Changes in the law to protect teenage victims of domestic abuse – will it change lives?

My name is Tracy Guest, and I am the Chief Executive of the Sheffield YWCA.

Sheffield YWCA is an independent member of the YWCA of Great Britain, providing accommodation and support services to vulnerable young women and families in South Yorkshire, England.

As Chief Executive of Sheffield YWCA, I represent the organisation at a strategic level, contributing to local and national debates on housing issues, gender, young people, and teenage pregnancy. I also play an active role within the wider voluntary sector, acting as a representative on teenage pregnancy partnership boards and local authority governance structures. I am also a trustee on the board of the YWCA of Great Britain, and have represented GB at a number of high profile events in the UK e.g. the “We Will Speak Out Coalition of women’s organisations” and the Sophia forum round table event on HIV / Aids held at the House Of Lords.

Tracy Guest

Changes in the law to protect teenage victims of domestic abuse – will it change lives?

In 2011, I attended the world council and IWS in Zurich. I was deeply moved by the resilliance of the women who spoke and shared their stories. Whilst the experiences of the GB delegation were very different in relation to HIV / Aids and the availability of sexual and reproductive health care, what resonated with me was our shared experiences of gender based violence. The stories of women globally in relation to domestic abuse were so similar to those of the young women with whom I work and some of my own friends and family, that I determined that I would take the messages back to the UK and become more actively involved in the dialogue around this subject.

When I returned from Zurich, I  undertook a study of the young women who use our services in Sheffield, and found that 40% of the young women in our accommodation had experienced serious domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking. A further 30% identified some form of domestic abuse in their relationships.  In other words, 70% of Sheffield YWCA service users had been subjected to domestic abuse of one form or another in their lives.

This is particularly distressing when you consider that the average age of a Sheffield YWCA client is just 17 years of age.

The experience of young women

As a worker in the field for over 23 years, it is still shocking to me to know that this is the experience of the young women with whom I work. It is even more shocking to realise that these figures broadly reflect the lives of teenage girls in UK society as a whole.

For example, research from 2009 conducted by the NSPCC and Bristol University surveyed teenagers about their experiences of intimate partner violence with frightening results. 75% of girls surveyed reported emotional abuse, 33% of girls had suffered sexual abuse including rape, and 25% reported physical abuse from their boyfriends.

Government action

You can imagine my joy then, when on the 19th September 2012, UK government ministers announced that the official definition of domestic violence would be changed  to ensure that thousands of teenage victims who are abused whilst in a relationship will get the help and support they need. The law now recognises that teenagers experience domestic abuse in partner relationships that is separate from child abuse.

This will come as no surprise to those of us who work every day with young women who have suffered at the hands of family members and partners who are supposed to care for them and keep them safe. A Home Office impact assessment has estimated that as many as 5,280 high-risk teenage girls could now be referred to multi-agency panels involving the police, domestic violence advisers, children’s services, health and housing professionals, as a result of the move to improve their safety.

Nick Clegg, the deputy prime minister, said the true face of domestic violence was much more complex and more widespread than people often realise, and that “Suffering at the hands of people who are meant to care for you is horrific at any age.  But it can be especially damaging for young people – the scars can last for a lifetime.”

Clegg added that the message was “even if you are young, even if what you experience isn’t one single act of violence, you do not have to put up with abuse. There is help out there for you”…… “And to the perpetrators the message is equally simple: what you’re doing is wrong and won’t be tolerated”

 

But will the changes in legislation translate to real changes in the experiences of women and girls suffering domestic abuse?

The impact of austerity

The change in legislation goes some way to recognising the problem I accept, but I fear it will have little impact on those silent victims who are isolated, unsupported and alone in a climate where women and girls find the very services set up to assist them are being closed, and provision eroded as councils are forced to make savings in a time of austerity and financial crisis.

The reality for women and girls is that the domestic violence sector has already been cut by around 31%, and those cuts are going to get worse. Cuts to the Supporting People grant to Councils in England and Wales from Central Government could jeopardise refuge provision when already 230 women are turned away from refuges every day because there simply aren’t enough places to protect women from a crime that affects a quarter of us in our lifetimes.

