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Engaging clergy to address domestic violence: International approaches


The scholarship that examines clergy engagement in domestic violence interventions is extensive. Despite nuanced evidence, the scholarship generally agrees that clergy are generally influential and well-positioned to respond to domestic violence in religious communities, but often lack understanding of how their own discourses and responses might unwittingly reinforce negative norms, attitudes or situations, and how to support victims and perpetrators in ways that consider their complex psychological states to minimise safety risks. The same scholarship is generally positive about the prospects of involving clergy in addressing domestic violence provided that they are trained to understand how their respective communities experience domestic violence, have the theological acumen to address distorted perceptions that involve religious beliefs and contribute to negative beliefs and attitudes, and show willingness to collaborate with secular and other stakeholders working to address domestic violence, integrating with wider referral systems. Considerably fewer studies have assessed the effectiveness of clergy-centred interventions in ways that can evidence the specific mechanisms by which clergy involvement results in positive outcomes for domestic violence victims/survivors and the minimisation of the problem in their communities.

This webinar aims to add to this scholarship by means of ethnographic and practical insights by specialised researchers and practitioners who work directly with clergy and theological traditions to address domestic violence in their respective communities. The panel will explore different approaches of engaging with religious communities and clergy in efforts to address domestic violence in different religious contexts with the aim of achieving knowledge exchange across different contexts, to share lessons and to identify good practices and challenges from different communities around the world.


Engaging Clergy to Address Domestic Violence: Taking Count of Current Approaches Internationally and Assessing their Effectiveness, the Case of Ethiopia

Ms Haregewoin Cherinet

Domestic Violence a common type of Gender Based Violence (GBV), particularly wife beating is taken as justified by the majority of Ethiopians, despite the 2005 Criminal Code, which has made it criminal. Faith occupies uppermost position in the lives of the people; who observe strictly anything that comes in the name of religion. Socio-cultural and/or traditional practices often disguised as religious requirements and practiced are known to continue making negative impact on women’s wellbeing. The views that (a) women were created inferior to men, and their inferiority taken as God given, (b) the woman was cursed, and all are still cursed, because Eve misled Adam into eating the forbidden fruit still prevail. Understanding causes of GBV at three levels: (i) direct and immediate; (ii) indirect and short-term; and (iii) underlying and long-term causes led the researcher to work on the underlying cause. The underlying or fundamental cause is taking women’s rights violations as tradition; sustaining them through folklore, using religion as cover. The Bible, the foundation of human rights; has addressed the issue thousands of years before the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (HDHR). Further, the evidenced reduction of FGM and Early Marriage is markedly attributed to the involvement of religious leaders in addressing the practices. The intervention would be collaborative work involving the Church; government and non-governmental organizations, community based organizations and professionals. The Church could employ its strong influence on the community to change wrong attitudes starting from men and women’s equality at creation, responsibility of both in disobedience and in salvation.

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Building clergy preparedness to respond to domestic violence in Ethiopia: Approaches and lessons from project dldl/ድልድል

Dr Romina Istratii, Ethiopia

Project dldl/ድልድል is a research and innovation project dedicated to the development and strengthening of religio-culturally sensitive, domestic violence alleviation systems in Ethiopia, Eritrea and the UK. The project is informed by and builds upon previous ethnographic research with Ethiopian Orthodox Täwahәdo communities in Northern Ethiopia and it is guided by evidence that showed a prevalence of religious language and the clergy in married life and the experience of domestic violence in rural and urban communities, but equally the lack of preparedness among many clergy to respond with theological confidence and an awareness of the complex psychology of victims and perpetrators and of the potential risks involved. Among other activities, the project employs dialogical and reflective approaches to help the clergy become more aware of the complexities of domestic violence in their societies, equip them with theological knowledge and confidence to speak about marriage-related issues and domestic violence in their communities, but also to create ‘safe spaces’ for sharing experiences and lessons openly. In the presentation, I will present the project’s approach and lessons learned so far on the ground.

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Safe in Faith: A pastoral response to domestic abuse in the Catholic Church in England and Wales

Ms Nikki Dhillon Keane, UK

Research and clinical experience show that religious survivors of domestic abuse have specific needs. These are frequently unmet by secular services, which have insufficient understanding of their faith perspective, and by faith communities, which often have insufficient understanding of domestic abuse.

