Shiloh Project Research Day Report


Mmapula Kebaneilwe (University of Botswana) is a womanist biblical scholar and project partner for an Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) grant entitled ‘Resisting Gender-Based Violence and Injustice ThroughActivism with Bible Texts and Images’.

Her recent research visit brought her to Yorkshire, where both the project’s principal investigator (Johanna Stiebert, University of Leeds) and co-investigator (Katie Edwards, University of Sheffield) are based. All three, together with co-lead of the Shiloh Project Caroline Blyth (University of Auckland), who is spending part of her sabbatical at the University of Leeds, organized a research day at the University of Leeds.

The aim of the day was to bring together a diverse group of researchers and practitioners who all engage with some aspect of confronting, understanding and reducing the prevalence of gender-based and/or sexual violence. All share experience of working on or with victims and survivors of gender-based violence; all share a commitment to and drive for facilitating information, practical help or healing; all are open to opportunities for effective collaboration and networking between academic and public sectors.

The Shiloh Project is a collaboration of scholars and activists and was launched in early 2017. It seeks to explore and promote ways for better understanding the dynamics and intersections between religion, the Bible, gender-based violence and rape culture. This is in acknowledgement that matters of religion and faith have diverse and profound impact on human interactions the world over – including when it comes to domestic, sexual and gender-based violence. Such impact was amply borne out by all participants in the research day on 25 March 2019, which was attended by 20 active participants. The research day was co-sponsored by the AHRC and the Centre for Religion and Public Life. It represents one of several Shiloh Project initiatives.

Here is a quick summary of participants and organizations. Each participant, or participant pair, gave a summary and introduction to their work and expertise.

Angela Connor and Esther Nield represented the Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC) team of the Hazlehurst Centre in West Yorkshire. Angela is the Hazlehurst Centre manager and Esther works in the Centre as a crisis worker. SARC provides acute service (for up to seven days post incident). The SARC is commissioned by the National Health Service (NHS) and Police to provide forensic healthcare, alongside free support and practical help to anyone in West Yorkshire who has experienced sexual violence or abuse. The majority of victims (around 80%) are referred by the Police. The majority are white women under the age of forty but the service is available to anyone, for no charge, irrespective of age, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, religious affiliation, or immigration status. The Centre strives to become more accessible to diverse demographics and nurses take pride in providing sensitive expert care.

Misbah Ali (Legal Assistance and Senior Development Worker) and Michelle O’Neill (Senior Capacity Builder and Recovery Worker) together represented Staying Put, a charity providing gender-sensitive services for men and women in the wider Bradford area of Yorkshire who experience abuse from a family member or intimate partner in a domestic setting. The charity attends to about 1200 to 1400 users per year. They work with situations in the area of domestic violence, intimate partner violence and forced marriage and assist in reducing victimization, preventing domestic homicide and facilitating domestic safety and security. The organization fulfills diverse services – including providing information about female genital mutilation (FGM), conducting family interventions, issuing legal advice, evidence gathering, support for attending court, as well as practical and emotional support. Their Freedom Programme operates in several languages (Urdu, English and Polish). Misbah and Michelle reported on the relative frequency of ‘spiritual abuse’ – that is, abuse attributed to possession, witchcraft and djinns, for instance. The told the group that they come across such matters more and more often but do not always feel adequately trained to address some religious justifications of violence.

Ziona Handler is the Manchester keyworker for Jewish Women’s Aid (JWA), working for and with victims of abuse in Jewish communities across all of the North of England. JWA is a registered charity and Ziona is emphatic that Jewish communities are as affected as other communities when it comes to the spectrum of domestic violence, which encompasses physical, sexual, psychological, economic, spiritual and cultural abuse. In terms of recognizing and addressing such abuse and supporting victims, many of the strategies detailed by representatives of Staying Put resonated with Ziona. But she also pointed out that some matters are bespoke to Jewish communities and best supported by a Jewish practitioner. (The SARC representatives mentioned that they had never, knowingly, assisted a Jewish victim of sexual assault, in spite of West Yorkshire having a sizable Jewish community. This might indicate that Jewish women have preference for groups such as JWA.) Ziona reported that the average period of suffering prior to reporting is a shocking 11.5 years in Jewish communities. JWA offers a variety of core services – including a helpline, client support, counseling, therapy, the Dina Project (a response to #MeToo), children’s therapy and an educational outreach programme that visits schools, synagogues and universities. JWA has launched a Safer Dating campaign in universities and training to address Lad Culture. The charity also has a toilet door campaign (placing stickers bearing information about accessing help from JWA on toilet doors) and provides input and training for non-Jewish groups working with victims of domestic and sexual abuse.

Rabbi Dr Deborah Kahn-Harris is a former congregational rabbi and university chaplain and is now Principal of Leo Baeck College, a rabbinical seminary and centre for training of teachers in Jewish education. Leo Baeck College represents primarily members of Reform Judaism and Liberal Judaism and the institution also trains and ordains women and members of the Jewish LGBT+community. Deborah facilitates training from JWA and stresses that even in progressive communities – where the expectation might be that topics such as ‘consent’ are widely discussed and understood – such training remains essential. Deborah pointed out that low-level microagressions persist – often very publicly – and that biblical and rabbinic texts, which continue to be plumbed and interpreted, have the potential to propel abusive ideas and actions. In a tradition with ancient roots, where ancient texts continue to be given authority, the possibility of internalizing damaging attitudes is considerable. But, as Deborah pointed out, Jewish tradition also offers tremendous scope for critical thinking, debate and resistance. In response to a question from Angela Connor about Jewish attitudes to emergency contraception, Deborah was able to demonstrate this versatility, with recourse to a range of Jewish texts reflecting multiple viewpoints.

Sam Ross is a WRoCAH (White Rose College of the Arts & Humanities) funded PhD candidate in the School of Philosophy, Religion and History of Science (University of Leeds). His provisional thesis title is ‘Queering the Ketuvim: Queer Readings of Representations of Pain and Trauma in Biblical Hebrew Poetry’. Sam has particular interest in trauma research – not least, because the LGBTQ community is particularly vulnerable to discrimination, abuse and prejudice. Sam is using the Bible both because of its persistent influence in faith and secular contexts and because it offers stories that address pain and trauma head-on. His plan is to fuse biblical criticism and autoethnography to explore queer individual suffering (through the book of Job), and queer communal suffering (through the book of Lamentations). Sam also highlighted the particular vulnerability of the trans community and the abusiveness of the so-called ‘trans debate’ in targeting trans persons as aggressors and predators when they are, in actuality, far more often victims of violence, including sexual violence. Representatives from Staying Put confirmed Sam’s point by stating that even professionals are sometimes abusive towards trans persons, citing instances where trans women have been denied access to women’s refuges, with no offer of any alternative help, even when they were at acute risk.

David Smith is Victims Services Commissioning and Third Sector Adviser at the West Yorkshire’s Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner. David has worked in third sector and local government for several decades and has expertise in the area of strategy, planning and policy development. That is, he has expertise in making actions effective. David’s role is to commission support services around domestic abuse and sexual violence. These are usually funded at (increasingly cash-strapped) local and regional levels. David’s work is focused on policy and he has an informed interest also in the language of his subject – such as the language of the victim’s code and witness charter. He agrees that the terminology around sexual violence – of ‘victims’, ‘perpetrators’ and ‘complainants’ –is problematic. He is supportive of the position statement being more inclusive now in its language of violence against men. Male victims, he stresses, are a significant part of the agenda – something which should not take away from the very serious issues facing women and girls. David’s policy-focused perspective was a fascinating one.

Adriaan van Klinken (University of Leeds) is Director of the Centre for Religion and Public Life and an academic working in the areas of religion and public life, gender and sexuality, especially in contemporary Christian contexts of countries in southern and eastern Africa (predominantly, Zambia and Kenya). He is about to embark on a project working closely and collaboratively with Ugandan LGBT refugees in Kenya through using story telling and life stories as a tool for creative and liberating self-expression as well as a research strategy. As Adriaan points out, violence is central in the lives of LGBT people, as well as in the lives of refugees. This violence, moreover, is multi-dimensional and can include religious violence, political violence and police violence.