Services for teenage parents and other vulnerable women’s groups are being reduced as squeezed council’s divert funds to plug gaps in statutory provision.

It is meaningless for the government to say that they care about the domestic abuse suffered by teenage girls when they are relentlessly dismantling the very systems that will protect them from the impact of violence.

In 2010, Theresa May addressed the Women’s Aid conference to say that the Coalition would bring actions, not words to the fight against domestic abuse and violence against women and girls, but I am yet to be convinced that this is anything more than rhetoric.

Vulnerable young people pay the price

As the country is forced to repay its debts and climb out of a financial crisis caused by greed and complacency, it seems to me that it is the vulnerable who are paying the price, and that legislative changes alone cannot change those lives blighted by violence when the services that they need are being eroded.

I will end this piece with a poem dedicated to the women and girls who have suffered at the hands of the people who were supposed to love and cherish them, and to those who have chosen not just to survive, but to live, despite the challenges.

 20 to 3

It was 20 to 3 when the world changed for me

When my lover gave me a gift

It was 20 to 3, who knew I would be

So cruelly set adrift

The gift came quickly

The gift came swiftly

He said it was a gift of love

It took my face, it took my eyes

A judgment from above

The gift felt warm upon my face

He said it was what I deserved

For being so vain, so proud so beautiful

My Innocence would be preserved

Now no-one looks upon my face

No strangers turn to admire

Its 20 to 3 and no-one can see

The beauty taken by fire

But other gifts were given to me

My heart, my strength, my voice

Its past 20 to 3 and I want you to see

My life, my hope, my choice!

Domestic violence against women in Belarus and women’s life strategies

By Svetlana Burova, YWCA of Belarus- Svetlana is one of the founders of the YWCA in Belarus in 1996. She is a lawyer and sociologist. Svetlana is Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology at the Belarusian State University.  She is a specialist in the sociology of marriage and family, gender sociology, methodology and techniques of social research. Svetlana is a member of the National Council on Gender Policy under the Council of Ministers. She has been the Secretary General of the YWCA of Belarus for over 10 years and currently serves as Vice President YWCA of Belarus. She is the project coordinator for the prevention of violence against women, gender education, women’s leadership.

Svetlana Burova

Violence against women is a very important social problem in Belarus, where women and girls are exposed to all types of violence – physical, sexual, psychological, and economic. Official statistics on domestic violence are very poor. The Ministry of Interior collects statistical data on crimes committed out of jealousy, quarrel and other reasons typical to family relations. These figures, however, do not reflect the real situation. The actual number is a lot higher. Statistics can not give a full understanding of the situation of domestic violence, whereas surveys (SR) can produce a much better picture.

The real problem lies in the fact that in the opinion of the public, domestic violence is hardly considered a problem. The phenomenon of violence is often oversimplified and understood as sexual or physical abuse in most brutal forms. Most of the time women themselves don’t understand that they are being discriminated and subjected to violence.

According to our SR every third woman in Belarus has been beaten at least once in her life by her spouse or sexual partner. More than 90% of women suffer from psychological violence. Every fourth student suffered sexual abuse as a minor. More than 80% of the Belarusian population consider that a women who has gone though various types of violence will suffer stress and psychological trauma. About 60% of the Belarusian population believes that a woman who has gone though various types of violence, will experience general deterioration of her health. According to respondents’ opinion, one-fourth of the population thinks that as a result of violence a woman will not be able to bear children and will be a bad mother. One-fifth of respondents agreed that the negative influence of violence leads to the destruction of the family. Domestic violence causes the reduction of birth rate, negatively influences the children and boosts the divorce rate. Women recognise these consequences more often than men.

The YWCA of Belarus conducted research, “Domestic violence against women in Belarus and women’s life strategies”, in 2010 within the framework of the annual campaign of 16 Days of Action against Violence against Women. A total of 51 women who have survived domestic violence were interviewed. The research was conducted to obtain qualitative (in-depth) information concerning the situation of domestic violence against women and women’s life strategies. According to the research goals women  respondents were divided into 2 groups:

–                      Group 1 – “Active”, women who overcame their situation of violence by themselves and started a new life – 29 women;

–                      Group 2 – “Passive”, women who continue to live with the abuser and do not change anything in the their lives or try to seek help, as well as those whose situation has resolved itself  – 22 women.

