Thursday 15 December 2011

When the ‘dirty little secret’ comes out

I sometimes wonder if education and employment really empower women in India. But still I see women gaining monetary independence and still trapped in the vicious circle of domestic violence. On the one hand, women are encouraged to pursue their education and get good jobs, but on the other hand, they are still expected to shoulder the responsibility of the household. Even if they work full time at office, they still return home to do all the unpaid domestic work single-handedly. When they she show reluctance, they face confrontation from their in-laws!
Is it because of the anger of men that it’s happening? I don’t know. Maybe they think women have won some sort of autonomy, an autonomy which breaks the men’s traditional stranglehold over the household and economy. In retaliation, many women face domestic violence.

As women gain good education, they become aware of their rights and question their male family members. When they refuse to tolerate the abuses, it may trigger conflict in the family. I have come across a few women who are very humble and meek and believe it is a husband’s right to beat his wife. Plus, there are occasions when newly-liberated women come in contact with their traditional mothers-in-law, and their husbands supporting their mothers and tension erupting in the family. And there have been cases where women have been killed by in-laws and husbands. I’m surprised how some in-laws face condemnation from their in-laws for their work and some feel that their in-laws are jealous of their work, which is often one of the leading causes of psychological torture.
What’s very strange is, which is one of the major aspects in accelerating domestic violence is that most women choose to suffer silently. They refuse to take any action against the perpetrators of violence.

The United Nations declared November 25 as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. And October is National Violence Awareness month in the United States and one-third of women in the US still experience physical or sexual abuse by a male partner at some point in their lives, surveys show. As a matter of fact, so many other countries come with reports and articles on domestic violence regularly, quite often more during this month. China’s Xinhua news agency came up with a poll – a government survey on the social status of women in China -- report telling the world that about a quarter of its women suffer domestic abuse. The survey classified domestic abuse as verbal humiliation, physical assault, deprivation of personal freedom, illegal control of income and rape, and was based on the responses of 105,573 women aged 18 and above across the country. Reports of physical assault stood at 5.5 per cent, with a rate of 7.9 per cent among rural women and 3.1 per cent among their urban counterparts.

Domestic abuse became a big story in September when Chinese celebrity Li Yang -- yes, the same English teacher whose “Crazy English” teaching method made him very popular in the mid-1990s -- was exposed in a scandal of domestic violence, beating his American wife, Kim Lee, in front of his children. The world was shocked to see the photographs of Kim -- on her micro-blog at Weibo, one of China's most popular social media sites -- with bruises on her head and legs. The devil is in the details. The world was taken aback when she posted: "You knocked me to the floor. You sat on my back. You choked my neck with both hands and slammed my head into the floor. When I pried your hands from my neck you grabbed my hair and slammed my head into the floor 10 more times!" and his apology on his micro-blog after a week that, "I wholeheartedly apologise to my wife Kim and my girls for committing domestic violence. This has caused them serious physical and mental damage."
Though China set up an aid centre in Shanghai – the first in China -- against domestic violence in November 2009, and later several such centres were set up in other regions of the country, to offer temporary accommodation for victims, the country, interestingly, is yet to draft an independent law on domestic abuse.

Earlier, women silently suffered domestic abuse, as they considered it a family affair, too personal to talk about, let alone report it to police. And maybe that is the reason everybody saw a “they lived happily ever after” families. When scene was such, there was no question of a survey on it or any organisation to help the victims. But today, most of the countries have included it in their several laws, besides several organisations pitching in to increase awareness and helping the victims to turn to the police or NGOs or even the media for help.

On the other hand, in Ireland, almost 900 women and children were accommodated in, or needed some kind of support from, domestic violence services in just one 24-hour period in 2010. Safe Ireland -- the only national organisation representing frontline domestic violence services in Ireland -- released the results of a one-day census it carried out last November, and astonishingly, the census, carried out on November 4, 2010, showed that on that day, 555 women and 324 children were accommodated or received support from these services. This means, almost 36 people seeking support every single hour of that day. And noting the nationalities, most were Irish, however, other nationalities, including British, Nigerian, Polish, Russian and Chinese women too approached the Safe Ireland, on that day.

Maybe we have to go beyond mere numbers to acknowledge that each statistic represents a crime against a woman, a mother, an expectant mother, a toddler or a teenager, each living with fear, brutality and uncertainty at their own homes. There is a need to act quickly with responsibility and unwaivering commitment – to begin with those in higher positions -- our leaders and politicians.

Domestic violence and sexual assault is kind of like everybody's dirty little secret. No one wants to talk about it. No one wants to admit that they've been sexually assaulted. No one wants to admit that the person that they love the best has beaten them. There’s a need for domestic violence survivors to unite, to speak about what they went through. A very few will offer their stories in public as it always takes courage on the part of the victim. Not all can become Carolyn Thomas. She did not want to remain silent, instead, decided to speak out, travelling across the nation, educating women about the dynamics and dangers of domestic violence. She's been on TV shows, including “Oprah” in 2005, where her tale of courage drew such an overwhelming viewer response that she was invited back for the final show in April 2011.
 And now, Cuba has gone a step forward by airing the soap opera, “Bajo el mismo sol” (Under the Same Sun), for several weeks now, bringing the touchy and often silenced issue of violence against women into millions of homes. As Diéguez put it: “This soap is the first television programme in Cuba to address the ‘cycle of violence’ - a theory formulated by US anthropologist Lenore E. Walker (The Battered Woman, 1979) that explains the behaviour of some women abused by their spouses, especially about why the victim goes back to her attacker.

The victims can always caution others and help avoid violence or come out in public to raise their voice against such unhappy events, if any. The signs of domestic abuse can vary from jealousy to controlling and isolating behaviour to mental and emotional abuse. Not to forget Carolyn Thomas’ words: “I want women to understand they could wind up like me, or worse… They can wind up in the graveyard.”


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