Wave of support to end violence against women

Article by Rhiannon Elston  /
News.com.au /
February 15, 2013 /
Click here to view original /

Kay Schubach understands the culture of shame and silence surrounding domestic violence better than most. The Sydney woman was raped and attacked repeatedly by her ex-partner before summoning the courage to speak up.

“He nearly smothered me in my own apartment, and eventually I screamed as loudly as I could. I know everyone would have heard me,” she says.

“I was waiting for a neighbour to come, or the police to come. And no one came.”

For Ms Schubach, talking about the experience became an important part of the healing process.

“Silence becomes shame, shame erodes your self-esteem and self-esteem is… why women stay in violent situations, so it’s a vicious cycle,” she says.

All around the world, people will today rise up and speak out on behalf of women like Ms Schubach, sending the message that violence against women needs to be talked about before it can be extinguished.

Created by American writer Eve Ensler, the movement is called One Billion Rising. It has already caught the attention of people in 200 countries who plan to use it as a platform to highlight perceived deep inequalities in their cultures.

Supporters will use the day to gather together and dance as a visible means of protesting violence towards women.

The name refers to the number of women on the planet – one billion – who will experience some sort of violence in their lifetime. The UN reports women aged 15 to 44 are more at risk from rape and domestic violence than from cancer, car accidents, war and malaria.

And women generally are far more likely to experience domestic violence, rape, discrimination, trafficking and honour killings than men.

Natascha Moy, who has organised a ‘rising’ of more than 200 men and women in Sydney, says the movement celebrates women while drawing attention to a critical subject.

“I think the problem with domestic violence and female circumcision and rape is there’s so much shame and so much humiliation that goes with it, that the idea that we are going to celebrate surviving it rather than actually falling victim to it is a far better way of dealing with it,” she explains.

University of Melbourne gender and politics expert Dr Lauren Rosewarne says dancing in itself will never end the vast and complex issues involved in sexual violence and gender discrimination, but it can be an important mechanism to get people talking about the issue.

“This stuff gets attention in the mainstream media and that’s a good thing because it helps spotlight issues,” she says.

“It’s not enough on its own, but it’s a good start.”

The campaign appears to have tapped into a growing global sentiment to speak out about violence against women, spurred by cases such as the gang rape of an Indian student on a bus, the attack on Pakistani child education activist Malala Yousafzai, and in Australia, the alleged rape and murder of ABC employee Jill Meagher.

“Being able to personalise [the issue] through a victim… you get to have a face to put on an issue that’s otherwise vague,” says Dr Rosewarne.

The increasing use of social media, particularly in developing countries, has also helped mobilise whole communities.

“In generations gone by, it always took a lot longer for other countries, because of geographic or social isolation, to catch onto new ideas or new ways of thinking,” Dr Rosewarne says.

“This is why you have that idea of rural areas always being more conservative than the cities.

“That’s now starting to break down, because geography’s much less important in a globalised world made that way because of the internet.”

Fiji-based human rights worker Roshika Deo is coordinating groups across the Pacific who plan to take part in One Billion Rising.

She has been liaising with activists in Marshall Islands, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea, Guam and New Caledonia as well as Fiji, predominantly through Facebook.

Ms Deo says the campaign is an opportunity to spotlight an issue that often lacks awareness in the region.

“I felt that in the Pacific, we are not giving this issue the attention it deserves in order to be able to stop and end the violence against girls and women.”

While global statistics state one in three women will experience violence in their lifetime, “in the Pacific it is even worse than that,” says Ms Deo.

“Recently the Fiji women’s crisis centre launched their research results and it showed that 64 per cent – which is more than the 33 per cent of the worldwide stats – 64 per cent of women have either been beaten or raped by an intimate partner.”

“We have similar stats for similar Pacific Island countries, whether it is Polynesia, Melanesian or Micronesian countries. It’s as high as 80 per cent.”

Ms Deo also points to the role of the wider community in breaking the culture of silence she says also permeates the Pacific.

“There’s a lot of social stigmatisation, and a lot of honour stigmatisation that is attached to this violence, so a lot of the time the girls and women don’t tell anyone,” she says.