The majority of women in both groups experienced strong negative emotions regarding what happened in their families during their childhood. Some women even had serious consequences from domestic violence experienced in childhood connected with their psychological state and need for medical intervention. It is not a clear fact that the negative atmosphere in the parental home may have only a negative affect on a girl. For some it is “a hard school of life” which tempers the character and makes one overcome any obstacles in life.  At least, an active group of women was subjected to various hardships in childhood; the consequences of these hardships in emotional and social aspects are different. Fathers and mothers who were different by their character, forced interaction, quality of life, the influence of non-family agents (school, friends) can influence in different ways, but something “outweighs” in the process of formation of personality, and these girls become strong and resistant, although this resistance can be very serious (e.g., refusal to marry, restricted contact with men, etc). What unites all “active” women is that they were able to get out of situations of violence in adulthood independently; they have overcome it, found the strength, set some important goals for themselves, and have stopped being dependent.

Most of the “active” women reviewed their relations with men and refused traditional marriage. They have gradually matured their understanding that it should not be like that. They began to protest and to look for a new partner and/or spouse. They sought and found someone who does not use violence. If it wasn’t possible, they preferred to live without a husband. This distinguishes them from those “passive” women who continue to be victims, while still married to the abuser. In most cases active women were able to explain what happened to them, they were able to analyze their situation. “Passive” women often limited themselves to relationships with a man who is the first and the only for them; these women often found it difficult to explain the violence directed at them.

One of the most important conclusions made by the researchers, while analyzing interviews with women who managed to get out of violent relationships, is constantly repeated: we must change ourselves. Find the courage to change and to love yourself, respect yourself as a person. Be strong, be active, act. This is the leitmotiv of most of the advices. This is an appeal to a woman herself – stop being a victim! You can do it! Revise your attitude towards yourself. Don’t be afraid, don’t suffer; become economically viable and independent of men. Let’s fight back, break the relationship immediately once confronted with violence. Abusers almost never change, if only they are not interested in personal transformations themselves.

Active women – survivors of violence, raise your educational level, seek professional help, think about your children, do not marry the first man you meet. Every woman should realise that when she is experiencing violence and every woman has the right to live without violence.

 

Violence Against Women in the Middle East

By: Mariam Mikhael, YWCA of Lebanon.

Mariam is a registered pharmacist and she is a Medical Affairs Coordinator in a drug company. Mariam joined the YWCA as a volunteer a year ago.

Violence against woman is a taboo topic in the Middle East, a region where family and social appearances are a fundamental part of the society. Private problems are not to be discussed in public. Women’s rights in the region are at the mercy of religious, cultural and political powers. Lebanon prides itself with a strong education system and centuries of western influence, both culturally but also into its constitution. Yet, Lebanon too is not immune to violence against women. The women of Lebanon have rights, however they are not being implemented and many women are not aware of them. Women in Lebanon have a voice but they need help to be able raise it.

In Lebanon we have more than 18 sects with different mentalities, cultural and educational backgrounds. Different civil and religious views, tensions and convictions are the source of all types of social violence that often start at home, in particular against women such as social, emotional, sexual, family, to name but a few.

The YWCAs in the Middle East (Palestine, Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon) are working towards reaching out to their communities to raise social awarness and different means of support to survivors of violence.

The YWCA of Lebanon has  been focusing its work on violence against women, and Lebanon is the only country in the Middle East that offers a shelter to women and their children seeking protection, rehabilitation and emotional support. However, only about 15 women have benefited from the shelter, which demonstrates how much more work needs to be done!

In addition, we organise awareness campaigns in schools and universities in order to educate young people on the importance of peace building and prevention of violence by encouraging them to talk and share their stories in order to receive the help and attention needed.