Sarah-Jane Page (Aston University) is a sociologist of religion. She researches, among other topics, attitudes and practices around sexuality and how these are negotiated in relation to religious tradition. She spoke about two current projects. The first – in the very early stages – examines the Church of England inquiry into child sex abuse. She is focused especially on how organizational and institutional structures serve to enable abuse, as well as in the hierarchies and class dimensions at work in this. Her second project is ethnographic and partly funded by the British Academy. This project looks at varieties of activism, ranging from silent prayer to displays of graphic imagery, outside of abortion clinics. She is especially interested in the reactions and responses to these forms of activism, both from religious and secular sources.

Gordon Lynch (University of Kent) has conducted long-term research and public engagement activities on the history of UK child migration programmes. These programmes, responsible for sending some 100,000 children to Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Zimbabwe, resulted in extensive and sustained abuse, which only came to light much later. He has also served as expert witness under instruction to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse. Gordon’s work has served to raisepublic awareness about historic abuse. He has, for instance,contributed to and organized museum exhibitions, musical performances, and TrueTube films, alongside his many academic publications. Gordon highlighted the dysfunctional relationships between government offices and organizations, including the competing interests, fragmentations and difficulties in terms of challenging groups involved in the networks facilitating migration at the various stages. All of these enabled the abuse to go on for very many years. Moreover, regarding organizations overseen by the Catholic Church, monitoring was minimal,due to assumed ‘bonds of trust’. Gordon asked what it is about religious organizations that exempted them from scrutiny. What permitted the religious exceptionalism that saw the suspension of so many otherwise widely adopted recommendations? When the usual recommendation was to advise that children be adopted, fostered, or raised in small-scale residential units, why were exceptions made by national policy makers to permit religious institutions to run large, understaffed orphanages where abuse was able to thrive?

Sema Khan represented Barnardos, a long-established charity that protects and supports above all vulnerable children and young people, as well as parents and carers. She is based in Bradford where Barnardo’s has a family support and a child sexual exploitation (CSE) team. Semareports that more children on the autistic spectrum and more boys and young men are seeking help to address emotional needs, including the help of recovery groups following sexual exploitation. Sema explained, too, that Barnardo’s is less pronouncedly Christian in focus than it has been historically. It has a diverse staff and works for a diverse community, including many Syrian refugees and asylum seekers.

Saima Afzal has worked in all of research, consultancy, local government and community development, particularly in matters to do with religion, gender and South Asian communities of Lancashire and Yorkshire. She is an elected councillor for Blackburn. Saima has conducted research on child sexual exploitation in South Asian communities of the UK, on sexuality in Islam, and on police stop and search powers against minority ethnic communities. Saima has founded her own community interest group called SASRIGHTS CIC (see also Saima Afzal Solutions). She works as a freelance criminologist and has served as expert witness for cases involving domestic abuse, forced marriage and so-called “honour”-based killing. She has received an MBE for her services to policing and community relations.

Bob Balfour is founder of Survivors West Yorkshire(SWY), formerly called One In Four (North). SWY is action-oriented and works in supporting survivors of sexual abuse. Prominently included in this support are male survivors of sexual abuse. Bob was also instrumental in the creation of Ben’s Place, a West Yorkshire support service for male survivors of sexual abuse, named after Ben, a survivor of childhood sexual abuse who took his own life soon after his twenty-third birthday. The mission of Ben’s Place is to deliver specialist support and advice to adult male survivors (i.e. aged 16+) who are ready to disclose experiences of sexual crimes committed against them and who want to access support to explore options for understanding and integrating what was done to them. SWY and Ben’s Place work in partnership with Rape Crisis and challenge the silencing and alienation of survivors. One of Bob’s campaigns is ‘Challenge the Silence’ and he has written for ‘A View From Inside the Box’. Bob has been vigorous in his resistance to denial. He has not only founded support groups and actions, he has published on the topic, devised practical strategies for post-traumatic growth, collaborated with universities as ‘expert by experience’ and in the role of Teacher at Liverpool (paid for by the NHS), and is currently supervising four Clinical Psychology students.

Jo Sadgrove has considerable expertise in the area of faith-based international development – both as an academic researcher and a practitioner. She works part-time as research and learning advisor to the United Society Partners in the Gospel (USPG), an Anglican mission agency engaging in community development and theological education around the world. Jo discussed the imperialist echoes and tendencies of some of the work of USPG but also the ways that being part of such an organization can give access to networks and opportunities for making a difference. Jo’s particular interests are in intersections of religion and health and in Christianity and sexuality in cross-cultural perspectives. Jo talked about workshops she has conducted with perpetrators of gender-based violence, which bring men together to talk about being men and about violence in their lives. She sees great value in working with perpetrators as well as victims of gender-based violence.

Jo has direct experience of We Will Speak Out, a global coalition of churches and Christian NGO’s challenging prevailing patterns of violence.

After presentations from all participants, we had an open discussion to begin to explore ways of collaboration and support. During the coffee and lunch breaks already, representatives from different institutions and organizations had begun to chat in small groups and exchange information, advice, and ask questions.


The following arose in discussion:

There is little available in the way of accessible, succinct and helpful information on the topic of spiritual abuse. More discussion and more research on the topic are required. This would be invaluable for a range of practitioners encountering perpetrators and victims of gender-based violence. (Representatives of Staying Put reported that a defense of spiritual abuse – blaming demons, possession, djinns, or witchcraft for inciting violence, including sexual abuse – comes out with some regularity in one-on-one conversations with both perpetrators and victims.)

More emphasis on prevention is necessary. Often crisis support is the preserve of highly trained effective individuals. But more expertise needs to be invested in recognizing the signs before the tipping point.

Not infrequently – and this is sometimes due to the sheer strain on service providers (something that received repeated mention) – professionals become part of the problem for already vulnerable groups. Sometimes, for instance, there will be insistence (by social welfare or by NGO or charity staff) that service users take a particular training course, with the threat that otherwise their children will be removed. The effect of this can be to alienate already vulnerable people and to deter them from continuing to seek professional help.

Practitioners welcomed the opportunity to meet others working in related areas. They would very much like more work between groups. SARC, for instance, would appreciate information about JWA, to make bespoke help available in their networks targeting vulnerable people in the community at risk of sexual violence.

There was acknowledgement that communities are diverse and that multi-faceted expertise is needed (e.g. from all of police, social services, consultants, charities, etc.) to address gender-based and sexual violence. Again, better communication between different groups is recognized as important.

There was an expression of need for more religious and cultural literacy – and for academics who could providethis in accessible ways.

Practical micro-level and macro-level strategies are required to address the structural problems that facilitate much of the violence on the ground.

David Smith mentioned that he is often looking for research pieces towards capacity building. He recommends that we all register with and join Blue Light Services, to let emergency services know what we can provide.

There was widespread acknowledgement that religious leaders are often obstructive when it comes to addressing domestic situations of violence and abuse. More needs to be done to train religious leaders in gender-sensitive strategies, as well as in encouraging them to facilitate professional advice for their community members – as opposed to attempting to handle delicate and complex matters themselves when they lack the necessary training and expertise.

The Sex and Relationships Education curriculum, to be rolled out September 2020, is likely to lead to a deluge of referrals. Help will be needed urgently to manage these.

Some practitioners predict a backlash to the extent of safeguarding training – a backlash that will include alsotheological and ethical questions. Again, collaboration between practitioners and researchers will be important in addressing these.

All in all, it was a stimulating, thought-provoking and fruitful day. We will take the conversations forward in our ongoing work in Project Shiloh. This was just the start of the conversation, and we hope to sustain it through ongoing collaborations.

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Project Update: A Photo Essay


For much of December Shiloh Project co-leads Johanna Stiebert and Katie Edwards spent time in Lesotho and Botswana together with Mmapula Kebaneilwe. All three are working together on an AHRC-funded International Highlight Notice Grant entitled ‘Resisting Gender-Based Violence (GBV) and Injustice Through Activism with Bible Texts and Images’. The main purpose of the visit was to find and to begin to get to know potential project collaborators. The visit was timed to coincide with the UN Sixteen Days of Activism and with World AIDS Day.

