We are often encouraged to listen for, hear and respond to the voices of those who are seldom heard. But it can sometimes be difficult to determine to whom those voices may belong. Looking around the world there is probably a fair cross section of opinions as to who has or hasn’t been heard.
As an example, looking at Burma, or Myanmar, as it is now titled, there are some interesting and shifting dynamics to add to this debate. The recently ousted democratically elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi received the Nobel Peace Prize fin 1991 for speaking up on behalf of the powerless, pressing for democracy against army rule. But more recently she has been criticised for not hearing the voices of the Rohingya people many of whom escaped to Bangladesh to escape state violence. For seeming not to listen and respond to the voices of that minority group, she turned, almost overnight, from hero to villain in the eyes of the international community. Now, again, the crowds are on the streets calling for the army to release Aung San and a return to democratic government.
Within our safeguarding world we have focussed a lot in recent years on listening to the voices of survivors of abuse, aiming to learn from their experience. To this end the Church has published the ‘Respect and Respond’ study guide, written by a group of survivors themselves, which we trust is making its way through to churches so that plans can be made for its use. This is a good example of how the church has responded well to a group who have previously felt ignored or at best side-lined.
In a very real sense, the Church realised that survivors were a seldom heard group and decided to do something about it. But it still requited some brave individuals to step forward and make the case for it to listen with care. That sense of listening to survivors of abuse in a wide variety of settings is now getting well embedded, getting traction from movements such as #Metoo. But we still hear examples where voices may be heard, opinions aired, reports written but then nothing is done.
What we need to avoid is perpetuating perhaps the new equation of ‘often heard but seldom done’.