All of the above has urged me to attend the World YWCA International Training Institute on Violence against Women and Peace Building, held in Korea in November.  Attending the ITI will allow me to to share the experience with my peers and to widen my knowledge of new tools to implement effective solutions to solve the problems in our community.

We live in a time of regional turmoil, a time when fear can enter people’s homes and can create renewed tension which can in turn be a new source of violence. I strongly believe in the importance and necessity of the YWCA’s efforts and work to prevent VAW and to address the problem on time in my country.

I look forward to the International Training Insitute, to the exchanges that will take place and the people that I will meet.

Ending violence against women through education

By: Angela Lauman, Policy and Advocacy Manager at the YWCA of Canberra in Australia.

Angela oversees the organisation’s advocacy programmes and projects around violence against women and women’s leadership. Angela is currently studying law part-time, and in her spare time likes going to the beach and spending time with friends and family. 

October 11 was the International Day of the Girl. I participated by attending a breakfast in Adelaide, where I was honoured to listen to an amazingly strong and inspiring young woman, Khadija Gbla, tell her story. Khadija was born in Sierra Leone and arrived to Australia in 2001 as a refugee escaping war in her country. She is now a powerful advocate for African women in Australia, and for women generally, and was last year named South Australia’s Young Australian of the Year. She is also a YWCA of Adelaide member. Khadija spoke about how her life had been affected by violence in many ways, however her message was one of strength, hope and power. For her, violence will be overcome through education, which can change attitudes and provide hope and opportunities, and by women working together to support one another to make change in their homes, in their communities and in the world at large to bring about equality and end violence against women and girls.

Khadija’s message about the importance of education in eradicating violence is a powerful one, and one which resonates strongly with me. Australia is, thankfully, a country of peace and prosperity for most, but unfortunately violence against women remains a real problem in our community. One in three Australian women will experience violence in their lifetime and one in five women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime. There has been no real change in these statistics over the years, showing that Australia has a long way to go to eradicating violence against women from our community.

Over the last few years, governments across Australia have begun to stand up and take action on the issue of violence in a more holistic way than ever before. We now have a national plan to reduce violence against women and their children, backed by both our federal government and governments in all the states and territories of Australia. This plan has placed prevention at its centre. This is a first for Australia, and something I see as a very important step that we should be proud of. As women and organisations committed to eradicating violence against women from our community, we must work to ensure this remains a focus, and that governments invest long term to ensure primary prevention campaigns and programmes have a chance to make a real impact. This is because changing attitudes takes time and effort but in my view is well worth it.

The YWCA of Canberra has long had a focus on primary violence prevention education for young people, and I am proud to now be a part of this work. In my current role as Policy and Advocacy manager, I have been responsible for developing a primary violence prevention programme for children ages 10-12 called Respect, Communicate, Choose. Thanks to the commitment, passion and creativity of colleagues at the YWCA of Canberra and the YWCA of Adelaide, supporters from within the Canberra community and with the support of our local and federal government, we are now delivering this programme in primary schools. The focus of Respect, Communicate, Choose is to give young people the skills and knowledge to have safe, respectful and equal relationships. As part of the programme we look at attitudes about gender and challenge students to deconstruct their views in this area and critically analyse the images and ideas about gender which we see in the community and the media. This will help them to continue to think critically about these things as they move into adolescence, and we hope to help them to build more equal relationships with both women and men. We also look at what respect means and give them opportunities to practice what a respectful relationship looks like. We hope these skills will help them continue to develop safe and respectful relationships now and in the future.

Our programme is only a short intervention and we are now thinking about how we can work with teachers, school leaders and parents to imbed these attitudes and skills as part of children’s everyday life at school and home. This is a big vision, but it is not impossible. Rather the possibilities are exciting, and highlight the power that education can have in making change to prevent violence in our community. I look forward to continuing to be a part of the YWCA of Canberra’s work in this area, and hope that in my lifetime we begin to see some real shift in the statistics around violence against women.