The trip started in Lesotho, a mountain kingdom land-locked by South Africa. Lesotho is one of the Least Developed Countries (LDC’s) on the Official Development Assistance (ODA) recipient list.

The three visited the organization Help Lesotho, which has offices in both Maseru, Lesotho’s capital, and Hlotse (also known as Leribe). While visiting Hlotse they met with Country Director Shadrack Mutembei and observed and participated in a leadership camp for high schoolers.

The work of Help Lesotho is impressive and broad in scope, focusing on all of leadership training, education, economic support (particularly for grandmothers and young mothers) and on programmes aimed both at preventing HIV infection and on living with HIV.  A subsidiary group, Girl4ce, does much to address GBV, child marriage and other forms of forced marriage, particularly througheducation and activism conveyed through public performances.

While in Lesotho, Johanna, Katie and Mmapula also visited Morija and Roma. The latter is the location of the National University of Lesotho where they met with academics and administrators to explore opportunities for collaboration.

From Lesotho, all three went to Gaborone, where Mmapula Kebaneilwe is Senior Lecturer in Biblical Studies. Mmapula arranged visits with two organisations: Legabibo (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Botswana) and women’s right’sgroup Emang Basadi (‘Women Stand Up!’). Johanna and Katie also attended a special church service dedicated to GBV prevention (held at the Anglican Cathedral of the Holy Cross, Gaborone), with speakers Honourable Philip Makgalemele, the Assistant Minister of Youth Empowerment, Sports and Culture, Ms Lorato Moalusi, of the Botswana GBV Prevention and Support Centre and MrPeter Sejoe of the organisation Men and Boys for Gender Equality Engaged. Furthermore, they met with other academics from the University of Botswana (including Maude Dikobe, Musa Dube, Rosinah Gabaitse and Malebogo Kgalemang), as well as with the Minister for International Affairs and Cooperation, the HonourableUnity Dow and also two of the editors of a forthcoming anthology of Botswana women writers, Leloba Molema and Mary Lederer.

Katie, Johanna and Mmapula also travelled up to Kasane, in the North of Botswana. This small town is expected to expand dramatically, due to the impending opening of the Kazungula Bridge at the border between Botswana and Zambia. Also, due to proximity with both Namibia and Zimbabwe as well, there is expectation of both refugee surges and of an increase in sex trafficking. While there, the three visited the local Department of Gender, the police station and the local library, which is a hub for training and dissemination of information.

All in all it was a productive trip. Next, MmapulaKebaneilwe will be visiting the UK as part of the same AHRC project in March 2019. She will be making presentations at both the Universities of Leeds and Sheffield and will attend the ‘Women and Gender in the Bible and the Ancient World Conference’ in Glasgow (29 March 2019).

Johanna Stiebert and Katie Edwards will attend the gathering of the Circle for Concerned African Women Theologians at the University of Botswana in Gaborone, Botswana, 2-5 July 2019.

1. Banner for the Leadership Camp at Help Lesotho, Hlotse(Leribe), Lesotho.

2. Help Lesotho logo.

3. A participant at the Help Lesotho Leadership Camp goes over a statement on ‘values’.

4. A counselor at the Help Lesotho Leadership Camp writes suggestions on the board.

5. Katie Edwards, Mmapula Kebaneilwe and Johanna Stiebert in Lesotho, with iconic Qiloane in the background

6. The National University of Lesotho, Roma, Lesotho

7. A sign about HIV prevention, outside the National University of Lesotho

8. Poster at the University of Botswana

9. Literature from Legabibo

10. SUN newspaper

11. Open Letter

12. The city of Gaborone by night, with the Hindu Temple and Main Mosque in view

13. Newspaper article on GBV

14. Church service on resisting GBV, Anglican Cathedral of the Holy Cross, Gaborone, Botswana

15. Ms Lorato Moalusi, GBV church service

16. Johanna and Mmapula, visiting Emang Basadi

17. Kasane Public Library

18. Kasane, near the health post

19. Large Baobab tree at the Kasane Police Station

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UN 16 Days of Activism – Day 13: Fatima Pir Allian


Today’s activist is Fatima Pir Allian, spokesperson for Bangsamoro women in Mindanao (the Philippines).

(For information about the long struggle for peace and the establishment of human rights in Mindanao, see here. The roots of the conflict lie in large part in the discrimination against the minority Muslim and indigenous population of Mindanao.)


Tell us about yourself! Who are you and what do you do?

I am Fatima Pir Tillah Allian but friends and family call me by my nick-name: Shalom. In 2005, after a stint as a college instructor at the Mass Communications Department of the Western Mindanao State University in Zamboanga City, the Philippines, I joined the development world as an NGO worker.

I belong to and represent a group of women called Nisa Ul Haqq fi Bangsamoro (Women for Justice in the Bangsamoro). Our work and mission is:

1. To provide a venue for Bangsamoro women for a progressive interpretation of Islamic teachings on gender, women’s rights, peace and development.

2. To influence decision-makers in policy development towards more spaces for women in law,religion, culture, and institutions.

3. To provide technical assistance to network members and their communities on issues related to the network’s advocacies.

4. To link the Muslim women of Mindanao through the network to other like-minded women’s organizations and to the rest of the Muslim ummah.

5. To understand and document the condition and position of Muslim women in Mindanao and other areas in the Philippines.

Since 2012 we have been working with, consulting and documenting narratives and recommendations from a number of women, men and youth community leaders on peace process related issues between the government of the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

One of the important parts of the agreement is to document narratives and recommendations of the Bangsamoro people as part of the Transitional Justice and Reconciliation Commission’s (TJRC) output (2015). Nisa Ul Haqq fi Bangsamoro was part of the team that documented the historical injustices, legitimate grievances and marginalizations of the Bangsamoro people, such as through land dispossession and human rights violations. But we are also focused on the ways forward in terms of healing and reconciliation.

In addition, we also respond to emergency situations by providing gender-sensitive humanitarian assistance to both human-induced and natural disasters. In whatever ways we can, we respond to the needs of women, including needs that arise from gender-based injustice and violence.

In the year ahead, how will you contribute to advancing the aims and goals of The Shiloh Project?  

Personally, my hope is to continue contributing to the work Nisa is doing. I am committed, too, to strengthening our advocacies in responding to the needs of the community. Empowering the marginalized is not an easy task. The need to continue the engagement with the marginalized, the invisible members of the community, who are disproportionately female, is pivotal in ensuring thatthey, too have a platform and are heard. Utilizing a lens that is sensitive to both gender and the advancement of peace in the process of policy formulation with decision makers, serves moreeffectively to address the lived realities of marginalized groups, whether they consist of women, men, youth, the elderly, persons with disabilities, or any disadvantaged groups in our society. Responding to the needs of the community, means that the community is consulted and part of the process as we do our planning. That is one way to empower communities. People sometimes think that we know what they need but actually we always need to be ready to learn from them. The communities serve as our classroom. There is so much to learn and we appreciate the exchanges and the kinds of connections we form. Communication, exchange, a willingness to learn from all – that is how I hope to advance the aims and goals of the Shiloh Project.

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UN 16 Days of Activism – Day 8: Antonia McGrath


Today’s activist is Masters student and NGO co-founder Antonia McGrath.

 Tell us about yourself. Who are you and what do you do?

 My name is Antonia McGrath and I’m a Masters student of International Development Studies at the University of Amsterdam, and one of the founders and directors of a small non-profit organization called educate. that works to support community-driven educational projects in Honduras.

 educate. was founded by myself and an incredible friend of mine called Lisa after we both spent a year living and working in Honduras. I was working in a small aldea on the outskirts of a city on the north coast in a home for ex-street children, and Lisa in a coffee-growing town as an English teacher at 9 rural public schools. In Honduras, we witnessed not only extreme poverty, violence, and some of the highest levels of economic inequality in Latin America, but also the ways in which some of the NGOs and development organizations in the area worked in ways that were very top-down, where they imposed projects without local leadership or anyappreciation of the cultural context – and sometimes even without an existing need. In a TEDx talk I gave almost two years ago now, I highlighted some examples of my experiences with these kinds of issues.