“I think that everyone [should] realise it’s not a women’s issue. It’s everyone’s issue. And everyone needs to stand together to end this violence.”

“I don’t think this is about being [an] activist. This is about being humane.”

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a colossal threat calls for a massive response.

Chouchou Namegabe Dubuisson is helping to organise an event in the city of Bukavu, and says residents are expected to turn out in force.

“We are expected to mobilise in Bukavu a million,” she says by email.

“The big threat against Congolese women is rebels attacks and war. There are many rebels groups… They use rape as a weapon of war to destroy communities through the women body.”

A US study published in 2011 found there were 400,000 rapes – or 48 every hour – in the country in 12 months between 2006 and 2007.

“I’m optimist, that’s why I’m in the advocacy,” says Ms Dubuisson. “If there is the will of all actors, it may change.”

“The first thing to do is work on the Congolese army and police – train a female police,” she says.

Listen to ‘Listen: Anjali Rudraraju on domestic violence in India’ on Audioboo
Widespread media attention to the recent brutal gang rape of a female student has helped India realise greater attention needs to be brought to women’s rights, says Anjali Rudraraju, co-founder of aid organisation My Choices.

“I think India’s reached a point where we’re like, ‘Okay, stop. This is it. We’re going to actually talk about it.’”

Ms Rudraraju believes rape occurs in much higher percentages than ever gets officially reported, because of a belief women will be stigmatised if they come forward.

Despite that, she says the biggest threat to women in India is what she calls “subtle domestic violence”: a kind of culturally entrenched emotional and physical abuse of women that occurs behind closed doors, where society can’t see it.

“It could just be emotional violence, that the girl is getting blackmailed. Or it could be any form of economic violence, you know, that her salary is being taken away.”

“She’s just being controlled all the time.”

“Close to fifty per cent of women [are] going through this,” she says. “That’s a pretty high number, literally half the country fighting with each other if you look at it that way.”

Domestic violence is also linked to marrying young, Ms Rudraraju says. Recent data shows more than 40 per cent of the world’s childhood marriages happen in India.

“You know what happens when a girl younger than 18 gets married? The chances of her going through violence at an early age in that home jumps up to close to 65 per cent,” says Ms Rudraraju.

“You’re putting her at higher risk by sending her into an early marriage.”

Her organisation helps train women as ‘peacekeepers’, which she says is a way of arming regular citizens with the knowledge and tools to help facilitate change in the community.

“It’s not about enraging them or asking them to be an activist, but it’s more about explaining to them that issues can be resolved in a more calm and peaceful manner by bringing families together.”

The organisation chose to join other gender-focused organisations in supporting the One Billion Rising campaign because they support the same cause: “It’s about doing anything we can to stop violence against women.”

Reine Azzi, one of the organisers of a ‘rising’ event that is expecting 200 participants in Lebanon, believes the biggest threat to women in the country is “inappropriate education”.

“Our children are simply not being taught to respect themselves and the people around them, regardless of gender, but women end up being worst off,” she says.

Event initiator Junaline Bañez-Moussi says cultural acceptance of what is normal is part of the problem.

“I find that women in the Middle East are ‘silenced’ when it comes to expressing their voices regarding their rights,” she says.

“We shouldn’t remain silent. It’s time. And we’ve had enough.”

Melbourne woman Tamar Spatz says an event to be held in Federation Square today will focus on preventing violence through promoting respectful relationships.

“At the heart of it, as a community we’re touched by many of the same issues women around the world are, in terms of domestic violence, in terms of sexual assault, exploitation in the workplace, unfair conditions in the workplace,” she says.

“It’s about empowering people to form and sustain relationships that take care of one another, take care of themselves and from that place minimise the likelihood that they’ll experience exploitation or violence.”

Ms Spatz says the death of Ms Meagher raised the profile of violence against women as an issue in broader Australian society.

“There was such a sense of familiarity with her, with her lifestyle and that sense that it could happen to any one of us.”

More than 1000 people have signed up via the website and Facebook page to take part in the day’s events.