According to Shah, this large scale study indicated that a woman’s religion was an important indicator of whether or not she would seek help. “Only 24 percent of Hindu women sought help, and 22 percent of Muslim women, but 32 percent of Christian women sought help,” she noted.
Shah’s own study “echoed” the national health data, in that “57 percent of women – a very large number of women – actually tell their pastor” about domestic violence.
She pointed to two key factors in the higher reporting of abuse. “These women are very closely involved, very actively involved, in their faith community. When they arrive in their weekly prayer meetings and they’ve got a gash across their face, or they’re lacking a few teeth, they get noticed.”
Furthermore, “pastors that are usually male visit the homes, and they repeatedly visit the homes, so at some point, the husband who’s beating up his wife is shamed into stopping beating his wife.”
This indicates a “very interesting connection” between home ownership and seeking help for domestic abuse, “because many of those women literally open the doors and bring their pastors into this very violent and very dark situation of their homes.”
“It was a unique finding. We were not looking for this,” added Shah.
The Georgetown researcher then pointed to the underlying factors that accompany an improvement in circumstances after conversion.
“Conversion activates in the converts a powerful new concept of value and initiative,” she explained.
It offers “a radically different way of seeing themselves: seeing themselves as a new creation, a new identity, made in the image of God, seeking a better life for themselves.”
“Poverty is inherently depressing. It’s discouraging. It’s debilitating. It breeds hopelessness: ‘why bother?’” she reflected.
Yet with a new Christian vision, “The future is not terrifying. It can be achieved. Because God is with them, they can invest in the future. It’s not something to ignore, not something to be terrified of.”
Moreover, through the combination of a new sense of identity and access to credit in microfinance, “the converts may harness their agency and capability into investing in the future to improve their lives.”
Conversion, then, first “changes who they believe themselves to be, it changes their self-conception, their belief in who they are, and secondly, it changes how they can change their family’s future and themselves.”
Shah noted that although she has completed a pilot study, “we’re in the process of doing more rigorous research which will confirm these findings.”