​Rev'd Scott Holmes and Ms Renee Imbesi

Religious believers had to stop “privileging the past” if they were to build a future in which women were no longer threatened by men, an Anglican priest said at the launch of an interfaith report in Preston promoting respectful relationships as an antidote to violence against women.

The Revd Scott Holmes, the Project Coordinator for the Northern Interfaith Respectful Relationships Project, told a ceremony at Darebin Intercultural Centre on 16 February marking the completion of the project – which was sponsored by the City of Darebin and VicHealth in conjunction with the Darebin Interfaith Council – that the huge amount of variety among faiths, and within faith traditions, meant that to try to promote respectful relationships in such a setting was “incredibly challenging”.

Yet, despite this diversity, common to all faiths was the “Privileging of the Past”, he said.

“The commitment of Darebin City Council and VicHealth to this project needs to be understood as a huge vote of confidence in the faith world,” Mr Holmes said. “It is now up to the faith community to live up to that vote of confidence by having the courage to stop privileging the past and start looking to the future, a future where the wellbeing of women is no longer threatened by the violence of men.”

Mr Holmes has written a manual to assist faith communities to take a “primary prevention approach” to violence against women. He said it would have been almost impossible to put together a manual that suited every faith tradition, so the finished product was stripped of all religious language to enable it to be used by all faith communities.

“There is enough work in this manual to keep the average faith community busy for years,” he said.
Ms Renee Imbesi, the Program Manager for Preventing Violence Against Women from VicHealth’s Participation and Equity for Health Unit, emphasised the scale of violence against women in Australia:
  • One in three Australian women experience physical violence from an intimate partner in their lifetime;
  • One in five Australian women experience sexual violence in their lifetime;
  • More than half the recorded homicides in Australia are women killed by their current or former partners; and
  • Intimate partner violence is the leading contributor to ill-health, death and disease for women aged 15 to 44 in Victoria – more than smoking, obesity, heart disease or alcohol use.

Ms Imbesi said faith leaders had the potential to be role models in efforts to strengthen the values of respect and gender equality in the community. 

The Co-Chair of the Darebin Interfaith Council, the Revd Ian Smith of Thornbury Church of Christ, said there were 140 nationalities, 104 languages and 45 expressions of the Christian church alone in the City of Darebin, which extends from  Northcote and Fairfield to Reservoir and Bundoora.

See more in TMA’s March issue...