Identificación cultural de género en Chile y la perpetuación de la mujer como víctima

Lillian Tonk es voluntaria de la YWCA de Valparaíso-Chile desde el año 1999. Ha participado en programas de apoyo a Mujeres víctimas de violencia y sus hijos realizados por la Asociación a nivel local. Psicóloga Egresada de la Universidad de Valparaíso, Chile, se ha desempeñado profesionalmente en diversas áreas, siendo una de ellas la Intervención y apoyo familiar en la restitución de derechos  vulnerados de niños, niñas y jóvenes. Actualmente desempeña el cargo de Secretaria en la Junta Directiva de la YWCA de Valparaíso-Chile.

Lillian Tonk

A propósito del tema que nos convoca, la violencia contra la mujer, y a la fecha en la que nos encontramos, 12 de Octubre, en la que se conmemoran 520 años de la llegada de Colón a América, he recordado un interesante libro[i] realizado por la Antropóloga Chilena Sonia Montecino, en la cual se pregunta respecto de cómo se han llevado a cabo las identificaciones de género en nuestro continente.

Dentro de sus muy interesantes propuestas señala que está principal y transversalmente  marcada por la maternidad, es decir, la idea de la “femeneidad” como “Madre”. Varias razones esgrime la autora para éste fenómeno, siendo uno de los mas importantes el proceso de mestizaje producido durante la colonización española, en donde la “india”, la habitante originaria de nuestras tierras, es sometida sexualmente por el colonizador, procreando hijos mestizos que solo son asumidos en cuidado y crianza por ésta mujer-madre-sola. El varón, que no ejerce la paternidad presente, pasa a convertirse en un “Padre ausente” o un “Hijo” de ésta madre sola, y es en esas figuras bajo las cuales se valida su rol.

Pero ésta femeneidad de madre histórica está definida a fuego por el Sufrimiento y el Sacrificio, en un principio porque al ser una “madre soltera” es castigada o rechazada socialmente por la “falta” cometida al engendrar un hijo, para luego en un segundo momento ser apoyada, integrada e incluso a veces mantenida nuevamente por sus redes familiares, a cambio de la existencia de una “Madre abnegada” que sacrifica todo por su hija o hijo, como reivindicación de su honra y su valor personal.

¡Cómo la cultura ha marcado el ser mujer en nuestra sociedad Chilena y Latinoamericana! Una mujer que solo se valida desde el sacrificio, de la inmolación por los hijos; una mujer que recibe apoyo de la familia solo si ésta es capaz de olvidarse de si misma y actuar con abnegación y sin quejarse en el rol de cuidado y crianza de los hijos. Son frases que mis coterráneas pueden encontrar descritas hoy, en el año 2012 en la forma en como se describen las expectativas del comportamiento de una mujer. ¿Podemos considerar por tanto violencia a la expectativa cultural de que una mujer tiene valor si es una madre, y si sufre y se sacrifica en silencio por serlo?

No es que en estas palabras quiera hablar en contra de la maternidad y el rol de crianza, pero me hace sentido que ésta visión histórica marca profundamente el COMO esto se ejerce. Y pienso en varios puntos que pueden proyectarse a partir de este pensamiento, y en preguntas que tal vez puedan orientar a la reflexión en torno a éstos temas:

a) La urgencia casi obligada de que una mujer DEBA ser madre para “darle sentido a su vida”: ¿a cuántas de nosotras no nos han inculcado desde pequeñas que cada cosa aprendida y realizada tiene la finalidad de mejorar nuestra capacidad de crianza?; y ¿a cuántas que hemos superado los “límites tácitos” de tiempo permitidos para la procreación se nos mira con lástima como si éste hecho nos quitara valor? ¿Cuántas de nosotras frente a esto hemos sentido la necesidad de procrear un hijo bajo cualquier condición, solo para “tener un norte”, para darle un sentido a nuestra existencia?

