A study on the Church’s role in facing domestic violence
It’s a heart breaking story that has become so common in Egypt that it no longer raises eyebrows. Mona, a wife and mother in her thirties, works to support her family. She started working a few years ago when her husband, who is six years older than she is, lost his job and the family needed income. At first he was uncomfortable with his unemployment and looked for work. He did find work, but it paid less than what his wife made as a domestic worker. As her work expanded to cover a full six days a week and her income grew exponentially, Fawzy decided he no longer needed to place himself under the discipline of regular work; he took irregular jobs then chose to let his wife work while he lazed around, spent his time sitting at the local café, smoking shisha and browsing the social media on the cell phone he had bought with his wife’s money. Mona might have grudgingly accepted the situation had it not quickly taken a turn for much worse. Fawzy took to placing more demands on her, and beating her almost on a daily basis. He refused to look after the children even though he had no work to do, heavily increasing her burden. When she complained of the pain, hard work, and the humiliation she had to suffer as the children horrifyingly looked on, she was told: “D’you think now that you’re the breadwinner you can hold up your head to me?”
Mona’s story sums up the core of domestic violence: the psychological inferiority her husband felt and for which he avenged himself on her, the family’s economic predicament that would not allow her to give up a lucrative income, and the largely absent social censure of her husband’s violent behaviour. Yet the case is not a lone one; similar cases spread far and wide, with varying causes and perspectives. But the end result is that domestic violence has become a hard fact on the ground, an issue with bitter fallout because of the pain and humiliation it roots within the family, the most basic unit in a community. It has generated and continues to generate deep concern among all who care about the community.
Researcher, writer, and Watani journalist Mervat Ayad, was sufficiently worried about stemming the tide of domestic violence that she decided to embark on a study on “The Church’s Role in Facing Domestic Violence”. The study earned her a Masters’ Degree from the Coptic Orthodox Institute of Care and Education sponsored by Pope Tawadros II, Supreme Head of the Institute and Anba Moussa, Bishop of Youth, Deputy Head of the Institute. The jury comprised Prof. Dr Rasmi Abdul-Malek Rostum, chairman of the jury and first supervisor; Prof. Dr Gamal Shehata Habib, second supervisor; and Prof. Samia Bareh Farag.
One matter that caught Ms Ayad’s attention once she began her study was the dearth of literature on the issue of domestic violence, especially among Copts. If anything, she says, it made her realise that the issue did not generate sufficient interest among researchers, in itself a detrimental attitude. This had the effect of urging her on; the study was direly needed.
Sadly, Ms Ayad says, domestic violence in all forms: physical, psychological, and sexual; is prevalent among families across the board, in Egypt and throughout the world. It spreads among rich and poor, Christian and Muslim, well educated and poorly-educated, church servants and those who do not go to church, all alike. It has become sufficiently widespread for social workers to claim that the family, supposedly a safe haven for its members from the ravages of the outside world, has become one that endorses and promotes violence. The love, compassion, respect, and appreciation that should govern relations within the family have given way to self-serving attitudes that embody cruelty, insecurity, and indignity.
The claim is supported through innumerable statistics by reliable institutions; to name but a few: the United Nation’s World Health Organisation (WHO), the Egyptian National Council for Women (NCW), and the Egyptian National Centre for Social and Criminological Research.
According to Ms Ayad, the spread of domestic violence among Coptic families has placed the Church before the responsibility of confronting the phenomenon through devising a special service for the family, one that would tackle the issue of domestic violence at its root causes and its fallout.
The study comes in four chapters. The first is an introduction that cites how widespread domestic violence is, documents examples of domestic violence, and offers a literature survey that covers the period from 1994 to 2016. The second defines the concept of violence, the forms and types of domestic violence, theories explaining it, as well as its causes and consequences.
The third chapter tackles ‘Christianity and violence’ in the Biblical sense and the perspective of the Church; the fourth is a field study and includes the results, conclusions, and a proposed programme for the Coptic Church to face up to domestic violence.
