Often religious groups are misinterpreting marriage vows to keep women in violent relationships and failing to take action on reports of violence against women and girls.
This was highlighted by Fiji Women Crisis Centre’s Male Advocate Tevita Seruilumi while speaking to 36 police officers from the Southern Division Command Group undergoing a five-day training facilitated by the Centre in Suva this week.
Speaking on the topic of violence and religion, Mr Seruilumi said more often religious groups fail to take action on cases of violence against women brought to its attention.
“Often churches or religious groups talk about forgiveness or reconciliation to women who have been survivors of violence without looking at their pain and suffering,” he said.
Often, religious organisations blame women for marriage breakdowns, Mr Seruilumi shared.
“Messages such as ‘till death do us part’ or blaming women for family breakdowns when they leave abusive relationships cause more harm to survivors.
“Churches should help women in a way that promotes their human rights and encourages women’s access to justice.”
He told the participants that it is never the purpose of any religious groups to see women suffer or die as a result of violence or inhumane treatment.
“Religious bodies should act like Good Samaritans and not misinterpret the Bible.
“Bible speaks of respecting authority – lawful government, existing laws and policies. Violence against Women and girls is a crime.”
He also highlighted that a lot of religious groups were limiting the roles of women in their congregation.
FWCC Coordinator Shamima Ali said while a lot of work is now being done in churches to create
awareness on violence against women and girls, the progress is slow.
“If you look at our religious institutions, the hierarchy is very patriarchal,” Ms Ali said.
“We have to question and dismantle patriarchy to end violence against women and girls.”
She said a lot of leadership positions within our religious institutions are held by men.
“Women are discouraged or prohibited from holding leadership positions. Religious bodies are mixing
religion and culture and discouraging women to participate at all levels.”
She said Fiji needs more people to preach in churches, temples and mosques and create awareness on
violence against women and girls and be part of prevention plans.
“One of the things FWCC has done in 36 years is put violence against women on everyone’s agenda – be
it government or religious institutions.”
As an example, Ms Ali said the Anglican Church is way ahead and is using a human rights approach
within the biblical teachings to education its congregation on response and prevention work in
collaboration with FWCC.
She also highlighted to the participants that one of the barriers of police response to violence against
women and girls were the entrenched religious and cultural beliefs.