These last couple of weeks have been a time of extremes. My original intention when asked to write this blog had been to write about violence against women and girls and reflect on domestic violence and those suffering this, or who have fled and are living with their children in refuges. But the sheer horror of what is happening in Ukraine makes it hard to focus our attention entirely on people in this country, even though of course their need is not in any way diminished by the needs of others.

At the time of writing, the United Nations estimated that 3.5m people had fled Ukraine, in addition to tens of thousands of people who are ‘internally displaced’, that is, they have fled their homes but are still somewhere within Ukraine. 90% of those who have fled are women and children. The UN is warning about the risk of sexual exploitation and abuse, including trafficking.

In the UK, 141 women were killed by men in 2021. There was a rise of 6% in domestic violence crimes recorded by police. While men and women suffer domestic abuse, we know that the majority of victims are female and the majority of perpetrators are male. These crimes disproportionately affect women and it doesn’t need a war zone for this to be the case.

On the Feast of the Annunciation on Friday we reflected on the unique role that Mary plays in our Christian faith, and how her simple ‘yes’ forms a part of the story of the Incarnation, the Resurrection, and our salvation. On this Sunday, Mothering Sunday, we remember and honour the women who have been meaningful in our lives: mothers, grandmothers, aunts and all who have played a mothering role for us.

How do we reconcile this honour and respect for women, and their vital role, with the violence that we know women experience in this country, and the risk women are at fleeing Ukraine simply as a result of their gender?

For you have delivered my soul from death,
    my eyes from tears,
    my feet from stumbling.
 I walk before the Lord
    in the land of the living.
 I kept my faith, even when I said,
    ‘I am greatly afflicted’.

Ps 116 vv8-10

There isn’t a neat way to tie all this up into a final heartwarming message, but there are some things you can do.

Make it clear that survivors of domestic violence are safe in your church. Print off and display one of Refuge’s posters and place it in one or more prominent locations, perhaps on a noticeboard and in the toilet spaces.

Think about how you and your church can support refugees, including those fleeing the war in Ukraine. Read the JPIC blog to find out more. This doesn’t need to be complicated: it could be as simple as donating to DEC instead of buying flowers on Sunday – with the intended recipient’s blessing, of course!

And of course, we pray, here in words from the Mothers Union 16 days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence:

Compassionate God,
may those experiencing all forms of violence
be given courage, hope and the means
to break free from their abuse.

We pray for all who live in fear of violence
and despair that life will ever change:

Bring to an end their suffering;
restore their sense of worth.
Bring to light deeds of abuse hidden in darkness,
that they may find safety and refuge, free from fear.

We pray for all to follow your example
of treating women with equality and respect.
We pray for the dawn of a better world
where justice and peace may flourish. Amen

If I am going to allow myself a small heartwarming thought to end with, it has to be the overwhelming joy of the return to the UK of Nazanin Zaghari- Ratcliffe, and that heartrending, incredulous cry of ‘Is that Mummy?’. A moment to treasure this Mothering Sunday.