 For us, starting educate. was not only a way to support some of the communities we had lived and spent time in during our year in Honduras, but a way to work to subvert the idea of ‘aid’ and to allow Honduran individuals and communities to approach us and gain support for their own projects. We work with incredible teams of teachers and educators, community leaders, and people from other grassroots organizations, running projects that are really built from the ground up. For example, we run a scholarship programme through local public high schools; we have supported the starting of community-run libraries at public schools in both rural and urban areas; we funded the start-up costs of an animal therapy mental health programme at a children’s home; and we currently finance a community-run nutrition centre that is gaining increasing self-sustainability through an adjacent farm project. Outside of this more practical work on the ground, we also workto promote discussion about decolonizing the ways in which aid and development are thought about and practised.

 While our focus on education doesn’t directly address the Shiloh Project’s themes of rape culture, religion and gender-based inequalities and violence, these are topics we do heavily engage with within our work. Especially when discussing projects and working with our team in Honduras, the ways in which our work relates to themes of gender (in)equality is something we think very deeply about. Our scholarship programme for example, through its support of several incredibly passionate and driven young women from underprivileged backgrounds, is helping provide opportunities for women to study at the university level – something that, while not entirely uncommon, is still dominated by men and especially by those from privileged backgrounds. This scholarship programme, through the women it is supporting, is definitely helping to break down the cultural norms and stereotypes surrounding who ‘should’ be taking up these spaces at university.

 One of our scholarship recipients, who is studying industrial engineering, has recently taken a womensstudies class as an elective, and the last time I met up with her we had a long conversation about her experience studying in what is a heavily male-dominated programme. Though she felt confident in her own abilities to succeed, she said she was often faced with scepticism from her male classmates who would ask her why she was studying such a difficult subject that was ‘meant for guys’.

 Despite all the ways in which the Honduran culture ofmachismo (sexism) affects women, recently I’ve also been thinking more about the ways in which adolescent boys and young men in Honduras can also be socially excluded based on cultural concepts of masculinity. Honduras has a huge problem of gang violence, and the image of the young male in Central America, and particularly in the Northern Triangle (Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala) is of a strong, tough andoften-violent gang member. I think these images and stereotypes can cause young men to become extremely socially excluded, which only heightens the likelihood of them being pushed into criminal groups. I worry about some of the young boys I know who spend a lot of time on the streets, because there are so few opportunities made available to young men, especially in marginalized and often violent urban areas, that don’t involve crime. Of course young boys on the streets join gangs – it’s a family, it’s protection, it makes perfect sense. But it’s also a huge problem. At educate., we’ve been working to make sure that our scholarship programme, which has so far only attracted young women, is also actively promoted amongst young men, so as to ensure that they are not being unintentionally excluded from this opportunity. I think empowering young women is essential, but in Honduras I also see a definite need for more opportunities being made available for young men.

 Honduras has been in the news a fair amount over the past year or so, though not for the most positive ofreasons. In November 2017, protests broke out across the country after a stolen presidential election. I was in Honduras at the time, and was stuck on my friend’s farm for over a week as roads were blocked with barricades of burning tyres. Now, with the migrant caravan traveling north through Mexico, Honduras has been in the news again. A friend of mine, whom I met when he was on hunger strike protesting government corruption inHonduras in 2015, is part of the caravan, and he’s documenting it through his photography on Facebook. I’ve been working with him to put together articles and photo essays for educate.‘s website to raise awareness from a more Honduran perspective, because most of the news about it focuses on a very US-centred view of the caravan.

 Many of the female migrants in the caravan are fleeing from gender-based forms of violence. The rate of femicide in Honduras is unprecedented, and other kinds of violence against women are hugely widespread as well. There are countless Honduran women who leave as a result of this domestic violence, rape and sexual assault, even attempted murder. It’s something that isvery present in everyday life in Honduras. There was a 17-year-old girl in the village where I used to live who lost her hand after a man tried to rape her and, when she resisted, he attacked her with a machete. This was just a few months ago, when I was back in Honduras most recently, and she was taken to the hospital in the back of a friend’s truck with her mother. As far as I’ve heard, they weren’t able to properly re-attach her hand. Her family is incredibly poor; her father couldn’t even afford the bus to the hospital to go and see her. I’ve been trying to reach out to the family to see if we can support them, but it has been hard to make contact.

How do you think the Shiloh Project’s work on religion and rape culture can add to and enrich discussion and action on the topic of gender activism today? Is there more we can do? What else should we post?

 I think the work that the Shiloh Project is doing on religion and rape culture is hugely important. Rape culture is an especially pertinent topic at the moment, what with the whole #MeToo movement and prominent cases of sexual assault taking centre stage in international news. It’s a topic that absolutely warrants further discussion. I think its also vital to continue promoting diverse perspectives on these issues, and I think the Shiloh Project is doing a great job of that.

 In the year ahead, how will you contribute to advancing the aims and goals of The Shiloh Project?

 As I mentioned, we’re trying to broaden the reach of our scholarship programme to continue providing opportunities for young women and men in Honduras to study beyond high school. This is a life-changing opportunity for the young people we support, and has far-reaching consequences within their families and broader communities as well. At present, we are supporting young women studying in very male-dominated fields (medicine and engineering), and we’re hoping to be able to support some young men as well. I think the role that these scholarship opportunities can play in creating role models for young people of all genders within their own communities is a way to work towards breaking down the gendered stereotypes that are so prevalent in Honduras without those values being externally imposed.

This picture shows a young student in one of the libraries supported by educate.

 In an upcoming project for educate. where we are working with several rural primary schools to start libraries, ideas surrounding stereotypes and the importance of representation have come into play in our discussions once again. Something that has been important for us while working with the teachers in Honduras to put together lists of books for the libraries has been ensuring not only that the chosen books are culturally relevant and of course in Spanish, but that there are books that challenge traditional gender norms. For young girls as well as boys, I think it is important that the stories that they are exposed to are ones where they can see diverse representations of themselves. We’re trying to get hold of Latin American children’s books that show powerful women, people of various gender identities, and people from different cultures and ethnicities (within Latin America and even within Honduras, there are numerous ethnic groups).

 We’ve just launched an Amazon Wish List campaignwhere people from anywhere in the world can directly purchase a book for one of these libraries. When you purchase a book, it gets sent directly to us and we will sort and transport them to each of the schools in July 2019. Each community is currently working to plan their library space and will come together to paint and set up the library before the books are brought in. All of these libraries are being designed and constructed by teachers and community leaders and will provide literary resources to a total of over 500 primary school childrenin rural areas of Honduras. We’d love to have people get involved by purchasing a book (or two!) here:

 Antonia is a previous contributor to the Shiloh Project.

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CALL FOR PAPERS – Special Journal Issue: Activism in the Biblical Studies Classroom: Global Perspectives


Call for papers: Special Edition of the Journal for Interdisciplinary Biblical Studies (JIBS)

Activism in the Biblical Studies Classroom: Global Perspectives

Does activism belong in the university Biblical Studies classroom? If yes, with what purpose, outcome or agenda? Which teaching strategies are effective? How can/should/might Biblical Studies and activism engage with each other?

Activism is understood here as relating to human rights and the abolition of discrimination, including discrimination and activism in relation to:

Race and ethnicity
Gender and gender identity
Sexual orientation
Disability and ableism
HIV status
Mental health
Religion, faith and belief
Fat stigma
Motherhood and pregnancy
Voluntary/involuntary childlessness
Abortion and abortion stigma

This list is indicative and not exhaustive. We welcome submissions on any area of activism in conjunction with any biblical text.

We are looking for practice-focused contributions informed by academic research and/or theory.

Submissions should be between 4000 and 10,000 words.

All submissions will be subject to the usual blind peer review process.

Send proposals to Guest Editor Johanna Stiebert ( by 31 March 2019 and completed papers by the 2 January 2020.

