“Equality between women and men is a matter of human rights and a condition for social justice and is also a necessary and fundamental prerequisite for equality, development and peace.”
Beijing Platform for Action, 1995

“Violence against women and girls, in any form, has no place in our vision for a safe, strong, successful Scotland. It damages health and wellbeing, limits freedom and potential, and is a violation of the most fundamental human rights.”
Equally Safe Strategy, Scottish Government 2014

Globally one in three women and girls experience physical or sexual violence in their lives, most often at the hands of an intimate partner. Such violence is both a cause and a consequence of gender inequality.

In the Violence against Women world, we know that you can’t talk about, or work towards ending, structural inequality without considering gender (as well as other factors including race, class, ability, age, religion and sexual orientation).

In the Church of Scotland, where we consistently seek to challenge local and global inequalities, we talk about this gendered approach in terms of gender justice

Oxfam America defines gender justice as:

“[a] human right; every woman and girl is entitled to live in dignity and in freedom, without any fear. Gender Justice is indispensable for development, poverty reduction, and is crucial to achieving human progress. Realizing it includes sharing of power and responsibility between women and men”

Gender justice, as a human rights framework, has the potential to be much more radical than the more common and more formal concept of gender equality. Instead of treating everyone the same, regardless of the circumstances they are living and working in, gender justice calls us to treat people more justly, more fairly and meet them where they are on their life journey taking into account their personal experiences and needs.

Gender justice calls for positive transformational change in our lives, and in the lives of our communities and wider society, going far beyond formal equality. One way of doing this is by broadening the scope of mainstream human rights to include and validate women’s experiences of human rights violations.

Church of Scotland staff campaign against gender based violence, General Assembly 2016
Church of Scotland Moderator, the Rt Rev. Dr Russell Barr and Church of Scotland staff mark the International Thursdays in Black campaign against Gender Based Violence, General Assembly 2016

The value of using human rights approaches to talk about gender inequality and violence against women was reinforced for me at the 2016 Conference of European Churches Summer School on Human Rights in June.

More than 90 people from all over the world, including representatives from multiple Christian denominations and experts on human rights from practical, legal and theological perspectives participated. Speakers included experts from the Council of Europe, NATO, universities and CEC member churches.

I was invited to speak on the Church of Scotland’s response to Violence against Women. Others spoke on the ordination of women, the role of women in society and the rights of girls and women as refugees.

Speaking on such diverse issues, representing such a wide range of experiences and viewpoints it would be easy to cross wires, build tension or even lose our sense of common purpose

However, using human rights as our framework gave us a common language which cut across our national, legal and theological differences. By acknowledging and affirming the inherent dignity and importance of human life and flourishing, human rights frameworks allow for international minimum standards while giving us the flexibility to respond to local circumstances and needs.

At the summer school, the framework gave us a tool for analysing and condemning discrimination, sexism and xenophobia which has international recognition and resonance. Gender justice, as a human rights concept, gave us a positive structure to channel our responses that was informed by our faith traditions.

The Church of Scotland believes that every woman and girl has the human right to live free from violence, abuse, discrimination and poverty. We believe that we all have a part to play in contributing to gender justice, and until these rights are fully realised and consistently maintained, we believe that utilising human rights frameworks to get there is the #RightApproach.