Members of Mothers’ Union groups from throughout the Diocese of Derry and Raphoe gathered in St Columb’s Cathedral, on Saturday 26th November, for a service to mark the organisation’s ‘16 Days’ Global Day of Action – which is the highpoint of MU’s campaign against gender-based violence.

Over the sixteen day period from Friday the 25th of November until Saturday the 10th of December, Mothers’ Union globally is raising awareness of, and calling for an end to, gender-based violence in all forms and in all societies.

The service was led by the Dean of Derry, Very Rev Raymond Stewart, who was assisted by the Diocesan Chaplain of MU, Rev Liz Fitzgerald and Rev Andrea Cotter. Among those in the congregation were the Deputy Mayor of Derry City and Strabane District, Cllr Angela Dobbins, and the Deputy Lieutenant for County Londonderry, Lady Girvan, who is a strong supporter of Mothers’ Union.

It’s estimated that a third of women worldwide suffer domestic or sexual abuse, prompting MU’s call for ‘#No more1in3’. While men and women can both be victims of gender-based violence, statistics show that women and girls are particularly at risk.

The congregation, which was comprised largely of women, was told that domestic violence was a crime and that tackling cultural attitudes was the responsibility of men and boys, as well as women and girls.

The guest speak was the author and editor of Vox Magazine, Ruth Garvey-Williams, who has investigated experiences, perceptions and attitudes surrounding domestic abuse across churches in Ireland. Ms Garvey-Williams thanked Derry and Raphoe Mothers’ Union for “leading the way in the church on this island” in responding to domestic violence.

The Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, Rt Rev Andrew Forster, described Mothers’ Union as “a stone in the shoe” that was helping the church to look out and support and advocate for victims of domestic violence. Bishop Andrew said the Diocesan President, Jacqui Armstrong, had been at the forefront of that work and thanked her for being “a voice for the voiceless”.

During the service, the congregation stood in silence for a period of three minutes, during which they prayed and reflected. Roberta Merrick lit a candle at the front of the Cathedral as a symbol of the light of Christ shining through the darkness of abuse. Rev Andrea Cotter shared with the congregation about a new course which Mothers’ Union has developed, in conjunction with Bishops’ Appeal and Tearfund, to counteract domestic abuse and gender-based violence. Readings at the service were delivered by Rev Fitzgerald, Dean Stewart, Jean Thompson, Eva Wright, Irene Hewitt, Ger West, Kay Clarke (Diocesan Vice-President) and Janice Quigley.