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The White Ribbon Campaign and Domestic Violence in Jewish Communities


Today’s post is by Simon Phillips. Simon is a Community Engagement Officer for West Yorkshire Police and the Director of Interfaith for the Leeds Jewish Representative Council. 

Much of the public discourse of ‘violence’ on the one hand and ‘Jews’ or ‘Judaism’ on the other, focuses on anti-Semitic violence. The gender-based forms of anti-Semitic violence have featured previously in a Shiloh post by Miryam Sivan (see here).

This post, however, looks instead at domestic violence within Jewish communities and at how men and boys can be and are engaged in resisting and bringing an end to gender-based violence.

Simon is actively involved in the White Ribbon Campaign. Please read and get your ribbons ready for 25 November. 


The White Ribbon Campaign is an increasingly popular campaign to encourage men and boys to take a stand against domestic violence. The Campaign was founded in 2007 and works with men and boys to challenge those male cultures that lead to harassment, abuse and violence.

Some of these cultures incorporate elements of religion and belief, because understandings of domestic violence – including physical, sexual, financial and emotional violence – are influenced, too, by biblical and other scriptural sources. Some examples from Judaism are cited below.

Volunteer ‘ambassadors’ of the Campaign engage with other men and boys towards eliminating domestic violence and to promote, instead, a culture of equality and respect. Men and boys wear white ribbons as a symbol of engagement in the endeavour to end violence against women and girls. This is particularly visible on 25th November, the UN Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.

Interesting, including from a faith perspective, is that the white ribbon was since its foundation in 1873, the badge of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union. The white ribbon was initially selected to symbolize purity. But in this Campaign the white ribbon is a symbol for anti-violence against women, as well as for safe motherhood, and related causes. 

We know that whilst anyone can be at risk of domestic violence, irrespective of cultural or religious background, some forms of violence against women and girls are very much rooted in culture or religion. This includes Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), Forced Marriage and Honour-Based Abuse (for a Shiloh post on forced marriage and honour-based violence, see here). 

An estimated 66,000 women living in England and Wales have been subject to FGM. Meanwhile, in 2017 alone, the Forced Marriage Unit gave advice or support related to a possible forced marriage in 1,196 cases. 73% involved female victims. The oldest victim was 100 and the youngest a mere 2 years old. 

In my capacity as White Ribbon Ambassador, I am currently co-ordinating a project with the Leeds Jewish community. This project is funded by the Police and Crime Commissioner’s Safer Communities Fund and is aimed at raising awareness of the Campaign, through engaging with a range of community organisations across the Jewish religious spectrum. 

The project is entitled Shalom Bayit, which is Hebrew and means ‘Peaceful Home’ or ‘Peace in the Home’. The project aims to empower Jewish men and boys to stand up against domestic violence. The term sh’lom beto (Hebrew for ‘peace of his home’) is found in the Talmud and refers to domestic peace in general. Nowadays, it is mostly used with reference to matrimonial peace. Shalom bayit signifies completeness, wholeness, and fulfillment. Hence, traditionally, the ideal Jewish marriage is characterized by peace, nurturing, respect, and chesed (roughly meaning ‘kindness’, or ‘loving-kindness’), through which a married couple becomes complete. It is believed that God’s presence dwells in a pure and loving home. I return to Jewish perspectives on violence in due course.

There are various reasons why abuse might be prevalent in faith communities and these reasons coexist with wider societal beliefs, perceptions and stereotypes about male roles and character traits – such as the stereotype of the man as head of the family who is strong, powerful, a leader, competitive and authoritarian. 

Some of these attitudes and behaviours are reinforced by religious doctrines and have sometimes had devastating consequences, particularly for women and girls. This has led some police forces to consider the introduction of misogyny as a separate strand of hate crime. Faith communities (and I am not confining myself here to Jewish communities) are sometimes characterized by: 

  • attitudes that have potentially damaging impact for reporting abuse within the family or community, e.g. izzat (‘honour’)and sharam (‘shame’, compare Hebrew bushah), and which can lead to social exclusion or victimization;
  • powerful religious/community leaders of ‘closed’ communities who may not always respond in supportive ways to disclosures of abuse, or who put pressure on those in abusive marriages not to leave the marriage (e.g. because marriage is perceived as a divine covenant, or as being for life);
  • scriptures that lend themselves to justifying abusive or controlling behaviour, or to resisting separation/divorce even when a marriage is violent;
  • viewing a degree of violence as ‘acceptable’ or ‘normal’ in some circumstances or settings;
  • a lack of access to accommodation which provides for cultural/religious needs
  • difficulties pertaining to language or literacy, as well as to immigration status or financial resources.

Let me focus again on Judaism. Ironically, Judaism’s emphasis on family life and family values can be the very thing that makes it difficult for women suffering domestic abuse to come forward and ask for help. All too often, Jewish women may remain silent in the face of abuse on account of shame, embarrassment, a feeling of guilt, or of fear that they will not be believed. They may feel alone, that no-one else has experienced what they have and that, somehow, the abuse must be their fault. 

Research undertaken and information disseminated in the last ten years by the dedicated service Jewish Women’s Aid, highlights the scale of the problem and the need for a cross-communal response in dealing with this complex issue. 

The 2011 research, ‘You know a Jewish woman experiencing domestic abuse: Domestic abuse in the British Jewish Community’, reveals the following:

  • 68% of the British Jewish Community believe that abuse happens at the same rate in the Jewish community as in British society at large
  • 62% were not aware of a communal Rabbi publicly addressing the issue but where a Rabbi had, 88% had condemned abuse
  • Synagogues, communal organisations and leaders should do more to educate on the topic of domestic abuse
  • Young women need financial awareness training and post-pregnancy support
  • Jewish experiences should be understood in the context of other Black-Minority Ethnic (BME) community experiences.

Looking back at Jewish Scriptures, acts of sexual assault and abuse against women are regularly viewed in terms of violating male property rights (e.g. Deuteronomy 22:29). The husband is sometimes termed ba’al (‘master’), implying ownership and lordship. If a wife is physically harmed by someone, compensation is paid to her husband (e.g. Exodus 21:22). In the Mishnah and Talmud, too, there is no discussion of wife-beating as a distinct category of violence. Yet there is discussion around immodest behaviour considered worthy of punishment, which includes ‘going out with uncovered head, spinning wool with uncovered arms in the street, [and] conversing with every man’.  

Responsa literature, which includes rabbinic rulings, including on domestic abuse (7th-10th century C.E.), sees some declaring wife-beating unlawful, while others justify it under certain circumstances. Striking a wife without a reason is forbidden by all. However, violence against ‘bad wives’ is justified if it is for ‘educational’ purposes, or if a wife is not performing the duties required of her by Jewish law, or if she behaves immodestly, or curses her parents, husband, or in-laws. 

Moving next to Jewish medieval attitudes in the Muslim World, Rabbi Yehudai b. Nahman (Yehudai Gaon, 757–761) writes that: ‘…when her husband enters the house, [a wife] must rise and cannot sit down until he sits, and she should never raise her voice against her husband. Even if he hits her she has to remain silent, because that is how chaste women behave’ (Otzar ha-Ge’onim, Ketubbot 169–170). Moses Maimonides (1135–1204) recommends beating a ‘bad wife’ as an acceptable form of discipline: ‘A wife who refuses to perform any kind of work that she is obligated to do, may be compelled to perform it, even by scourging her with a rod’ (Ishut 21:10). 

In medieval Europe, attitudes in Jewish writings tend to reflect a Jewish society in which women held comparatively high social and economic status and many writings reject wife-beating without any qualification. Rabbi Peretz b. Elijah, for instance, writes: ‘one who beats his wife is in the same category as one who beats a stranger’. Some Rabbis considered violence as grounds for forcing a man to give a  get (that is, a divorce agreement). Rabbi Simhah argued that like Eve, ‘the mother of all living’ (Genesis 3:20), a wife is given to a man for living, not for suffering. 

