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        Monday, May 22, 2006
        Why isn’t a woman safe? Part II

        This is a follow up of my previous post on domestic violence.

        Why doesn’t the woman leave?

        I am embarrassed to admit that I asked this question several times before the training session opened my eyes. There are obvious and subtle reasons why a woman either stays or goes right back into a violent relationship. Before the details though, keep in mind this interesting fact. In the majority of the cases, it takes a woman up to seven times to finally get out of an abusive relationship.

        Who cares?
        I could feel myself sliding down in my chair with embarrassment when a battered woman in one of the training videos said "Who cares why I stayed? Why don't people ask why he beats me up repeatedly?" How very true! If you think about it, the question "why does the woman stay" insinuates that she is partly to blame while there should be absolutely no excuse that justifies abuse.

        Too much to risk
        Women stay in a relationship for three main reasons fear, hope and love. They are afraid that they may lose financial support, their children and respect from friends and families. They also fear that the violence would be worse and unfortunately, statistics supports their fear.

        How the situation gets even more complex when children are involved is anybody’s guess. What is alarming, however, is the fact that there is little coordination between the agencies that deal with domestic violence. An abuser can accuse the abused woman of neglecting or abusing children, and the Department of Children and Families will come knocking at the door to yank the kids out of the house. This is regardless of a report or two filed against the man for domestic violence. In some cases, women have even been told to put their house in order or else they might lose their children (while they are the battered in the relationship.

        A one-man-campaign
        At the heart of domestic violence lies the lust for power and control. It is more tiring to witness the campaign of a batterer than to watch politicians battling it out before elections. It really is. The lies, manipulation, accusation, maliciousness, mind games etc come after a batterer makes sure that his victim is isolated, completely hooked on him or whatever he uses as a bait and after he learns the weaknesses and strengths of his victim. Imagine the amount of time and energy required for this campaign.

        Apparently, most women could trace back the red flags that they saw earlier on when their batterer started the campaign. However, many choose to ignore the flags and the abuse escalates over time. Often, battery follows the subtlest psychological control – you’re not going out dressed like that, I called you and you don’t pick up your phone, where were you, why do you always have to see your friends, it's your fault that I'm jealous, I'm jealous because I love you... endless crap.

        In good hands
        I am very happy for battered women who end up at this organization for help. It is the most open non-profit organization that I have seen. They truly stick to their mission and are a shining example of what real charity/community service should be. I have seen how most NGOs conduct their businesses both in Ethiopia and in Europe. Working for networks and associations of NGOs has been particularly useful to learn about hundreds of these organizations. This is FYI of course in case you’re wondering who the hell I am to make such comparisons. This organization is all about helping women to grow carrots and no sticks. You are a battered woman first then everything else. If you are battered, you get help. It is as simple as that. You are a drug addict, you get help for battery. You are a lesbian, you get help for battery. You are an illegal immigrant, you get help for battery. You have gone back to your batterer for the ampteenth time, you get help as a battered woman. You have an attitude problem, you get help for battery. You are horizontally challenged (I’m obviously running out of examples), you get help for battery. During the training, one of the two things that was hammered into trainees was leave your prejudices at home. What a great principle to live by.

        The other thing that impressed me was the thoroughness of this organization. They studied how the Battered Women Movement started, placed it in a historical context, follow its progress and continue to work towards more improvements, sees the problem of women battery in a larger social context and design training/awareness sessions to influence the macho social framework. What started as a simple temporary shelter for battered women 25 years ago is now a successful advocacy and lobbying body. The metamorphosis came from the realization that there is no need just putting band aid on these women, give them a break for eight weeks and send them off back, most probably, to the batterer. People’s attitude about women, women’s attitude about themselves, the relationship between a man and a woman, the law, attitudes and knowledge of law enforcement agents, medical doctors, young children about domestic violence – all that needs to be updated. The organization does just that by giving training on domestic violence to law enforcement agents, businesses and medical people. It also provide information (I dare not say train them in case I hurt their egos) to law makers to have better laws to protect women.

        Training youth in their schools about date violence is my personal favorite. What a great way to nip violence in the bud.

        The power of language
        I used to think that sexist language is only bad because it is degrading to women… It is actually dangerous because it subtly messes up our frame of reference. For example, calling a tank top "wife beater" may seem harmless even funny. But surly it is going to make you go "hmmm, I wonder if he beats up his wife?" next time you see a guy in a tank top. What this does is that the careless and casual use of words such as "wife beater" makes it sound that it is normal for a wife to be beaten and it stereotypes people. It totally shifts our focus from Mr. Smooth who’s sharply dressed in designer clothes who is the actual wife beater to the poor sod who wears tank tops and dirty jeans, but rubs his wife’s feet every night. Even for battered women to realize that they are being battered is hard because of the stereotype of a "wife beater".

        In this organization battered woman are called survivors – not victims, not clients, not beneficiaries. Survivors. It follows the organization’s philosophy for empowerment-based advocacy. Remember that battery is used for power and control. Through the campaign of violence, the batterer has been eroding the woman’s self-esteem and power to rationalize. It will not help an awful lot if the organization she is fleeing to also treats her as a victim and tells her what to do. She has survived her domestic violence therefore she is more qualified about it than an advocate or a doctor or a policeman.

        Lessons for NGOs in Africa
        1. Go beyond treating signs and dare to challenge the status quo. If 85% of Ethiopians are subsistence farmers and are poor fundamentally because of bad land policy, work towards a better policy. Don’t just build an abattoir when they need animal feed. If corruption is the main reason why a country is poor, then God help you battling it out with powerful government officials.
        2. See yourself as a facilitator not a dictator.
        3. Leave people alone if they don’t want to convert to Christianity or if they want to walk around butt naked. It’s all good in its own cultural context.
        4. Recruit people on the basis of a comprehensive training and exam (passing grade above 75% please) on the histories and cultures of each country, region and village, the main reasons for poverty, how the people managed to survive, what worked and did not work in the past…
        5. You cannot fix somebody else’s problems. Get over it already!

        I wonder if Jeff Sachs and Bono would write an entirely different book on ending poverty if they receive this training. I wonder.

        If you are inspired to take action against domestic violence (I can sleep better tonight), Amnesty International has a website where you can learn more about it and help.

        Stay safe, help someone stay safe and don't ignore the red flags.
        posted by Fikirte @ 5:28 PM   Digg!
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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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