Review of Elaine Storkey, Scars Across Humanity: Understanding and Overcoming Violence Against Women (SPCK)
Elaine Storkey’s much anticipated ninth book focusses on the horrific reality of male violence against women globally. During her time as Tearfund’s President she heard stories from women across the world and in her counselling practice hearing the stories of many women abused by men.
The book covers violence against women globally, merging personal testimony, statistics, research and expert views on the issues raised. She starts the book before a female child is born, with sex selective abortion and the killing of girl babies (female infanticide), exploring the reasons why girls have so little value in many communities globally. She explores cultural forms of abuse found in dowry and honour based violence, moving on to look at early and forced marriage, female genital mutilation, violence in the home, prostitution and trafficking, rape and finally at the ways women are sexually abused throughout war.
The book is tough reading, it should have a warning sticker declaring “this book should change your life”. It is impossible to be unchanged while reading the harrowing accounts from women and the statistics that represent all-encompassing violence done to women and girls the world over.
As the church begins to wake up to some forms of violence against women, with a majority focus on trafficking, Elaine’s book brings together lots of strands that have remained (for the most part) disconnected from each other. Her intellectual capacity and passion for women’s liberation are joined as she moves from talking powerfully about women’s lives to exploring the reasons violence towards women exists the world over.
She gives a succinct overview of evolutionary biology and the ways it is ill-equipped to explain the abuse and violence women face. Moving on to critique sociological analyses and coming to various conclusions about where abuse of women and girls is rooted. The last two chapters reflect on religion and abuse.
It is rare that a book about violence against women from a Christian perspective is able to adequately tackle the issues; any Christian writers can be blinded to the ways Christian culture are part of the problem. However, Elaine engages fully with critiques of both Islam and Christianity as fundamentally oppressive to women. She concludes that religion can be a liberating force for women, and suggests that a Christian theology of free-will makes abuse of women neither necessary nor impossible to end.
As a specialist working in the area of violence against women, I really welcome this book and the analysis it offers. While Christians remain blind to the interconnected nature of all forms of violence against women, we will struggle to respond effectively to any specific aspect of the issues. I am so excited to have a book I can recommend to those wanting to know more about the issues! As a Christian, I am so grateful for Elaine’s careful and robust analysis; secular work to end violence against women is both critical and concerned with religious responses, and this book is an example of Christians approaching these issues in an expert way.
Many books could be written to expand upon “Scars Across Humanity”. To have covered so many aspects of violence against women in so few pages is an achievement in itself. The global focus of the book limits the ability to look at the unique aspects of abuse within each cultural context, but there has been a need for a long time for a book that will describe the global reality for women, from a Christian perspective, and this is that book.
Scars Across Humanity clearly and powerfully explains the “what and why” of violence against women, but the next stage must be asking “How?” How do we change things? Towards the end of the book, Elaine lists a number of organisations that are working to make a difference and hopefully as more people read this book, it will be a catalyst for many to begin working to change the world for women and girls.
For those who are interested in the “how” of bringing about change for women and girls, I am working with Gender Reconciliation International, to do a three day workshop on Gender Reconciliation. It is a really good step towards becoming aware and able to respond to violence against women globally. You can find out more about the training at Spark.
Natalie Collins is a Gender Justice Specialist. She set up
Spark and works to enable individuals and organisations to prevent and respond to male violence against women. She is also the Creator of DAY, an innovative youth domestic abuse and exploitation education programme. She speaks and writes on understanding and ending gender injustice nationally and internationally. You can find out more about her here.