Statement by American Mothers to the United Nations

Commission on the Status of Women

Fifty-sixth session
27 February - 9 March 2012
Item 3 (a) of the provisional agenda*
Follow-up to the Fourth World Conference on Women and
to the special session of the General Assembly entitled
“Women 2000: gender equality, development and peace
for the twenty-first century”: Implementation of strategic
objectives and action in critical areas of concern, and
further actions and initiatives



Statement submitted by American Mothers Incorporated,  a non-governmental organization in consultative status with the Economic and Social Council.

* E/CN.6/2012/1.

The Secretary-General has received the following statement, which is being circulated in accordance with Economic and Social Council resolution 1996/31.

Statement

Violence Against Pregnant Women:  Intervention and Education through Faith Based Leadership in Rural Communities


Introduction

Violence against women is a complex global crisis that encompasses multiple structural issues and crosses all social, cultural, economic, religious, and political boundaries.  Gender-based violence is manifested in various ways around the world. Having a lack of social power and little access to basic resources including legal protection, health care, and maternal education, women are being marginalized.# Perpetrators of such violence include partners, family members, community members, and authorities.  Statistics demonstrate that one in three women will experience gender-based violence during their lifetimes.#

Violence against women is often exacerbated during pregnancy resulting in extreme consequences for both the mother and the fetus.   As Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization for Women explains, "Violence in intimate relationships is all about power.  There are fewer times when you can have power over a woman than when she's pregnant. She's vulnerable. It's an easier time to threaten her."#  There is a greater incidence of maternal homicide during pregnancy for women who experience domestic violence and this threat of death extends to the fetus as well.#

Although estimates claim that gender based violence against pregnant women occurs at a rate of 1 in 20 women globally, this particular form of violence is grossly under-reported and requires greater attention.#  While pregnant women are routinely screened for various conditions, the experience of violence is a much more common occurrence that is not properly evaluated.#  Rena Blumberg explains, “The most dangerous time for a woman is when she is pregnant.” #  As a result, it is crucial that some form of screening for domestic violence be implemented.

American Mothers, Inc. and Reducing Violence Against Pregnant Women

American Mothers, Inc. is an interfaith organization that is dedicated to recognizing the crucial role of motherhood through education and outreach.  Through its mission, American Mothers is focused on working towards ending violence against mothers.  Recognizing the severity of violence against pregnant women and the lack of current services available for those suffering such brutalities, American Mothers is committed to creating an initiative to address this global crisis.

Faith Based Communities as Agents of Change

As an interfaith organization, American Mothers recognizes the important role faith based organizations and spirituality play in the lives of women and families overall.  Religious leaders and communities have incredible influence and the potential to act as powerful agents of education, advocacy, and change.  According to the United Nations Population Fund,

Faith and religion play a vital role in the lives and cultures of most people throughout the world.  Indeed, about 70 percent of people identify themselves as members of a religious or spiritual community. Religious values and practices are often deeply entwined in the fabric of daily lives, and the leaders of churches, mosques, temples and other religious communities play a powerful role in shaping attitudes, opinions and behavior.#

Thus, in order to affectively address the problem of violence against pregnant women, this proposal calls for intervention via an education and advocacy campaign centered within faith based communities.
Religious leaders and communities are positioned to create change by educating themselves and others about the devastating affects of violence against pregnant women and how to overcome such incidents.   In addition, faith based communities have a unique responsibility to preserve the dignity of women and children.  Religious principles and teachings of the world’s major faith traditions affirm religion as promoting the full dignity of every human being.  Universal religious principles can be utilized within faith communities to highlight the problematic nature of violence against pregnant women and the damage that results for women, children, family, and community.

Based on the “Restoring Dignity” toolkit produced by Religions for Peace,# this proposal recommends a multi-action plan with preventative and reactive efforts centered within the religious community to combat violence against pregnant women.  This strategy includes education and awareness, prevention, advocacy, and support and care components and incorporates inter-religious elements and participation from women and men in order to affectively address this global crisis.  American Mothers proposes launching this education and advocacy campaign by providing a comprehensive training within a centralized location for religious leaders in North America with the purpose of preparing teachers and clergy to implement the Restoring Dignity toolkit to end violence against pregnant women.  Initial locations chosen will be rural locations where women’s access to services, as well as the community in general, is limited.

The action items to be implemented by religious communities are as follows:

Education and Awareness: Effective mobilization of religious resources for inter-faith dialogue, promotion of the full human dignity of every person, and the fostering of global dialogue and action from the grassroots level.

