By Bishop Genieve Blackwell
23 November 2021
What is it worth to us to ensure women and girls in our churches are equally safe valued and heard?
The answer we hope for is “everything”. And it was the answer synod gave when it overwhelmingly voted in favour of receiving the University of Melbourne’s evaluation of the PVAW Program, noting its positive outcomes and recommendations for future action and acknowledging the need for long term commitment to the program.
Yet do we understand the connection between women and girls being safe, women and girls being valued, and women and girls being heard?
The National Research Project into the nature and prevalence of intimate partner violence in the Anglican Church of Australia showed that women did not always feel their voices would be heard, especially when they did not feel safe.
Most Anglican victims of domestic violence did not seek help from Anglican churches. The current national conversation on violence against women shows this is a problem that reaches deep right across society.
We can be part of the solution not simply continuing as a significant part of the problem, as the evaluation of our PVAW program shows. It was encouraging that synod adopted the Ten Commitments, which focus on cultural change, education, training and support, as a framework for progressing our response to family violence and prevention of violence against women.
As it turned out, much of the debate at our synod was centred around the role of legislation in ensuring equal representation of women on our governing bodies and in leadership of our parishes. It meant essentially synod was not just talking about responding to family violence. Synod was grappling in a very real way with what is involved in prevention of violence in the first place, and the implications for us across the diocese.
Five parishes have also grappled with this, as they trialled a more intensive whole-of-church pilot project. This project built on the training for responding to and preventing violence against women, in which nearly half of our parishes have participated. This whole church approach focused on six key elements: leadership and commitment, culture and environment, teaching and learning, professional development, community partnerships and support for parishioners and staff. It adapted the Victorian Department of Education and Training’s Respectful Relationships whole-school approach.
The program took each of these parishes on a journey, and they will be able to share their learnings with other parishes, along with the resources which have been developed.
We are looking for long term generational change. The family violence sector and the government affirm the importance of faith communities playing their part in bringing this change. It is only as we value everyone’s gifts and hear everyone’s voice that women and girls in our churches will be equally safe, valued and heard.