As part of ongoing efforts to raise awareness in the diverse South Asian community, and in response to a clear need among survivors to share their experiences with religion and spirituality, Sakhi established the Faith-Based Initiative. In addition to speaking with religious leaders and presenting on domestic violence in places of worship, Sakhi has also listened to what domestic violence survivors have to say on this critical topic.
After conducting an initial survey, the Faith-Based Initiative has held three focus groups with survivors to gather information on faith and violence: on July 11, 2007; September 26, 2007; and April 22, 2008. Questions centered on the role of religion and spirituality in the survivors’ personal experiences and their attempts to find support in their communities.
Sakhi staff members and domestic violence advocates facilitated the discussions, which involved survivors—typically six to eight—hailing from different religious and national backgrounds engaging in free-flowing conversation.
Survivors provided varied and diverse responses to specific questions, but in many cases voiced the need for increased community and religious support. In response to the question, “Was domestic violence an issue that your religious community ever discussed?,” for instance, many survivors said they found support from their own understanding of their religion, but hoped for more support in religious communities, with a firmer stance within faith communities against domestic abuse.
Along similar lines, participants discussing the intersection of feminism and faith activism at the most recent focus group said there was an absence of an appropriate cultural or religious context into which they could plug in their understanding and advocacy of women’s issues. There was a shared sense of agreement that in spite of individual accomplishments, additional avenues of support were required in religious institutions to confront domestic violence.
“What I found most intriguing about the focus group was that even though most of the women there had been let down by their faith in some way—largely because of their decision to shed light on their situation—they still felt strongly pulled by it,” said Sakhi Development Associate Priti Bali, who attended the third focus group on faith and activism. “The women were also very adamant in pointing out that none of the holy books accept this sort of treatment of women.”