b) El prejuicio hacia el hombre como no apto para el cuidado de un hijo o una hija: desde incluso el seno de nuestras leyes y la dificultad de que a un varón se le otorgue la tuición o adopción de un niño o niña. ¿Cuántas de nosotras nos hemos sorprendido de la pareja de alguna de nuestras amigas que decide dejar de trabajar para dedicarse al cuidado de un hijo o hija?. Conozco un par de casos, y lejos de valorar su decisión son tildados de flojos o aprovechadores del trabajo de la mujer. ¿Cuántas veces se desautoriza al propio varón del ejercicio de la autoridad sobre los hijos? ¿Cuántos hombres terminan desentendiéndose de ésta labor por la serie de obstáculos que nosotras mismas vamos poniendo?.

c) La casi imposibilidad de que una mujer que se hace cargo sola de sus hijos e hijas pueda realizar actividades sin ellos: ¿A cuántas mujeres hemos visto que dejan de realizar sus actividades profesionales, laborales, recreativas por dedicarse a la crianza? ¿Cuántas veces hemos escuchado que a una mujer se le brinda apoyo en el cuidado de un hijo, siempre y cuando sea por razones estrictamente laborales o productivas? Se ignora la necesidad de la persona de tener un espacio propio, no necesariamente ocupado por sus crias, y se valida como “buena” o “mala” solo en la medida en que sacrifique incluso aspectos mínimos de recreación o calidad de vida si es que en ellos deja de ser “madre”. Creo que es aún mas difícil si hablamos de que una mujer-madre pueda salir a divertirse con amistades y recibir apoyo en el cuidado de los hijos mientras eso ocurra.

Muchas otras reflexiones y preguntas pueden surgir a partir de éstas afirmaciones. Lo interesante es poder cuestionarnos el que la historia también ha marcado el cómo nos desenvolvemos en nuestro rol. En mucho hemos validado la violencia hacia nosotras, pues nosotras mismas nos evaluamos a partir del nivel de sacrificio y sufrimiento.

Que el ser mujer, hombre, persona en Latinoamérica y el mundo deje de ser sinónimo de “víctima” o “victimario” depende también de que seamos capaces de resignificar parte de nuestra historia como cultura.


[i] Sonia Montecino A., “Palabra Dicha. Escritos sobre Género, identidades, mestizaje”, 1997,  Colección de Libros electrónicos Serie: Estudios, Facultad de Ciencias Sociales, Universidad de Chile.

Des pensées pour la semaine contre la violence

Je  suis Bibiche Ritha  KANKOLONGO, secrétaire Générale Nationale de la YWCA de la RD Congo. Hormis mes tâches de secrétaire Générale de notre YWCA, je suis formatrice et Intervenante en psychothérapie. C’est ainsi que j’anime des  longues et courtes sessions de formations sur divers thèmes (techniques d’animation, estime de soi, peur…..) avec les jeunes, les plus jeunes et les adultes. En tant qu’Intervenante en psychothérapie, j’assure avec d’autres collègues Intervenantes, l’accompagnement des personnes en situation  de détresse et/ou survivante des violences basées sur le genre et d’autres traumatismes au sein de notre centre d’Accompagnement psychothérapeutique et juridico médical « Oasis de paix ».

Bibiche Kankolongo

Je voudrais articuler ma pensée pour cette semaine sans violence de la YWCA Mondiale par ma perception de la violence et comment elle est vécue dans mon pays.

En effet, je suis en contact avec des filles et femmes  survivantes de violence dont la plupart tournent autour des violences sexuelles, d’abus sexuel chez les petites filles et femmes ainsi que des cas des violences domestiques.

Je suis toujours frappée par le fait qu’un être humain  porte atteinte au bien-être intégral d’une autre personne, surtout lorsqu’il s’agit d’une petit fille innocente et sans défense. La plupart d’entre elles disent combien elles ont été  effrayées et sont inquiètes face à leur avenir. Leur vie change du tout au tout en un clin d’œil.

A Kinshasa, capitale de la RDC, on constate de plus en plus des abus sexuels à l’école, en famille (inceste) de fois parce que les adultes ont des croyances selon lesquelles, les relations intimes avec les petites filles leur confèrent de la chance, la fortune ou une bonne santé.

