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Valuing Women: Making women visible

Valuing Women: Making women visible

This report explores what can be learned from how Christian charities provide support to women experiencing multiple and severe disadvantage. (2022)

The experience of abuse, trauma, mental health problems, homelessness, isolation, poverty, and sexual exploitation, is a reality for many women. These experiences, and the women who live through them, commonly go unrecognised, and the support available is often limited. When women are unable to access effective, trustworthy, and reliable helping services, there can be fatal consequences.    

This report, written on behalf of Theos by Kathryn Hodges and Sarah Burch, explores what can be learned from how Christian charities provide support to women experiencing multiple and severe disadvantage. The in–depth study, undertaken during the pandemic, showcases the distinctive approach of staff and volunteers from six Christian organisations and how they made the women they worked with truly visible.   

Four clear themes emerged from the research: the trusting relationships needed to support women experiencing multiple and severe disadvantage; the way the faith and values of staff and volunteers informed the way they met women; the utilisation of prayer by some in their work; and the tensions and opportunities found in resourcing helping services.   

We recommend:

1. Christian charities need to be recognised and valued locally and nationally for their work in the community, no matter the size or perceived impact of their provision. They have long–term understanding of the nature of women’s experiences in the community and the barriers/complexity of accessing helping services for women; they hold a history of the things that have happened. They have significant knowledge, understanding and relationships which need to be valued and incorporated in local and national policy, planning and service delivery.

2. Relational and trauma informed approaches to care are well evidenced, but the application to practice is harder, particularly within restrictive funding scenarios. Much can be learnt from the way the Christian charities involved in this study provided support and incorporated into wider practice. It is essential that providers of care and support for women understand that complex histories of trauma have significant implications on help–seeking. Helping services must be present for women, when they wanted support, rather than at prescribed times. Women should not be ‘discharged’ for ‘not engaging’. Positive outcomes are relative to each and every woman, they cannot be based on policy derived priorities for behaviour change.

3. Services and staff need support in challenging the bad practice, unhelpful service provision or oppressive systems that they witness. Current mechanisms are falling short. This is not only very harmful for women, but also for the staff and volunteers who support them.

4. Repeatedly it has been evidenced that safe, secure, and supported housing for women is a priority. There is an opportunity here for faith–based organisations (FBOs) to bring their unconditional approaches to care, long term relationships, and alternative funding and resourcing, to consider how they can develop effective residential support for women.

5. Elements of this research that would benefit from being explored further.

a. There is limited research exploring women and FBOs, in terms of those receiving and providing care, and this should be remedied given the likely proportion of women in both groups.

b. Also, it would be useful to investigate further the threads of connecting reflective practice and prayer in care provision, and the impact of ‘going the extra mile’ on staff and volunteers.

6. Women need to be made visible at every level in the community and beyond. The situation for women experiencing severe and multiple disadvantage is complex. This needs to be witnessed, and action taken to challenge the ongoing failure to adequately respond and support women. There is space here for faith–based organisations who undertake direct work to consider if they want to campaign and lobby for change. It is for each organisation to decide if and how it wants to make visible the invisible. Staff and volunteers would benefit from support when taking social action, or in deciding not to take it, balancing the tensions of supporting women whilst fighting for justice. 

Read the full report here

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Photo by Jorge Salvador on Unsplash 

Kathryn Hodges

Kathryn Hodges

Kathryn Hodges is a registered social worker with over twenty years’ leadership and practice experience in social care, research, and higher education. She co–founded PraxisCollab, a social enterprise providing social research, training, and consultancy. She is also a visiting fellow at the Bakhita Centre, St Mary’s University. 

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Charity, Mental Health, Vulnerability


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