Sixteenth century views acknowledge that wife-beating is wrong, yet tend to avoid releasing a woman from a bad marriage and Halakhah (Jewish law) is based on husbands’ dominant position in marriage. In more modern times, too, domestic abuse is not automatic grounds for Jewish divorce. An abused woman whose husband refuses to give her a divorce is considered an agunah, a chained or anchored woman.

The depiction of domestic abuse in Jewish sources through time is, therefore, mixed and sometimes ambiguous. 

The stimulus for my current community project is the partnership between, on the one hand, the Leeds City Council’s Domestic Violence Unit and, on the other, a range of Leeds faith communities. This partnership encourages religious and lay leaders, as well as other members of faith communities, to engage with the White Ribbon Campaign. One way to do this is through posting ‘selfies’ to make participants’ support visible and public. 

Last year in November I organised a roadshow at the Marjorie and Arnold Ziff Community Centre in Leeds to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. Along with members of Jewish and other faiths, I sourced quotations from many sacred scriptures to demonstrate that in accordance with portions of sacred text abuse against women and girls isn’t justified or legitimate. Acknowledging, as illustrated above, that in Judaism certainly, scope for ambiguity exists, it is these passages the Campaign seeks to highlight. 

Here are some examples:



The project seeks to demonstrate that a community-wide response can publicize and challenge domestic violence, alongside informing and empowering those who stand up to it. Shalom Bayit, maintaining peace and harmony in the home, is often seen as primarily a female responsibility, when it needs to be everyone’s responsibility. 

Jewish Women’s Aid does a fantastic job in helping hundreds of women locally and nationally whose lives have been blighted by domestic abuse. But more needs to be done in terms of preventative (rather than just reactive) measures if we are to break the vicious cycle. One way of doing that, I believe, is to engage with men and boys inside the community.

The project is aligned with wider campaigns on domestic abuse led by both Jewish Women’s Aid and the West Yorkshire Police. The funding we’ve secured from the Police and Crime Commissioner’s Safer Communities Fund will go some way towards enabling us to deliver the next phase of the project to a much wider audience over an extended period of time, and in doing so, we will have a much greater impact on both preventing and addressing the key issues surrounding domestic abuse against women and girls.

I would welcome your participation and involvement.

For further information, please contact me at either, or

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Interview with Saima Afzal: Founder of SAS RIGHTS

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Today in our occasional series on lesser-known organizations working to combat gender-based violence and rape culture we speak to Saima Afzal (MBE). Saima leads on training and research through her initiative called ‘Saima Afzal Solutions’ and has founded a Community Interest Company (CIC) related to this called SAS RIGHTS.

Before we turn to Saima’s many achievements in the arena of activism, let us congratulate her on her recent political victory in the Blackburn with Darwen (Lancashire) council district in the May local UK elections! Although Blackburn has one of the largest Asian populations of any council district, it has taken Saima multiple tries on the ballot and numerous battles both within and outside of the Blackburn Asian community to win. But Saima does not shy away from a fight


Saima was born in Pakistan and moved to the UK with her parents when she was 4 years old. She is the eldest of 11 children, 9 girls and 2 boys. Saima was victim to a forced ‘marriage’ (banned under the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014). She refuses to recognize the union, because she never said ‘yes’. She declares she has never had a husband, only an abuser and that she will only ever marry for love, as is her right under all of Sharia, UK law and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Saima has come up against many challenges, prejudices and barriers and this has fuelled her commitment to campaign for the rights of those who are oppressed and stigmatized by persistent social injustices in today’s UK.

Saima has worked extensively in community development for the past 15 years – particularly in relation to religion, gender and South Asian cultures of the UK. She has led projects to confront and challenge both domestic abuse and forced marriage, and has conducted research in the areas of drug and substance misuse, child sexual exploitation in South Asian communities, sexuality in Islam, childcare support and provision for South Asian women, and (mis)use of stop and search powers by police officers against members of minority communities – to name but a few.

Saima served for over 10 years as an Independent member of the Lancashire Police Authority. Her key contribution in this role focused on effective engagement with minority communities and the issues that affect them, such as: hate crime, use of stop and search powers, forced marriage, ‘honour’-based violence (more about the inverted commas in a moment!), and female genital mutilation, among others. In the course of this Saima developed a concept she calls ‘Parallel Engagement’ (to resist what she considers a dominant model of ‘Hierarchical Engagement’) and taught this to police officers. Saima also served as an Executive Board Member for the Association of Police Authorities in the capacity of national lead for Equality, Diversity & Human Rights (2007–12).

Between 2012–14 Saima served as an Assistant Commissioner for Policing in Lancashire, leading on the key portfolio area of supporting victims of crime. In 2015 Saima was appointed by the West Yorkshire Police Commission to lead on the Victims & BAME (= British English Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) Project. Additionally, Saima is recognized as a national safeguarding/public protection expert adviser on the National Crime Agency database, with specialization in dealing with cases involving forced marriages, ‘honour’-based abuse, trafficking, child sexual exploitation and other safeguarding crimes affecting BAME communities. She has served as an expert witness in court and spoken on such topics in numerous public media outlets.

Saima is an active human rights campaigner, seeking protection, as well as platforms of opportunity for members of marginalized communities. Saima was recognized for her prolific and dedicated work when she received the MBE for her Services to Policing and Community Relations in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list (June 2010).

‘Honour’-Based Abuse (HBA) and Community Coercion Control (CCC)

Honour-Based Abuse (HBA) or Honour Based Violence (HBV) is defined as a crime or an incident, which has, or which may have been committed to protect or defend the honour of a family or community.

Honour is an abstract concept and refers to an individual’s or group’s perceived quality of worthiness and respectability affecting both social standing and self-evaluation of an individual or institution such as a family, school, regiment or even nation. Certain groups – in both antiquity and modernity – are sometimes designated as honour cultures (or, sometimes, honour-shame cultures), because group or kin identity is particularly strongly developed and manifests in distinctive ways.

Saima is uncomfortable with the associations of the designations ‘honour’ or ‘honour killing’, which sometimes have a restrictive conception in view. Some media examples, for instance, tend to imply that HBA is pretty much entirely an ‘Asian problem’. Saima believes the situation is more nuanced and that all kinds of communities – including but not only Asian ones – exert damaging coercion and control. The model she has developed is called a model of Community Coercion Control (CCC) [see below, too]. In this model ‘community’ can refer to different and diverse set-ups in a case-by-case way. It emphasizes that coercive control (including as exerted by religious communities) encompasses a wide range of acts and behaviours designed to make a person subordinate and/or dependent, such as by isolating them from sources of support, or exploiting their resources and capacities, or by regulating their everyday behaviours, and thereby depriving them of the capacity for independence, or resistance, or escape. In its most severe forms coercive behaviour involves acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation used to harm, punish or frighten. Occasionally, CCC transpires in murder. Identifying and understanding the various patterns and mechanisms of CCC is the first step, according to Saima, for facilitating help and support for vulnerable persons. Intervention and facilitating help and support are other important dimensions of Saima’s work.

As ever, please help us to promote SAS and SAS RIGHTS. Saima has self-funded very many of her initiatives. She endeavours to attract funding to develop SAS and SAS RIGHTS and to pay for the expenses of volunteers who offer their energy and support. Towards obtaining such funding, Saima offers training, workshops, bespoke research and report writing, participation in relevant research grants, as well as consultancy, in a range of areas relevant to the Shiloh Project. You can find out more, or contact Saima, on:

Twitter: @saimaafzalmbe

Interview with Saima Afzal.

Tell us about your NGO and your own role!

I founded and now lead ‘Saima Afzal Solutions’ (SAS, active since 2011) and Community Interest Company (CIC) ‘SAS RIGHTS’ (since 2016). A CIC offers me more flexibility for the many different things I want to do to improve life for vulnerable and marginalized people in UK communities. Very often these vulnerable and marginalized people I support are women, often women from UK South Asian communities. This is because as a British woman of Pakistani heritage myself and as someone who lived and escaped from a forced ‘marriage’ and who continues to live in and now represents in local government a Lancashire community with a large South Asian contingent, such work just keeps finding me. Also, this work is not ‘just a job’ but my vocation and my life. When I see inequality in any form – be it Anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, homophobia… – I want to find ways to confront, resist and detoxify it.