The Safe in Faith initiative aims to provide trauma-informed and gender-informed support through a team of specially trained clergy and religious, through faith-literate counsellors and psychotherapists and peer support. We explore aspects of survivor experiences specific to Catholic spirituality, and the effects of spiritual abuse. Development of the approach is rooted in the experiences of survivors, and is survivor-led and safety-focused.

This presentation argues that a safety –focused approach to the support of survivors is not only necessary, but is more in tune with Catholic teaching than the traditional reconciliation-focused approach.

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Spirit and Solace: Black churches and Domestic Abuse

Dr Ava Kanyeredzi, UK

Black majority churches are churches of any denomination, where most of the congregants are of African or Caribbean heritage. With an over 100-year existence within the UK, Black majority churches initially arose out of a need to worship and assimilate as newly migrated citizens into the UK, and in response to racist exclusions from existing churches. I am one of the lead members of the Black Church Domestic Abuse Forum, convened in 2016 to provide resources and training to church leaders. We have found churches and church leaders to be very receptive to the training and open to receiving support to become more responsive to reports of domestic abuse. My current research aims to promote effective relationships between Black majority church communities and secular organisations to better support victim-survivors, and to identify within churches, good practices in domestic abuse responses and those that can be improved.

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Presenters’ bios

Ms Heregewoin Cherinet

Haregewoin Cherinet is a public health professional, a Food Scientist, Gender Expert and a Theologian. She holds a Masters degree in Public Health from the Addis Ababa University, BSc. in Food and Management Science from the University of London, and a Bachelor of Theology (BTh) from the Holy Trinity Theological College in Addis Ababa; Diplomas in Nursing: from the General Nursing Council of Ethiopia; and the General Nursing Council for England and Wales. She was lecturer at the Addis Ababa University, Faculties of Medicine and Agriculture. She is a founding and Board member and still active member of the Association of Women’s Sanctuary and Development (AWSAD) essentially an Association against Gender Based Violence in Ethiopia). In collaboration with the Holy Trinity Theological College of Addis Ababa; has undertaken a research: “Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Church and Its Believers’ Attitude about Women; an input for her book titled Women and Donkeys in Ethiopia focussing on Gender Based Violence.

Dr Romina Istratii

Dr Romina Istratii is UKRI Future Leaders Fellow at the School of History, Religions and Philosophies at SOAS University of London. She is Principal Investigator of the UKRI-funded project “Bridging religious studies, gender & development and public health to address domestic violence: A novel approach for Ethiopia, Eritrea and the UK” and creator of project dldl/ድልድል. She is a critical international development thinker and practitioner from Eastern Europe with decade-long experience in developing cosmology-sensitive and people-centred methodologies and approaches for analysing and addressing issues with gender dimensions in religious societies of Africa. She is the author of the monograph Adapting Gender and Development to Local Religious Contexts: A Decolonial Approach to Domestic Violence in Ethiopia (Routledge, 2020).

Ms Nikki Dhillon Keane

Nikki Dhillon Keane is a therapist, trainer and activist who works with survivors of domestic abuse and sexual violence in a variety of settings. Nikki runs the Signs of Hope Counselling Service for Caritas Westminster, where she is developing the Safe in Faith initiative. She is the domestic abuse advisor to the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales department for social justice. Nikki is a co-founder of the Faith and VAWG Coalition, an associate lecturer at St Mary’s University, and author of Domestic Abuse in Church Communities: A Safe Pastoral Response (

Dr Ava Kanyeredzi

Dr Ava Kanyeredzi is a Senior Lecturer in Psychology at the University of East London. Her research interests include intersectional feminist perspectives on experiences of the body, violence and abuse, gender, race, culture, faith, mental distress, and forensic psychiatric facilities using qualitative, visual/creative methods. Ava is a lead member of the Black Church Domestic Abuse Forum ( and arrived at this project via previous research with African and Caribbean women on violence/abuse, all of whom shared their faith religion/spirituality as important. She is the author of Race, Culture and Gender: Black Female Experiences of Violence and Abuse (Palgrave Macmillan, 2018).

Watch the full webinar below: