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Breaking The Silence: Sharing The Most Intimate And Painful Experiences Of Domestic Violence

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By Gina Dias:

There’s no better time to break the silence around domestic violence than now, during the 16 Days of Activism, an international campaign focused on raising awareness about gender-based violence.

dometic violence

In many ways, I will be breaking my own silence too. As an early, involuntary observer of the many manifestations of violence at home- mental, physical, sexual, and emotional- I have always felt a sense of unease when women are expected to share their most intimate and painful experiences of domestic violence. Over time, the sense of unease has not dissipated, but I have come to realize that there is a sense of empowerment and liberation in sharing with the world what you have been made to feel ashamed, guilty, and embarrassed about for so long.

Oxfam India, together with grassroots partner organizations, has been working on ending violence against women, by primarily improving the access to support services and formal justice systems for survivors of domestic violence. At support centres, women are provided with counselling, legal aid, medical aid, and linkages to livelihood and shelter support.

I have had the fortune of meeting with several women who have accessed these centres, and are today leading their own lives, free from the threat of violence. I have been moved and inspired by their struggles and their courage, slowly freeing me from my own inhibitions of sharing personal accounts of being witness to domestic violence. In all of my discussions with these survivors, as well as from my own experiences, one thing clearly stands out- in most cases, the ability to access a strong support network is crucial to be able to take the first step towards saying no to violence. It is the fear of fighting a battle alone which deters many women from speaking out. Counsellors at a support centre in Lucknow, run by Oxfam India’s partner organization Hamsafar, said that women in distress often call them up just to talk, with no expectations other than just to be heard. Many of them never call again. All they want is to know that they are not alone.

The irony of the situation is that they are far from alone. As per the National Family Health Survey (NHFS) 2005, more than one in three married women in India face some form of domestic violence. Equally disturbing is the fact that less than one in four of these women reported having sought help. A civil law complementary to existing criminal laws, the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act (PWDVA) 2006, aims at reaching out to the majority of women who are not in a position to, or choose not to initiate criminal procedures against their abusers. It legally guarantees a woman’s right to a violence-free home and facilitates her access to justice. However, unless a woman has a strong support system, it is unlikely that she will take recourse to the formal justice system. This is what makes talking about violence and extending support to those who need it, all the more important.

The NHFS results also highlight the existence of a violence trap- a woman whose mother faced domestic violence was nearly thrice as likely to experience violence herself, as compared to a woman whose mother had not. I can’t say for sure what helped break the cycle that I was part of, but all I know is that by breaking the silence and starting a conversation about violence, we can all help break another cycle today.

The author works with programmes and advocacy, Oxfam India.

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  1. Babar

    There is just as much violence against men as there is against women. Men, generally, do not report violence by women because it is embarrassing and considered unmanly to do so. Furthermore, you can also be a victim of death threats from feminists if you dare raise your voice against domestic violence perpetrated by women (Google Erin Pizzey).

    People sympathize with women’s causes because of the hype in the media about violence against women, and the media selectively chooses to represent issues of one gender only due to the element of attention associated with it. It is almost as though violence against men does not exist (Please search ‘domestic violence against men’, ‘sexism against men’, and ‘misandry in the media’ in YouTube and Google).

    The draconian laws in India have done nothing to further the cause of men, as a woman only needs to point a finger at a man to land him in jail over false allegations of rape, dowry, assault, domestic abuse, molestation, etc. Women do this without a care in the world about a man’s life, future, career, family, reputation, life, etc.

    Men are always at the receiving end, men are victimized, tormented, and traumatized, and it is not surprising that suicide by men is escalating in India. A man in India commits suicide every 6 minutes. Twice as many men commit suicide as compared to women in India.

    As for equality, why is it that women always look to marry men richer than them, earning more than them, live in their husbands house, drive their husbands car, shop with their husband’s money, eat at restaurants with husband’s pay, buy jewellery with husband’s income, and live luxuriously courtesy of their husbands. For women today, a husband is an ATM, driver, porter, and dildo.

    Today, women have seats reserved for them everywhere, from office to politics, ask men to leave their seats for them in the name of being gentlemen, get alimony, usurp half of a man’s property during a divorce, etc. What happened to equality? Equality is only applicable when it works in favour of women.

    If feminists are really concerned about women’s rights, they should be raising their voices against the abuse by mothers-in-law, who are the biggest perpetrators of violence against women, not to mention daughters-in-law, who poison their husbands minds against family members, and sisters-in-law, who have mastered the art of family politics.

    And while we are at it, we can also talk about the psychological abuse by mothers-in-law on sons-in-law, which is unheard and unspoken of, as men are not considered human beings in a misandrist Indian society, or any society for that matter.

    1. Parth

      Wonderfully depicted the real picture of this stupid Feminist movement in india, which is so discriminative and unfair to men, and just making a monster out of women,degrading family and social values, and irrepairably damaging the husband wife bond in the name of women upliftment. Sheer stupids these are. And Women born out of this “Aware” Society are Men bashing and good for nothing douchebags.
      Disgusting.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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