Souvent ces actes sont gérés à l’amiable pour préserver les rapports familiaux harmonieux, éviter que la fille soit indexé par les jeunes de son âge. Les jeunes filles ou adolescente vivent la même situation avec de fois l’angoisse d’être abandonné par un fiancé ou de  renoncer à son projet de mariage, la honte mais aussi le manque des moyens pour ester en justice…. Quelques fois, ces filles sont obligées de quitter leur milieu pour aller habiter chez un membre de leur famille ajoutant une autre conséquence à toutes les réactions post traumatiques.

Nos coutumes et traditions contribuent aussi à renforcer d’autres types de violences dans nos familles. A titre d’illustration, prenons  la tradition qui consiste à faire un rituel de deuil lorsqu’une femme perd son mari. Ce  moment de deuil se transforme souvent en occasion pour la belle famille de se venger contre celle qui a profité de l’argent de leur frère avec ses enfants sans penser à eux. Cette vengeance va des insultes, moqueries, à des traitements comme  priver la veuve de nourriture, de bains  avant, pendant ou après l’enterrement.

Sans compter le nombre des jeunes filles obligeaient de se marier précocement ou à qui on impose un conjoint parce que riche ou bien parce que la coutume l’exige dans certains coins de la RDC.

En tant que congolaise de la RD Congo, je ne pourrais pas manquer de mentionner la situation de l’est de mon pays. En effet,  le monde entier  sait actuellement que  la RDC connaît depuis plus d’une décennie des guerres récurrentes aux multiples facettes avec des conséquences désastreuses à l’est de son territoire. J’ai été  à Goma (Nord-Kivu, est de la RDC) au mois de juin et voudrais épingler le fait que la tendance générale est de ne voir de cette guerre que le fait  que le viol y a été utilisé comme arme de guerre. Alors qu’elle représente aussi  des nombreuses familles sans toit marchant à pieds avec des petites filles et des petits garçons, des champs abandonnés, des camps de refugiés bondés de monde, c’est être obligé de courir parce qu’un coup de feu éclate de nulle part, c’est voir des personnes traumatisées avec un sentiment d’avenir bouché et de difficulté de se projeter dans l’avenir…. A la Présidente de la YWCA-Nord Kivu de déclarer : on ne peut jamais imaginer ce que nous endurons au quotidien, il faut seulement le vivre. Je me suis demandé si un jour tout ceci ne pourra plus qu’être un passé douloureux pour tout un peuple, une nation qui d’une façon ou une autre sont affectés par un traumatisme.

Car, cela laisse des séquelles qui ne sont pas toujours visibles et les effets ne se manifestent pas toujours immédiatement, ni de la même manière. Il arrive d’ailleurs souvent, qu’une survivante soit traité de sorcière car réagissant d’une manière étrange.

La tendance pour beaucoup de gens dans nos communautés est de croire que lorsque qu’on a soigné les blessures et dommage physique, la personne est hors de danger.  Alors que le psychisme requière le même soin sinon  plus.

En conclusion, que ce soit à Kinshasa, à l’est comme dans d’autres provinces de la RDC, les violences à l’égard des filles et femmes ont lieu avec des nombreuses conséquences. Il  est très important que notre réponse soit spécifique et complète. Notre YWCA se propose d’étendre son programme d’Accompagnement psychothérapeutique et juidicomédical (financé par le Service des Eglises Evangéliques en Allemagne pour le Développement, EED en sigle) dans toutes ses branches en commençant par les branches en situation de conflits pour lesquelles l’urgence s’impose. Mon rêve est de voir plusieurs centres « Oasis de Paix » naître et offrir aux filles et femmes survivantes un espace où elles vont être accompagné en vue d’intégrer cet évènement douloureux dans leur histoire. Elles pourront dire avec notre campagne de sensibilisation, je cite : « mon bien-être compte le plus ».

 

Harmful religious and traditional practices

Dorcas Pearl Sudeep, General Secretary for YWCA of Bangalore City. I am currently working as the General Secretary of the Association based in Bangalore. I have my Master’s Degree in Social Work and have specialised in Social Development. I have worked for organisations working for the empowerment of Women and Child Rights. I have personally and professionally assisted women who go through violence. My area of interest is to work for women’s issues.

