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An Ethiopian woman's musings on Africa, the world and everything in between

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        Global Voices Online - The world is talking. Are you listening?
        Sunday, May 14, 2006
        Why is a woman still not safe in her home?
        You know how you listen to a song, you even sing along, but the words carry very little meaning to you? Tracy Chapman’s Why? and Behind the Wall were like that for me until last weekend. When Tracy sings about the policemen saying "they can't interfere with domestic affairs", of course I thought the bastards! But that was it.

        Because there are only about 2% of battered men, I will just write about women. Just a word of warning.

        The biggest Aha! moment
        Last weekend, I was in this super emotionally charged, superbly organized and highly enlightening training program to become an advocate for battered women and their children. I assumed that the training was going to be mostly about how to be sensitive to the women who come to the shelter, the procedures of helping them settle in their temporary home and help them with some information. I was very wrong.

        Over a period of three days, I learnt how to see the bigger picture (I thought I was good at that) and connect the smallest dots. The training was about the history of the Battered Women Movement (in the US), its historical context within other social movements such as the Civil Rights and Anti-Rape Movements; how painstakingly S…L...O...W the legal changes are to protect women; this s…l…o…w legal change put in a larger social structure, i.e. patriarchal; the economic, social and psychological factors of domestic violence; myths about battery; learning how to protect oneself both legally and emotionally when becoming an advocate. I tell ya, my brain was overflowing with information and the emotional turmoil was a bit too much.

        I came out of the training session really wondering about a nation calling itself "developed" which is often even confused with being "civilized". If "civilized" is defined as "bring from a savage or ignorant condition to a higher one (by giving education in methods of government, moral teaching, etc.)" – Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary of Current English, then there still is a lot of civilization to be achieved in most "developed" nations.

        Personally, the categorization of nations as developed and developing is over rated and I even see the danger it pauses in areas like gender issues. It is dangerous because it gives this false sense of achievement and leaves very little room for improvement. It is even used politically. How often have we heard Bush using "the greatest nation" rhetoric which often sounds like "just be grateful and shut up" if you read between the lines?

        Just two other examples why I think it is a dangerous frame of mind all across. Have you noticed Oprah commenting – repeatedly – "if you are a woman born in the US, you are lucky!" whenever she presents a program about, for instance, the Fistula Hospital in Ethiopia or the multiple burdens of women in war torn African countries? And yet, one in three women is a victim of domestic violence throughout the world. One in three! Then you wonder where the luck is in that? It is so easy to feel lucky living in the US than Darfur, but for all the money, education, information available in the US I would expect the 1:3 ration stand at 1:1000. Even then it is one too many.

        Another example is a personal account last weekend. Men deliberately infecting their female partners with sexually transmitted diseases in domestic violence was one fact that was mentioned, and I pointed out that it sounded like a tactic used in African civil wars. The person I was talking to said the obvious "I'm so glad I'm having my daughter here (the US)." Don't forget the 1:3 ratio now and we just got done learning that men batterers in the US, like their counterparts in Darfur, use infecting their partners, as a technique to control women. Still, the Darfur-US comparison hardly resonates with most Americans because economically there is no comparison between the two. The "we are much better off" feeling is obviously taken out of context here. I argue that people should have been much, much better off in the US. You wouldn't think that the US for example is second from the bottom of developed countries in its infant survival rates via Swamp CottageIn short, we should question what we are told (even expressions like you can't compare apples with peaches – oh yes you can! And, you'll be surprised how similar they are.)

        Staggering facts

        A nameless assault
        Apparently, until the 1970’s the act of beating a woman by a male partner had no name. If it does not have a name, then the perpetrator cannot be accused of a nameless assault. Now this violence has different names such as domestic violence, family violence, intimate partner violence, wife beating, conjugal violence, spouse abuse, marital assault, gender violence… Battery is defined as violence and abuse.

        Slow progress
        It wasn’t until 1994 - 14 years after the Battered Women Movement started – that the violence against women act was included in the law. Different states are currently at different stages with the progress of a more protective law. Finally, domestic violence is a felony not just misdemeanor in Florida as of a few weeks ago.

