Taunton Deane and South Sedgemoor MWiB group organised a Gender Matters Day in April, and were pleased to see 30 people turn up. We were reminded at the start of the day, by Rev Deborah Kirk, that “Love respects persons, bodies and boundaries”. Our speakers were Yvonne Lee, talking on Girls and Education; Rachel Allison speaking on Female Genital Mutilation; and Jon Curtis on Men’s Mental Health. Despite it not being the lightest day in terms of subject matter, all who attended were totally engaged with the topics under discussion, which meant that the Plenary Session at the end was a lively affair.
Yvonne Lee had been a VSO volunteer in Nepal, providing support and training for girls’ education. She told us of her experiences working with ‘out of school’ and ‘at risk’ girls; we heard of one girl who was a bond servant who managed to attend school, but hanged herself. Illegal bonded labour is still rife in Nepal, but there is a movement gaining force to rescue girls from the system and place them in education. We were challenged to think of how we could change the place of women and girls in our own community. Our first action in Taunton will be to show the community the film ‘Girl Rising’, a little of which Yvonne showed us.
Yvonne also worked on ways to combat gender-based violence, which often results in girls in Nepal stopping attending school. We were asked to consider whether girls in the UK have comparable problems, which affect their aspirations and their futures? And of course, we need to address whether there is anything that we can do locally to change this.
Rachel Allison spoke of FGM as an extreme form of discrimination against women. But should we care that we live in a multi-cultural society and deny cultural practices? Rachel was clear that FGM is a cruel, invasive mutilation of young girls’ bodies that is intended as a way of controlling women. it is not a religious practice, but theology plays a part in it – so we need to have fruitful conversations with its adherents.
In the UK, the police and health services and social services need to be more pro-active, though this is not easy when the government cuts have impacted on anti-FGM work. Rachel gave us postcards to send to our MPs and others in power – we need to raise awareness!
Jon Curtis opened by telling us that three-quarters of suicides in the UK are men, mostly under 35. Men routinely report lower life-satisfaction than women, and are more likely to be dependant on alcohol and drugs. Unfortunately, they are also less likely to access psychological therapies.
Jon considered whether churches engage with men’s problems of depression and mental health. Maybe it is hard to be an inadequate man of faith when all the Old Testament patriarchs are real alpha males! Men’s identity is challenged in our society, and they question themselves. is it easier for a woman, who can often ‘fall back’ on her role as a mother or homemaker?
The Plenary session threw up a number of questions, some interestingly were around the cult of the body for both men and women, and others around robotics and the future for our young people. Others again were centred on the acceptance or not of homosexuals and transsexuals and intersexuals. The world of work was examined, and our place in community – do jobs take up just too much of our time these days? And the last question was the pertinent one of why sanitary products are taxed under VAT as ‘luxury items’?
We also put together a video for lunch-time, around women and media, which competed with the eager talking around the tables about the issues raised. It was good to be asked by the local CAB and a community worker if they could have copies of our video to show to their groups.
The next day, Rachel Allison and the local group were asked to give some input on a BBC West Country radio programme.
We will be following up what we have learned and discussed – watch this space!
Can we also pay tribute to Jon Curtis and his help to the group in putting the Day together – Jon is the Learning and Development Officer for Plymouth and Exeter District.