Rachel Tavernor: Keep faith in battle for gender justice

Supporters of Processions 2018 mark 100 years since women 'won the right to vote in the UK. Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty
Supporters of Processions 2018 mark 100 years since women 'won the right to vote in the UK. Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty
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In June 2018, I marched with thousands of women through the city streets of Edinburgh. We were following in the footsteps of the suffragettes, whose protests helped to win the right to vote for women. The march, coordinated by Processions, was to celebrate the Representation of the People Act 1918, where women over the age of 30, who owned property, won the right to vote.

As we marched, we celebrated the achievements that have been won for women in Scotland: political, educational, economic and reproductive rights. However, as we marched, we also acknowledged that there is significant work to be done in Scotland and around the world. People continue to experience intersecting inequalities based on their gender, which restricts the potential of half the world’s population.

Today marks the UN International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. Ending all forms of violence against women is a basic human right. Yet, we know from the statistics that this right has yet to be won: over a third of women worldwide experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime. In 2018, around the world, phenomenal women spoke out about the violence that they experience.

For many of us, the pain and anger in these stories resonated with our own. These shared experiences are a rallying call to action. In these dark times, where there is political uncertainty and global challenges, there is also hope that we have the power to change our future. I have the privilege to work for a movement who are working towards a world where everyone, regardless of gender, has autonomy and agency over their own lives.

We won’t end violence against women by simply changing laws, or reducing poverty, or improving education. While these are all important steps, we need to change social norms that devalue women. Side by Side is a faith movement for gender justice, working in Scotland and around the world. We believe that faith actors have a potentially transformative role in achieving gender justice.

Eighty-four per cent of the world’s population self-identify as members of a faith group. For many people, faith leaders shape their social norms and values, as well as influence government policies and practices. We recognise that their words can have real power and are working with faith leaders to champion gender justice.

Reverend Elineide Ferreira is an Episcopal priest in the city of Ariquemes in the northern state of Rondonia, in Brazil. Having seen many women, including her own sister experience violence, Elineide felt called to create a refuge for women fleeing domestic violence. She has welcomed hundreds of women and their children through the doors of the safe house, which is supported by Christian Aid and the Scottish Episcopal Church.

Elineide helps the women report crimes to the police. The police station can be a frightening place, and the officers don’t always want to help. She makes legal referrals and finds schools for children who have fled with their mothers. When the women leave the refuge, she travels with them to help them feel safe.

In Brazil, Reverend Elineide is a vibrant advocate for changing systems and structures that perpetuate gender inequality. Lasting change happens when it is created and sustained by people, such as faith leaders, who are embedded within communities.

Reverend Elineide is not alone. Around the world, people of faith are becoming change-makers within their communities. They continue to march for gender justice and I am honoured to be marching alongside them, even though we know that the road to gender justice is long.

Today, Side by Side, including Reverend Elineide, are part of a gender justice service at Glasgow University Chapel. The service will be aired on BBC Radio 4 at 8.10am as their Sunday Worship programme. You can listen again on BBC iPlayer. To find out more about the movement, visit their website: www.sidebysidegender.org

Rachel Tavernor is Side by Side International Coordinator