        I was loudly wondering how people who work in the organization I am about to start volunteering in can handle the frustration. In this type of business it is the small victories that make people keep on doing what they are doing, I was told. I shall remember that when I go to my first day of on-the-job-training tomorrow and through out my time with this organization.

        An alarming ratio
        I cannot get over the one-in-three ratio. At the beginning of the training session we were asked what we know about domestic violence and battered women, and I naively said that I don’t know anybody who even knows somebody who is battered… It was shocking to hear the one-in-three ratio and to find out later that out of the 13 female participants, 10 were survivors of battery.

        Calculated abuse
        Now that the law to protect woman is slowly improving, batters are also changing their tactics. Inflicting physical pain or injury in such a way that it does not leave a mark is becoming common in physical abuse. The law requires physical evidence or witnesses to charge a batterer with violence. The sad fact is that if a woman is strangled and she scratches her attacker in a panic, she goes to jail because the scratch marks are visible. How unfair is that?

        Oh no, not I
        In the same fashion that Katrina victims and spectators were saying that the hit areas looked like a "third world country", affluent and educated women often do not see themselves as "battered women". In the video that was used in the training, an educated woman living in an affluent suburbia said that she did not see herself as a battered woman although her husband had started beating her and locking her up in a room because a battered woman was supposed to be "an uneducated woman with milliards of babies and on welfare". The problem with such strong myths is that it blinds people from correctly assessing their situation and seeking a solution. Battery occurs across all educational, economic, cultural and racial divides. The statistics is also pretty much the same for these categories.

        For better or worse
        This training session left me wondering about even marriage. Statistics shows that marriage worsens violence - if the couple has had a violent relationship prior to marriage, that is. The reason for that is fascinating. It has to do with the sense of ownership that marriage gives men, and even changing the woman’s maiden name is a factor. If you think about it, it is the most retarded concept for the woman to change her name and take on her husband’s name. You have to excuse me here for I am from a culture where the woman keeps her name for better or worse.

        If rape is used as a weapon in a marriage, the likelihood of the woman being killed is a staggering 50-90%.

        Give me the sticks and stones anytime
        Verbal abuse is often not considered as battering. An overwhelming majority of battered women say that more than the physical abuse including rape, the verbal abuse has a lasting and detrimental effect. So, whoever came up with the saying "sticks and stones can break my bones, but words don’t hurt me"?

        To be continued…
        Why doesn’t the woman leave? What is a campaign of violence? What are the red flags? Why am I blown away by this organization? How can every language set us up for a disaster?
        posted by Fikirte @ 7:48 PM   Digg!
        2 Comments:
        • name<="c114778732485503763" id="c114778732485503763">

          At 9:48 AM, Blogger Ceridwen Devi said…

          Good post. Good question. I guess we women are a soft target. It's why my dad sent me to kung fu classes as a kid.

           
        • name<="c114824674437194958" id="c114824674437194958">

          At 5:25 PM, Anonymous marion rusman said…

          It is very interesting reading your weblog about the woman battery (especially) in America. Your remarke about the sentence of Oprha: ÿou are luckey living in de US" opend my eyes. Why? I will explain what I am thinking: last week one topic was overwhelming the news in the Netherlands : the fact that the Dutch/ Somalian member of the parliament Ayaan Hirschi Ali is going to America. She is very much appreciated in lots of countries and also in America because of her one - issue fight: she fights for the liberation of the women in the moslim culture! I didnot understand why every body appriciates her so much but your blog opened my eyes. For at least a great part of the answer I think it is because the average Dutchman or Scandinavian or American finds himself not to blame: They are no moslims, so they don't submit there women. In the "war against terror" Ayaan Hirschi Ali is a very good soldier on Bush' side!.

           
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        Kamilat - victim of acid burning The face of VAW - violence against women. It should and can be stopped with enough commitment. Helping one woman at a time is a start.
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