Confession: I listen to The Archers.
For those not familiar with it, The Archers is a radio soap opera set in a fictional farming community somewhere in middle England. While I love many of the characters, laugh at others and get frustrated by still others, there is one character I really don’t like: Rob. Rob is a bully. He is selfish and manipulative. And now he’s married.
Helen, his wife, has been through her share of troubles, including an eating disorder and a broken heart, but when she first met Rob he charmed her. Now he’s got her name on the marriage certificate, he’s making her life a misery, slowly and methodically taking away her freedom, driving away her friends and distancing her from her family. Her anorexia has returned, and she lives in fear, afraid of upsetting him and losing him.
It’s almost too painful to listen to. Almost.
I would have given up, except that I know the same thing is happening to untold numbers of real women around the world. Helen is fictional; she can walk away at the end of an episode. I can turn off my radio. But what about those who can’t?
Last Tuesday was International Women’s Day. While I’m no fan of the kind of ‘empowerment’ drives that seek to ‘help’ women by denigrating men, I do think it’s important not to turn our eyes away from the kind of suffering and struggles experienced disproportionately by women. The facts are well-known: women account for two thirds of the world’s poorest citizens; 31 million girls of primary school age are not in school; an estimated 1.2m children are trafficked into slavery each year, 80% of whom are girls; 35% of women worldwide have experienced physical and/or sexual violence.
I can’t help Helen, but by listening I might just learn something that helps me to help others. Her friend Kirsty, for instance, is not going to give up on trying to get Helen the help she isn’t yet able to admit she needs.
I need to keep informing myself about the world beyond my borders so that when it’s my turn to help I won’t walk by on the other side of the road in fear for my own security, but will stop, bind up my neighbour’s wounds and help her – or him – to a place of healing and wholeness.
So that’s why I won’t turn away.
This article first appeared in LICC’s Connecting with Culture.