December 10, 2015 – Human Rights Day

We all deserve a safe place to call home.  The right to seek a safe place to live and the right to shelter are fundamental human rights as named in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which we celebrate today.  Tragically, for victims and survivors of gender-based violence, no matter where they live, home is often the most dangerous place in the world.  In fact, for far too many, it can be deadly to stay home.

I will never forget the beautiful souls at the “House for Discarded Women” in Madurai, India. I remember one woman in particular. After being tied up, soaked with gasoline, and set on fire by her husband and mother-in-law, “Aruna” miraculously survived and was taken to the house for unwanted women. She looked up at me from her loom to show me the intricate fabric she was weaving—one of many income-generating projects the women’s house offers. Disfigured and disabled, she smiled as her hands danced through the threads and her feet played a percussive tune on the loom. She and the other so-called “discarded” women—all victims of bridal burnings, domestic abuse, or other forms of gender violence—found freedom in the newfound family they formed as sisters, in a house they now call home.

But sometimes a woman’s home becomes a prison cell, as is the case with Lucinda, whom I met in a Peruvian prison in Lima. Lucinda learned to paint in prison, where she paints beautiful portraits with vivid colors and rich textures. In the cell she has been forced to inhabit for 22 years, she relies on art and image to tell her story. She has not seen her children grow up.  She does not know what has become of her husband, who has since left her. Arrested years ago because of her involvement in a social justice movement in the early 80s to combat the political oppression of the Peruvian government, Lucinda stood up for human rights. She stood up for women’s rights. She spoke out. She fought for freedom—from fear, hunger, and imperialism.  She fought for gender equity. And for that, she is still locked up.

Lucinda-paintingAs the prison guard was getting antsy and I was about to leave, Lucinda showed me a picture she had painted of a stunning, dark-haired woman busting out of the shackles that bound her.

When she offered the painting to me as a souvenir, I wondered which one of us truly understood freedom. Speechless, I accepted what I assumed to be her self-portrait and asked how I could pray for her. She said, “Pray for love. Pray that we women can be love for the whole world. For it is only true love that will stop the violence.”

And so, on this Human Rights Day, and the final day of this year’s 16 Days of Activism to Address Gender-Based Violence, let us recommit to love. Let us pray with Lucinda to be love for the whole world. Let us pray with Aruna for an end to all forms of gender discrimination and violence. Let us pray with all people, everywhere, for homes in which we find not only shelter, but safety, peace, and true love.

Until we all have a safe place to call home, our work continues—long after these 16 days come to an end…

This guest blog originally appeared on the FaithTrust Institute’s website.  FaithTrust Institute is a national, multifaith, multicultural training and education organization with global reach working to end sexual and domestic violence. Read more at www.faithtrustinstitute.org.

Read more

16 Days of Activism began November 25 and ran through December 10.

Click here to see the daily offering of  inspiring videos and reflections on “The Stories That Inspire Our Work” on the FaithTrust Institute website.

About the author

The Rev. Amy Gopp is the Vice President of External Relations for IMA World Health. She is an ordained minister of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) with two decades of experience in faith-based relief and development. Previously, Amy served as the Director of Member Relations and Pastoral Care at Church World Service and as Executive Director of Week of Compassion, the relief, refugee and development fund of the Disciples of Christ.

A passionate global activist for girls and women’s rights, education and empowerment, Amy is one of the key leaders of the interfaith We Will Speak Out U.S. coalition and campaign to end sexual and gender-based violence.

Amy received her BA in International Relations at the American University in Washington, D.C. For many years she lived in the war-ridden former Yugoslavia with Mennonite Central Committee, serving as a peace activist. Amy completed an MA in Conflict Resolution at Antioch University and an MDiv from Union Theological Seminary in New York City. Amy is a contributor and co-editor of Split Ticket: Independent Faith in a Time of Partisan Politics and Help and Hope: Disaster Preparedness and Response Tools for Congregations and the author of numerous articles and devotionals.

SAFETY EXIT