My work for SAS is aimed at offering training (e.g to address religio-cultural and belief-based conflicts and public protection situations), subject matter expert advice, peer review, academic research and leading seminars, or lectures. Through the CIC I can diversify the work I undertake with SAS to include also such activities as peer mentoring, community engagement aimed at confidence and resilience building, collaboration with likeminded organizations and the development of materials to inform and raise awareness about matters central to SAS.

The Shiloh Project explores the intersections between, on the one hand, rape culture, and, on the other, religion. On some of our subsidiary projects we work together with third-sector organizations (including NGO’s and FBO’s). We also want to raise awareness and address and resist rape culture manifestations and gender-based violence directly. We’re interested to hear your answers to the following:

How do you see religion having impact on the setting where you are working – and how do you perceive that impact? Tell us about some of your encounters.

Religion and its manifold ways of exerting impact are everywhere in the settings I tend to work in!

Many of the vulnerable and marginalized persons I deal with are from Muslim, Hindu, or Sikh communities, as well as from Catholics of the Roma and Traveler communities. Religion infuses virtually all the manifold situations I encounter in the course of my work – including those involving violence, abuse and microaggressions. Sometimes it is hard to identify or explain precisely how – but religion is wrapped up with it. I don’t reject ‘religion’. My own parents are devout and I consider myself spiritual. I have seen religion create or contribute to problems and I’ve seen it be part of the solution.

I have a personal passion that drives my work in its various capacities, not least due to my own experience of forced ‘marriage’, rape and being denied equality of human rights.

From what I have seen, religious mantras, or distorted and ill-interpreted variants of them, are widely utilized as a vehicle to control people – women in particular Still today, despite the changes in the law of 1991, when rape within marriage was criminalized on the statute books, many women from religious backgrounds, including some Christian and Muslim ones, believe it is their husbands’ right to demand sex as part of their conjugal ‘rights’ enshrined in the contract of marriage. The notion of consent in each sexual encounter is often not considered, due to an assumption that consent is conferred once and for all in the marriage ceremony.

Religious mantras also often serve the agendas of those who disseminate them. Some that have damaging outworkings for women are used by men to retain and legitimate male control and female inequality. When these are in the name of Islam they do Islam an injustice and also provide fodder for far-right groups to fuel Islamophobic and therewith yet more toxic agendas. Too often I am trapped between toxic representatives of both the Muslim and of the right-wing extremist communities. I am blamed for being ‘deficiently Muslim’ and exposing Muslim communities to charges of misogyny and inequality (which do sometimes hold legitimacy) and on the other, I am charged with feeding Islamophobic discourse (which is never my purpose). Shining a critical light on how Islam is interpreted and subverted does not mean a rejection of Islam. It means using Islam for justice and good not for oppression and injustice.

I often work within predominantly British Asian Muslim communities with strong orthodox values relating to the roles of men and women. These roles are, in my experience, too often restrictively binary, as well as prescriptive, with particularly damaging consequences for women’s freedoms but also for the freedoms of men who do not conform to orthodox norms. Non-adherence to the allocated roles often attracts reprisals, and harsh punishments are enacted on both men and women for any perceived deviation from religious and other cultural norms.

The work I do often involves a clash between religious values and human rights. Matters of equality or of safeguarding legislative standards that are expected to be adhered to in the UK sometimes come into tension with certain values held by religio-cultural communities. This can be sensitive and tricky territory.

Crimes relating to forced marriage (FM), rape, female genital mutilation (FGM) or ‘honour’ based abuse (HBA) are actually not rare in the UK and I have often been involved in them as an adviser in policing and safeguarding contexts. Increasingly, too, issues such as South Asian gang activity and grooming and child sexual exploitation are emerging in the wider public domain. Religion, being so intricately entwined in British Asian communities and cultures, is always a presence. Sometimes it is drawn on to provide perpetrators with justification for their actions. Sometimes it removes and sometimes it instills inhibitors for the facilitation of crimes against vulnerable persons. It’s complicated. Religion fills many roles in these various situations.

I seek to educate women, men and young people across communities, to highlight the particular issues that affect or maybe disadvantage them and to ensure that appropriate support is made available.

Often I am viewed as a trouble-maker, or as unnecessarily antagonistic by faith leaders and influencers. But in my defense, I am not opposed to ‘religion’ or ‘faith’. I only challenge individuals when their words or actions threaten or violate others’ safety or rights to equality and human dignity.

The sensitive and often controversial nature of my work, whereby I, for example, seek to support women in sexually abusive and exploitative marriages in challenging claims to conjugal ‘rights’ that violate their bodies and humanity, often gets me into conflicts with members of their family or more extended community. My work in the area of prevention, education and empowerment has been viewed as ‘corruptive’, even heretical, or as ‘inciting divorce’ and family disharmony, including by some faith or community leaders. This comes with the territory.

I often have to conduct my work discreetly or when a crisis situation has arisen. Statutory institutions are often afraid to tread heavily on what are considered ‘religious sensitivities’ and there is resistance to and fear of offending faith and community leaders. As a woman of colour, raised in a British Asian, Muslim majority community, I am both inside and on the edge of the communities I represent and that can be an advantage, or disadvantage – and religiously loaded, too.

The private or hidden nature of some of the crimes I work with sometimes results in a denial of their existence and as such funds and resources can be hard to come by. These would, however, allow me to undertake invaluable, even life-saving, research, as well as to provide consistent and sustained engagement with women, men and children to explain the rights that religion can offer regarding gender-based violence and abuse.

The current HBA definition [see above!], in my view, is restrictive and also creates unconscious bias that the issues mentioned, such as FM or rape in marriage, are exclusively a South Asian and/or minority community phenomenon. I have developed an alternative model entitled ‘Community Coercion and Control’. This model seeks to be more nuanced and to facilitate more practitioner flexibility. It can be applied to any set of values and beliefs, across faith, nationality and ethnicity spectrums and as such helps remove the association bias that may have become unwittingly embedded within the current statutory definitions.

I use my CCC model in the reports that I am required to produce when assisting police forces in prosecuting cases that involve religious and/or cultural dynamics.

How do you understand ‘rape culture’ and do you think it can be resisted or detoxified? How does the term apply to the setting where you are working?

Rape culture operates wherever sex is used as a means to oppress and coerce. It is also about contexts where rape is not called by its name, or where sexual violence and exploitation are otherwise trivialized or not resisted. Rape culture is not only about rape itself (though I know that rape is not rare and happens also in my own community) but also about the many things that create an environment where sexually oppressive attitudes thrive and go unchallenged.

Religious communities, too, need to be detoxified. In these communities, sexual rights and varieties of expression, what is legal and what is not, need to be explained and discussed. But this can only occur when all individuals are empowered and given a voice and after community-based punishments and reprisals (which may be coercive and hard to pinpoint) are removed.

Misogyny, for instance, needs to be tackled at the lower levels of microaggression and not just in situations of crisis when the damage has been done. Crisis doesn’t just happen. It is often preceded by many far less visible or invasive factors, including the systemic factors that breed in settings where inequality and alienation are rife. Effective and open communication, hearing from and listening to all members of the community, nurturing empathy and long-term education are important for tackling misogyny – which feeds rape culture.

How does your project encounter or address gender-based violence and inequality?

In a number of ways, some of which I have already touched on. Often this begins with opening networks of communication, or doing research in affected communities. This might be with children in social care, for example, or in families or communities where crime cases have taken place and which the National Crime Agency sometimes refers to me.

My work through SAS and SAS RIGHTS seeks to address gender-based violence, abuse and inequality, including the complex things that give rise to them, by taking part in research, through engagement, education and awareness-raising projects. Detoxifying religion is part of this, too, as are empowerment of individuals and the creation of opportunities.

In relation to individual cases, my work seeks to, in partnership with the relevant statutory organization, facilitate civil protection or, in crisis and criminal cases, the prosecution of offenders.

How could those interested find out more about your CIC? How can people contribute and where will their money go?

