for all,” he said in a speech at Lambeth Palace in London. “We need to equip people to become agents of change and agents of hope.”