“God has instituted a law for Christian families so they would live according to a heavenly model,” Ms Ayad says. “This is clearly mentioned in Colossians 3:18-21: ‘Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them. Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.’” Yet domestic violence threatens to make all that irrelevant.
Ms Ayad’s study was conducted through a questionnaire accredited by Egyptian universities. The sample constituted 170 individuals served by the Church, and 35 Church service providers. The individuals belonged to three East Cairo districts of different social standards representing the upper, medium, and poorer classes. The three churches chosen were: the Holy Virgin and Abu-Seifein’s in Ezbet al-Haggana; the Holy Virgin and Mar-Mina’s in Nasr City; and the church of the Holy Virgin in Ard al-Golf.
The reasons behind domestic violence are manifold; the study provides a long list of them: feelings of inferiority on the part of a husband compared to his wife; lack of love and a sense of security between a couple, absence of confidence; nervous tension; social customs that endorse violence against women; disparity in social standard between a man and his wife; disparity in educational and cultural level between them; difference in views on bringing up the children; overburdened family finances; unemployment of the husband; refusal of the wife to help with family expenses; disagreement on spending patterns especially if the wife or husband tends to splurge money on what the other partner sees as unnecessary.
Detrimental to wives and children
Domestic violence is detrimental to wives and children, Ms Ayad says. Wives end up suffering from fear, depression, mental and physical disorders, a shaken personality and the inability to take any decision. The effect is cumulative; it escalates with time, targeting identity and self-confidence. The violence frequently causes physical injuries such as fractures, wounds, burns, miscarriage, or permanent disability; as well as disorders such as intestinal disorders, nervous colon, malfunction in body systems, poor health in general, as well as psychological and behavioural disorders including anxiety, chain smoking, drug abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder, and might even lead to suicide in severe cases.
As to children, the study revealed that children who witness violent scenes between their parents become aggressive, non-obedient and tell untruths; they give in to fear, nervous tension, and unhappiness. More often than not, they feel guilty at their helplessness before the violence and their inability to protect the victim who is in most cases the mother. They grow into rebellious teenagers with a tendency to bully others. Physically, many of them suffer from digestive disorders, speech problems, stubbornness, shyness, hysterical tantrums, depression, illusive fears, and desire to put an end to their lives. For them, life loses all meaningfulness.
The researcher concluded with a number of significant recommendations for an effective role by the Church to avoid domestic violence. Couples planning to marry should attend compulsory courses designed and delivered by psychological consultants, in order to reduce as far as possible the emotional disturbances that lead to violence. Once they get married, the Church should take care to follow up on them and their problems; expert family guidance can go a long way towards aborting attitudes and situations that lead to violence. Family guidance can also be crucial in helping parents deal with the parenting problems they frequently encounter.
Families in financial straits should be eligible to discreet, adequate aid from the Church until they safely bypass crises, in order to reduce the economic pretexts that breed violence.
The Coptic Church should raise awareness by issuing publications and producing documentaries and films that focus on the consequences of domestic violence against wives and children; it should create online sites and hotlines to offer sound advice on the issue of domestic violence. It should also encourage social, psychological, and medical research on the topic.
A culture of honouring marriage and family should be perpetrated by the Church; it should be instilled in Copts at a very early age in Sunday School, with focus on Biblical characters who had good marriages through which they glorified the name of the Lord.
Hand in hand
It is also very important, Ms Ayad says, that Church efforts at battling domestic violence should go hand in hand with those of the State.
A national strategy for battling violence against women adopted by the National Council of Women and put into effect as a five-year plan 2015 – 2020 aims at raising awareness on violence against women as a social crime, and on offering women victims the support they need.
According to Ms Ayad, perpetrators of domestic violence should be held legally accountable because lack of accountability encourages further violence. Women victims should be encouraged to break the silence on the violence inflicted on them, and demand their rights through legal means. “This brings us to the importance of amending the family law so as to allow for protection from domestic violence.” Will that day come any time soon?
21 March 2018