Women must be free, and “never again slaves of fear and violence”. These words were written by a woman, an Augustinian nun, a prioress of a cloistered monastery, on the occasion of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, which is celebrated every year, November 25.
These words deserve to be remembered and repeated not only because violence against women is a daily massacre that knows no respite, but especially because they call upon women to raise their heads, to take in hand their own destiny and to report it.
The author, Sister Maria Rosa Bernardinis, has been the Mother Prioress of the Santa Rita Monastery in Cascia for almost four years. Her message is clear: one cannot remain silent in the face of violence and it is above all the women themselves who must speak out about it. Of course it is not easy for those who suffer abuse and bullying, it is not easy especially in environments still culturally marked by a long history of subordination and oppression of women. A history in which women have not only known fear, but have also inexplicably aroused it whenever they have tried to emancipate themselves from the subordinate roles to which they had been relegated. A fear that has clearly not disappeared, if there are still so many men who kill women. Today, many women are free, and in several countries there are laws that condemn gender discrimination. Witch-hunting is now only a memory of dark times, of a past that is being reconsidered. However, there are still many female victims of harassment and rape. The abuse takes place almost always within the walls of a domestic environment, and the most likely aggressors are the partner, an ex-partner, husbands, boyfriends, suitors, or violent men, and who are so for often trivial reasons. The fight against this scourge is a worldwide emergency. It is even more so today, at the time of the coronavirus, in which restrictive measures often trap female victims of abuse, whether it be physical or psychological, at home.
It is comforting that the words of encouragement come from a woman, a consecrated woman at that, and a woman who speaks from within the ecclesial community. From there, gradually a women’s word makes its way, emerges, and challenges. Sister Maria Rosa explains firmly that “it is necessary to educate to respect, to love and not to hate, commencing with young people”. Institutions must “be determined, adamant, sensitive and effective”. Men must learn that “love is not possessed, it is not obtained by force; it is to receive and to give”. In addition, the Mother Prioress urges the female world to react. “To women, I say that they are not alone and that they must not remain silent in the face of violence, but speak out at the first signs of it. To ask for help is the first step towards a return to real life”.
Women “are pragmatic and know how to patiently weave the threads of life”, Pope Francis recently said.
by Romilda Ferrauto