Over the coming year members of the Presbyterian Church will lend their support to a safe house for women in Brazil – a country where on average a woman is beaten by a partner or ex-partner every 24 seconds.
The project was highlighted as the Presbyterian Church in Ireland (PCI) launched its World Development Appeal yesterday, with a particular focus on gender justice and the prevention of gender-based violence.
Primarily for the church’s 535 congregations across Ireland, the annual appeal has been known to raise £500,000 over the Christmas period.
In its current form, the appeal – in support of the work of PCI’s relief and development partners Christian Aid and Tearfund – has raised millions of pounds over the past 40 years for projects in some of the poorest communities and disadvantaged places across the globe.
This year’s featured project focuses on a safe house for women in the city of Ariquemes in north-west Brazil.
At the Presbyterian Church’s Belfast headquarters at Assembly Buildings yesterday Sarah Roure, a Christian Aid worker from Brazil, spoke of the prevalence of violence against women in her country.
Recent research has shown that every 24 seconds a woman is beaten by a partner or ex-partner in Brazil and in a 2017 nationwide survey almost a third of girls and women said that during the previous year they had suffered violence.
Sarah said: “When trying to tackle the problem of gender based violence local governments responded by calling the church and asking for help. The church community in Ariquemes partnered with Christian Aid to help set up a safe house for women.”
Although improvements have been made to public policy and law, Sarah said the election of a new far-right president in Brazil has prompted a “backlash against inclusive policies”.
She said the president elect Jair Bolsonaro has “trivialised violence against women” by suggesting that women should be given guns to protect themselves.
Welcoming PCI’s support she said: “This appeal will help us to raise awareness of the practical and transformational work being done at the Casa Noeli safe house and the funding will help to ensure this project will continue to provide a haven for vulnerable women and children at their time of greatest need.”
The convener of the World Development Committee, Rev Fiona Forbes, who is minister of Harmony Hill Presbyterian Church near Lisburn, was also at Assembly Buildings yesterday.
She said: “The work of sustainable development is not simple.
“It is most often long-term as it seeks to build within communities a shared vision for a future different to that which tradition or cultural norms might dictate.
“It is a work of faith and courage, of endurance and of hope, and hope is something the safe house provides the women and their children who have sought safety there.”
The 2018 appeal highlights the work of Christian Aid partner, the National Council of Christian Churches of Brazil, which seeks to confront and challenge gender-based violence and, in particular, to prevent and tackle gender-based violence against women, with an emphasis on the important role that faith communities can have in addressing the issue.
Rev Forbes noted that gender based violence is particularly pervasive in Brazil with 100,000 women having lost their lives as a result since 1985.
She said: “This year’s featured project, Casa Noeli dos Santos, opened in 2010 in response to concerns over gender based violence in Ariquemes. The safe house has since supported some 1,500 women enabling them to leave behind abusive situations, work through their needs and move forward in their lives.
“Acting as a gateway to other services for women who find the courage to report abuse to the police, it is a place that they and their children can seek safety and not have to return to a violent partner or family member.”
The 2018 appeal will also support a number of other Christian Aid and Tearfund projects. These consist of projects supported by Christian Aid partners in Angola – including a ‘Promoting positive masculinities’ programme for boys and young men, that focuses on human rights and building positive and healthy behaviours.
This year’s appeal also continues to fund Tearfund partnered projects in the Democratic Republic of Congo.