I welcome hearing from individuals and representatives of likeminded organizations. SAS and its community-based arm SAS RIGHTS are there both for training or taking initiative in activism and for collaboration with those who share our ideals.



My email is and my Twitter handle, @saimaafzalmbe. You can also consult or refer others to the SAS website:

SAS and SAS RIGHTS is how I channel my experience and expertise. As with other CIC’s all profits go towards social betterment and benefiting vulnerable persons and communities. This includes a range of things, such as the production of films and other resources that raise awareness, running workshops for vulnerable persons to develop empowerment or recognize and realize opportunities, or peer mentoring.

What kinds of posts would you like to see on The Shiloh Project blog and what kinds of resources that come into our orbit would be of value to you?

I’d like to see more about research days or conferences, so persons with different expertise who care about the intersections of religion and rape culture can form networks or collaborate and share strategies and opportunities for research and project funding opportunities.

I’d also like to see the findings of such events publicized on the Shiloh Project blog.

A regular newsletter would be great, as well as posting about international opportunities for collaboration and exchanges.

 Thank you, Saima!

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Interview with Samantha Joo, founder of NGO Platform

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Today in the third installment of our occasional series profiling lesser-known NGOs we speak with Samantha Joo about Platform, the organization she founded. Platform is directed particularly at mentoring and empowering women in the Asian and Pacific Islander community. This is a new NGO and can use our full support and networks to get much more widely known. Spread the word!

Tell us about your NGO and your own role!

While I was teaching at Seoul Women’s University, I encountered a number of bright young women, mostly Christians, who felt lost. They wanted to serve God but didn’t know how. They did not want to pursue the limited options they had in the Korean churches – pastor’s wife, choir, women’s Bible study, etc. So I initially encouraged them to study abroad at theological schools in the USA but this option was an unobtainable luxury. And also, upon graduation, many of the students were again limited to academia or ministry, both extremely competitive and definitely not for everyone. This is when I began to think about a center for women to explore unique ways in which they can use their talents to serve God. But then I was too busy with teaching, advising, publishing, and working on another NGO in Korea. I did not have the time, resources, and energy to start a new organization. I just didn’t want more responsibilities at that point in my life.

When I quit everything and removed myself from everything familiar, I began subconsciously to re-evaluate my priorities. What is my ultimate life goal? This was and is still not an easy question to answer. However, I remembered the desire to develop a center to mentor passionate women. Yet taking a nebulous vision and making it into an actual organization is not a straightforward path. I experienced a year of major setbacks and another year of organizing headaches – scrambling for directors and volunteers, discussing potential names, formulating and reformulating the vision/mission statements, and doing the paperwork.

It was not until the third year of starting the NGO that I was able to set up concrete plans. Without pay and putting one’s own money into an organization was kind of scary. No one actually knows what will happen. Yet there was a calm center in the midst of the maelstrom. Maybe because I absolutely believed that there is a real need to invest in people, especially women, to become effective leaders for social justice. I guess it didn’t matter whether I succeeded or not, whether I humiliated myself or not. It was a worthy cause.

So what is our organization all about? Platform’s mission is to mentor women in the Asian-Pacific Islander (API) communities (for now) to become leaders for social justice. Whereas the mission statement of the nonprofit organization is directed at the API community, our first event, the Spring workshop (‘Visualize into Reality: Workshop for Emerging Leaders’ – 21–23 March 2018) is actually open to everyone.

We have seven facilitators and one consultant who have developed and will be leading the workshops. We are at present marketing the event but since the organization is new, it has been challenging to find funding and to get people to register for the workshops. But, again, I believe we will get over this obstacle just as we have been able to surmount other difficulties. And I should say that I am not by nature an optimist but a realist.

The Shiloh Project explores the intersections between, on the one hand, rape culture, and, on the other, religion. On some of our subsidiary projects we work together with third-sector organizations (including NGOs and FBOs). We also want to raise awareness and address and resist rape culture manifestations and gender-based violence directly. We’re interested to hear your answers to the following:

How do you see religion having impact on the setting where you are working – and how do you perceive that impact? Tell us about some of your encounters.

My religious background, Christianity, has direct impact on my work. My Christian values have informed my vision for social justice and the way I live my life. For me, the incarnation of Christ, being present for the marginalized, ultimately embodies the very essence of what it means to be a Christian.

Initially, I wanted to make Platform into a progressive Christian organization. I had looked at many of the programs at theological schools and seminaries. Based on my analysis of these programs, I thought Platform would be a great complement. It would provide practical steps for non-ministerial students to explore the nonprofit sector. But I wanted people from all religious and non- religious backgrounds, too, to be able to participate in the events. The diversity of the participants is important because it will enrich the workshops. Therefore, I decided to make the organization non-affiliated with any religious organization.

We have marketed our event to nonprofit organizations and universities, but I personally have targeted theological schools/seminaries, churches, and other progressive Christian organizations. Nothing concrete has yet developed out of this marketing strategy. However, I intend to form partnerships with theological schools, especially Iliff School of Theology (Denver, CO). I have purposefully avoided the more conservative/evangelical schools and organizations. From my perspective, it is better to focus on institutions that may potentially be receptive rather than waste energy on places where our mission would possibly be problematic.

How do you understand ‘rape culture’ and do you think it can be resisted or detoxified? How does the term apply to the setting where you are working?

 I think any environment that does not value women equally with men has the potential to condone rape culture in which women are devalued and objectified, making them potential victims of unwanted sexual advances. The reason why I started the NGO was the failure of churches, especially those in Korea and Korean-American communities, to provide equal opportunities for non-straight men. In valuing only certain men, they allow others to be devalued and, in consequence, mistreated and/or violated. Such denigration applies also to women. I have heard male pastors denigrate women from the pulpit and seen them relegate women to menial tasks. I have also experienced firsthand belittling microaggressions. Rather than become a haven for the marginalized in society, churches have often encouraged and actually become perpetuators of rape culture. Unfortunately, I am aware of too many episodes in which churches have tried to ignore, hide, or outright silence the cries of survivors.

Given the prevalence of this rape culture, I believe we need to resist especially within the church. This may be an impossible task since patriarchy has its foothold in most churches, conservative or progressive. But if we empower more women in roles of leadership whether in politics, churches, or nonprofit organizations, we begin to set a different tone. Women cannot be devalued; women should not be objectified. In our organization, women are the directors and facilitators. They are models for other women but also for men who come to value the leadership of women.

 How does your project encounter or address gender-based violence and inequality?

 Interestingly, four out of our eight facilitators for our Spring workshops are at present working for domestic violence organizations. There are probably more domestic violence organizations in API communities than any other type of organization. This is not, I think, because there is more domestic violence in API communities. Rather, the specific needs of API (regarding language, culture, history, tradition, etc) are not being met by more generic domestic violence organizations. There is an urgent need to address the concerns of API domestic violence survivors. By sharing their own experience in API domestic violence organizations, facilitators will give insight into the hidden world of battered women and children, as well as into the male perpetrators who are also in some ways victims of their culture. Not all participants will be interested in serving this community, but they will definitely be exposed to stories that will likely transform the way in which they understand domestic violence. I know I have been transformed through our initial discussions about the workshops. I have tremendous respect for these facilitators who encounter domestic violence on a daily basis but still have the fortitude to return to work. They are our communities’ heroes.

How could those interested find out more about your NGO? How can people contribute and where will their money go?

People can go to our website ( or our FaceBook page to learn more about our organization. They can make a donation on the website or through our GoFundMe page. We are actually trying to create ten scholarships for low-income students to attend our Spring workshop (March 21-23, 2018).

What kinds of posts would you like to see on The Shiloh Project blog and what kinds of resources that come into our orbit would be of value to you?

 I ultimately believe that stories transform people. Facts, stats, and data are important but they do not impact or change people. They make people more knowledgeable but they do not give access to the inner world of real people. Stories move people; they affect them on a visceral level. So I think personal stories from all around the world would be very valuable.

Read Samantha’s article ‘Counter-Narratives: Rizpah and the “Comfort Women” Statue’ here.

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