CRCNA Ministries Launch Tamar Campaign
Inaya (not her real name) is living in South Asia, waiting for final paperwork to be approved so that she and her two children can come to Canada, where she is being sponsored by World Renew and a Christian Reformed Church congregation.
Inaya fled Pakistan in 2015 because of abuse by her husband, who married her by force, kept her as a slave, and beat her frequently.
“We left our country when we thought there was no way that we could continue to live there without daily fear,” said Inaya.
Having applied for resettlement to Canada, she still lives in great fear, she said, because her husband’s people are very dangerous and could find her. “If they come here, they will kill me and my kids,” she said. “I always pray and ask for protection from my heavenly Father.”
With the stories of women such as Inaya in mind, World Renew and several other agencies of the Christian Reformed Church in North America are partnering to raise awareness and funds to battle gender-based violence at home and around the world.
From Nov. 25 to Dec. 10, the CRC’s Safe Church Ministry, Office of Social Justice, Center for Public Dialogue, and Diaconal Ministries Canada are collaborating with World Renew to raise awareness along with the United Nations to act against gender-based violence across the globe. Churches, families, and individuals are invited to join in the work.
This effort is part of 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence activities, sponsored by UN Women.
Ida Kaastra-Mutoigo, director of World Renew - Canada, said: "If we truly embrace Christ's example to stand up for and stand with those who suffer; if we truly believe loving God means extending mercy and justice for our neighbor; then now is the time, especially with the impact of COVID-19, to support every effort to end violence against millions of women and their families. Please join us because this is God's work!"
In the CRCNA, the initiative against gender-based violence is being called the Tamar Campaign, on the basis of 2 Samuel 13, in which Amnon, a son of King David, rapes his half-sister Tamar.
“Like Tamar, in our role as a church and a development agency, we would like to speak out against gender-based violence and support survivors and victims,” says Julian Muturia, a gender specialist for World Renew.
In 2019, Inaya was granted full custody of her children, clearing the path for her and her children to resettle to Canada as part of World Renew’s Refugee Sponsorship and Resettlement Program. Inaya’s case has been labeled “urgent protection” by the Canadian government, which stands ready to approve and expedite her resettlement.
Yet challenges remain. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, travel has been suspended from the country where Inaya resides, and the visa post is at reduced capacity to process sponsorship applications for the time being.
Inaya’s story, however, is just one of millions of stories of women from around the world, including in North America, who suffer harm and the threat of violence from their spouses and other men.
Inaya is a thread in a frightening tapestry of violence that has only grown larger in the past year because of COVID-19 closures and restrictions.
“Accompanying the crisis has been a spike in domestic violence reporting, at exactly the time that services, including rule of law, health, and shelters, are being diverted to address the pandemic,” stated the UN Secretary-General's report, “Shared Responsibility, Global Solidarity: Responding to the Socioeconomic Impacts of COVID-19."
As the world retreated inside homes becasue of lockdown measures introduced to curb the pandemic, reports showed an alarming increase in the already existing pandemic of violence against women.
While a strong focus of the Tamar Campaign is on gender-based violence around the world, there is also an emphasis on this problem in North America.
To this end, World Renew and other CRCNA agencies recently held a webinar titled “Violence against Women and Girls in North America: How You Can Make a Difference,” in which four people working in various ways in the field of gender-based violence spoke about the issue.
Among those speaking was Janice Moro, interim executive director of Restorations, a program providing specialized, long-term, holistic care for the victims of commercial sexual exploitation in Canada. The organization is currently rehabilitating a three-bedroom home in Burlington, Ont., to house women who have been involved in human trafficking.
Moro said she wanted to break down some of the myths that people have about human trafficking and exploitation.
For example, she said, “There is a myth that these women are brought here from a foreign location. But most of this happens in Canada and the U.S. It is a local issue that happens to local girls and women.”
Another myth has to do with the belief that gender-based violence in the form of human trafficking only occurs in the city. “It happens everywhere there is a highway and rental or other accommodations.”
Yet another misconception: The woman is lured by someone they don’t know or trust. Instead, this often happens when a predatory man takes advantage of girls or women and slowly grooms them over time to trust him and then eventually to have sex with others.
“These can be bright girls who are lonely, and these pimps take on the role of boyfriends,” said Moro. “These girls or women are not tied up in chains. Rather, they are in a psychological prison and are constantly involved in nonconsensual sexual acts that amount to ongoing rape.”
Restorations, Moro added, is committed to helping girls and women leave the life of being trafficked and heal from the abuse and violence they have experienced.
Michelle Nieviadomy, assistant director of the Edmonton (Alta.) Native Healing Centre, said Indigenous women with whom she works are often involved in alcohol and/or drug addiction. They are in poverty and are often homeless. “All of this makes them vulnerable,” she said.
“Women who have lost their spirit and a sense of self-worth can end up in a relationship in which violence and abuse are considered normal.”
The Edmonton Native Healing Centre is a place where women who have suffered gender-based violence can come. “We have created a safe place in which women can find a place of healing.” They engage with women in various ways such as in counseling, native services, and fitness classes, “which give us a chance to talk and build relationships,” said Nieviadomy.
Sarah Yore-Van Oosterhout, the founder and managing attorney at Lighthouse Immigrant Advocates in Holland, Mich., spoke about the risks that immigrants encounter when facing violence in their home countries, and even after arriving in the U.S.
Gender-based violence remains a big reason why women leave their home country and seek refuge in another country. “They are subject principally to gangs and drug cartel members who punish women and girls for failure to relent to their various demands.”
But by fleeing to another country, such as the U.S., they are often subject to sexual violence by the men who agree to smuggle them out of their homeland. When they arrive in the U.S., things may not go much better.
Currently, though, there are such things as the #Metoo movement pushing back against systemic violence perpetrated against women, said Yore-Van Oosterhout.
“Various communities are coming together and creating change in the systems and policies that create and support gender-based violence,” she said.
Eric Kas, an associate with Safe Church Ministries, said the church has an important role to play in rooting out gender-based violence, both in the church and outside the church.
“We can partner in a way that upholds the belief that each person is seen as created in the image of God,” he said. At the same time, he added, we need to keep in mind that seeking justice means addressing the reality of gender-based violence and shining a light on people who abuse girls and women.
The dates for the Tamar Campaign have been chosen to link violence against women and human rights and to emphasize that gender-based violence against women is a violation of human rights: since 1991, the campaign has been active between November 25, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, and December 10, International Human Rights Day.
“As World Renew prays and waits for God to move Iyana and other women, we also recognize that our work must continue for women and children in actively violent situations—creating safety and understanding for women who will remain in their communities and providing deliverance for women who need protection,” said Carol Bremer-Bennett, director of World Renew - U.S.
For more information, visit worldrenew.net/peaceandjustice.