  • Inter-Religious Educational Programs
    • Train religious leaders, including teachers and clergy, on the global crisis of gender-based violence, its affects, and opportunities for empowerment of women, children, and men.  
    • Implement facilitated programs that consist of interactive dialogues with the objective of increasing public knowledge, influencing attitudes, and promoting an ethical code of living that encourages respect and dignity for women and girls.
  • Religious and Spiritual Educational Events
    • Organize and implement services and/or spiritual meetings aimed at educating the community on the issues involved in gender-based violence.  
    • Incorporate messages about gender-based violence into services and rituals on a regular basis with the intent of communicating a strong message about the position of religious communities on violence against pregnant women and the overarching issue of gender-based violence.
  • Healing and Leadership Building
    • Offer opportunities for healing to women who have been victimized through counseling, advocacy, empowerment, and skill building workshops that train survivors to become community leaders and teachers.
  • Develop and Disseminate Awareness Materials  
    • Mobilize assets and resources of faith based communities to address the global issue of gender-based violence against pregnant women and its affects on women, families, and communities including brochures, fact sheets, posters, educational quilts and photographs.

Prevention: A commitment to social change and interrupting the culture of gender-based violence.
  • Include Both Women and Men in Prevention Efforts
    • Gender-based violence and violence against pregnant women effects everyone; thus including women and men is crucial to working towards the prevention of such abuse.
  • Inter-religious Dialogue and Multi-faith Collaboration
    • Implement collaboration between multi-faith communities to create strength and solidarity and allow for diverse populations to bring together resources to achieve the common goal of preventing violence against pregnant women.
    • Demonstrate the universal religious principles that support the full human dignity of every person.
    • Utilize local inter-religious councils to organize inter-religious dialogue and multi-faith collaboration.
  • Integrate Gender-Based Violence into Religious Gatherings
    • Incorporate information and education about violence against women/pregnant women into religious gatherings and services on a regular basis with the intent of  communicating the religious community’s position against gender-based violence.
  • Discuss Gender-Based Violence with Youth
    • Offer education and intervention initiatives focused on youth that creates the potential for future generations to become agents of change.

Advocacy: A highly effective method to unite the efforts of religious leaders with those of government and community leaders to create stronger opportunities for change
  • Reclaim Religion as an Agent for Peace
    • Promote scriptures, doctrines, and practices that respect the sanctity of life and the support the full human dignity of every person.
    • Condemn all religious and non-religious practices that support gender-based violence.
  • Organize Community Efforts
    • Break the silence about gender-based violence and dangers faced by pregnant women through collaboration between religious leaders, community organizations, and schools.
    • Mobilize resources of multiple groups through communal meetings to create a united effort with greater impact.
  • Connect with Community and Government Leaders
    • Unite with community and government leaders to explore how religious leaders can effectively address community needs and work towards reducing violence against women.

Support and Care:  Transform cultures of violence and begin the healing process through spiritual means.
  • Give Attention to Survivor’s Stories
    • Offer a safe environment where women and families who have experienced gender-based violence can speak without fear.
  • Develop Support Groups
    • Facilitate group reflections about violence against women to lessen feelings of isolation, to empower, and create larger support networks.
  • Unite with Health Care Organizations
    • Assist survivors in obtaining quality health care that addresses both physical and emotional effects of violence.
    • Work with health care organizations to create a screening process to identify and interrupt violence against pregnant women.
  • Offer Support Services to Individuals Impacted by Gender-Based Violence
    • Provide counseling to women, men, children, and families who have been impacted by gender-based violence and/or fear aggression from partners, family, community or authorities.  
    • Create an outlet for individuals experiencing violence and help to distinguish between healthy and abusive relationships.

Conclusion

Violence against pregnant women is not simply a woman’s issues, but a community issue because of its wide reaching affects; thus women and men must be involved in working towards dismantling power structures and ending violence against pregnant women. Developing an education and advocacy campaign within the faith setting offers great opportunity to impact the overall issue and create change.

American Mothers, Inc.is committed to working toward eradicating violence against mothers.  This proposal seeks to  pursue this goal through the multi-action plan supported by Religions for Peace.  By training religious leaders to bring together resources within rural communities a cultural transformation through spiritual healing can begin.

Dianne D. Callister
UN Representative
American Mothers, Inc.

Lynn Clark Callister, RN, PhD, FAAN
Professor Emerita, Brigham Young University College of Nursing

Gina Messina-Dysert, Ph.D.
Visiting Assistant Professor
Department of Theological Studies
Loyola Marymount University