Violence against Women

I am proud to be an Indian for various reasons. But I don’t support the harmful religious and traditional practices that are followed blindly by people around me. It is very difficult to digest the fact that unhealthy practices are being followed with our knowledge and we are not able to address them sufficiently. Especially issues related to women are very rigid and pose greater challenge to those who want to oppose and who want to work towards resolving them.

I am sharing the real life experience of my very intimate friend.

A bubbling young girl at college with lots of dreams and hopes for future, got married at a very young age. She was the first to get married in my group of friends at college and that too even before finishing her graduation. She was more excited only because her family did not have to pay any dowry.

Her life suddenly changed as she belonged to a joint family after marriage where she had her in-laws living with her. Quite a large family to cope with. She with her extra good nature got moulded into the family and was very accommodative. Her smartness to help out every member and her generosity to be kind to all helped her to be good in her husband’s book.

To her luck, she could continue her studies. She joined a Bachelor of Law’s course which she successfully completed. That brought her joy as a married woman who made it with all her commitments and responsibilities towards her family.

Years passed and she could not conceive. Her mother-in-law would pressure her to follow certain religious ceremonies and practices in the hope of getting a grand child. The friend of mine being literate, and with law background, quietly did all that was expected of her. She visited many temples; fasted and offered poojas to different Goddesses; followed all superstitious beliefs and practices; went to pilgrimages  and completed all so called religious formalities; visited many sages to take their blessings; met several astrologers and fortune tellers; learnt many mantras (holy prayers) to chant; all just to please her family members and her mother in law especially. She went through stress and strain each and every time she was asked to perform some special pooja. She did not want to hurt anyone and at the same time was drawn to false beliefs. No importance was given to her whenever there were religious functions were held in the family. A child is what mattered to the entire family. Her husband was a mute spectator to all that was happening in her life.

After 10 long years of silence, she did take courage and revealed the medical facts about her spouse to her mother-in-law. It was her spouse who was not medically healthy to help her in conceiving. The bitter truth was not welcomed and also not accepted. She still was treated like someone who should perform various religious practices to get a child.

It so happened that she planned to shift to another place away from her in-laws. By then her spouse also wanted a break from the small town where they lived. The couple shifted to a big city. The need of rearing a child and getting more awareness on adopting a child became her interest. That is where I came into the picture and assisted the couple to legally adopt a girl child from a home for destitute children.

The next form of violence she faced from her in-laws was that they did not welcome the child into the family. The background, especially the religion of the child mattered a lot to them. They became very cold to this bold step taken by my friend. The couple and the child are ostracised today.

Conclusion:

Such is the community around me. A barren woman is looked down upon.   Her own people are not sympathetic towards her. The members of the family pressure a woman to practice traditional and harmful religious practices if she fails to produce a child within reasonable time after her marriage.

Women without children very often face social discomfort. They have to experience unpleasant questioning looks from friends and relations.

Childlessness causes a great hardship to a woman more than to a man. A barren woman’s very presence is considered as inauspicious on some occasions which add to the stigma of infertility.

Violence against women in our Indian society is of great magnitude. Some are identified, highlighted and addressed while several others have become a part of our culture. Unfortunately there is no legal help for women who go through such ‘silent violence’.

The factors such as the need to belong to her family, bringing honour to parents by cooperating with the spouse’s family, desire to be socially accepted, being dutiful to her spouse, etc, makes a woman go through this form of family violence.  It is not voiced out.

My prayer today is that my community should get more educated; become more aware of feelings of a woman who cannot produce a child for some reason and be more sensitive to the whole issue.

MAY GOD GIVE US THE STRENGTH TO WORK TOWARDS HELPING THOSE WOMEN WHO ARE VICTIMS OF SUCH VIOLENCE AND WHO DO NOT GET A PLATFORM TO SHARE WHAT THEY FEEL AND HOW THEY ARE HURT.

IT IS TIME THAT WE STOP ALL FORMS OF DISCRIMINATION AGAINST WOMEN!

HELPING WOMEN TO LIVE WITH DIGNITY SHOULD BECOME PART OF OUR CULTURE.