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Do You Really Need ‘The Dress’ To Tell You Domestic Violence Exists

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By Aadya Sinha:

After causing a record spike in break-ups, termination of friendships, and the falling apart of other society-approved relationships, (my deepest condolences to the previous record holder, monopoly) the dress is back. And how!

the dress

Cecilia Bleasdale’s dress, which was declared to be black and blue early last week, had cyber citizens wound up in a frenzy over its colour for the past fortnight . Having gained widespread notoriety, the dress has now become the centre piece in The Salvation Army’s latest advertisement campaign against domestic violence in Britain. Depicting a visibly beaten up woman wearing the dress, the advertisement poses the question, “Why is it so hard to see black and blue”, referring to the bruises. The caption underneath reads, “The only illusion is if you think it was her choice. One in six women is a victim of abuse. Stop  abuse against women.” It also carries the logo for Carehaven, a home for women who face abuse, and their children.

The Salvation Army’s campaign comes at a time when domestic violence seems to be making headlines. The Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme, also known as Clare’s law, is being rolled-out across Britain, giving people the ‘right to ask’ the police whether their partner has a record of abuse. The initiative is named after Clare Wood, who was murdered in 2009 by her ex-boyfriend, George Appleton, who had a history of violence against women.

Minimalist in its format, the advertisement is hard hitting and pertinent. As far as campaigns go, it cleverly garners attention without downplaying the issue of domestic violence. It can perhaps be argued that the dress provides the perfect hook. It’s popular enough to draw the viewer in, however, it is innocuous enough so it doesn’t take the attention away from the issue it is representing, as another ‘celebrity’ might have. Still, the question in the poster is haunting: “Why is it so hard to see black and blue?”

Why is there a need for the dress to be the centre piece of the campaign? Why do we need a star or a celebrity to carry it? Is the issue of domestic violence not pressing enough for one to be concerned? Have we, as a society, become so insulated by inaction, so immune to violence, that we need a hook to draw us into everything? To force us into looking at what is right in front of us?

For too long, the tag of ‘relationships’ has provided a cover for abuse. For too long, people have ignored the issue because, “it’s none of our business”. We, as a society, have internalised and partially condoned the violence that takes place in the domestic setting, solely because it’s an uncomfortable topic for us to discuss. Because, we don’t want to litter our dinner conversations or coffee intellectualism with what could be happening in the same drawing room, in a home that may not be ours. We don’t want to question the sanctity of familial, romantic, or kin linked bonds.

We don’t wash our dirty laundry in public, you see, our dirty laundry and skeletons are meant to remain in the closet.

According to a WHO estimate, one in every three women in the world has been subjected to domestic violence.

I’m sorry, but the skeletons are dancing in the streets, and there are no more clean clothes to wear.

And still, here in India, we dismiss Preity Zinta’s case against Ness Wadia as a ‘lover’s tiff’. We simply watch the proceedings as our judicial system excludes marital rape from the ambit of the rape bill. We look around uncomfortably during that confrontation between the uncle and the niece, while watching ‘Highway’. Our maintained silence on such issues is further reflected in our polity, executive system, and judiciary.

I’ll admit, recent campaigns such as the one organised by Vogue Empower (starring Madhuri Dixit) and the “Abused Goddesses” campaign, have helped bring the issue to the purview of the mainstream. However, once again, it is important to note how these campaigns rely on a celebrity or ‘shock value’ to become talking points.

Even as the Australian federal government and the state governments announced their intention to spend $30 million on a national awareness campaign to address the rising rate of domestic violence, the number of women who will become victims of domestic violence is estimated to rise by 10%, worldwide.

And that statistic says nothing about the ones who don’t report the crime. The question, now altered, however, still persists, unanswered “How hard can it be to see blue and black?”

You must be to comment.
  1. Green Lantern

    Point 1: Mothers-in-law are the biggest perpetrators of violence.

    Point2: Twice as many girls as boys are cyberbullies (Google it).

    Point3: Domestic violence statistics only comprise of physical violence, and do not take verbal, emotional, and psychological abuse at the hands of wives.

    Point 4: Even in schools, it is girls who are the primary abusers, and it has been revealed in many surveys and shown in films like Mean Girls, Mean Girls 2.

    A man is abused in US alone every 38 seconds.

  2. Green Lantern

    According to an online survey conducted by Save Family Foundation and My Nation Foundation in April 2005 and March 2006, it was shockingly found out that, of 100,000 men who took the survey 98% men had faced severe domestic violence at the hands of their wives and in-laws in the form of verbal, physical, emotional, mental and financial abuse.

    Domestic Violence Double Standards

    1. Mathieu

      Just focus on India and look at serious data and your points in this post and in the above one are made ridiculous. I encourage you to look at the National Family and Health Survey( where you will notably find that two out of five married women suffer from domestic violence (be it sexual, physical, emotional) and this is violence initiated by husbands. On the other part, only 1% of married men suffer from domestic violence. Let’s be serious, one second, no?

  3. Green Lantern

    Feminists want women to join the workforce so that children can be abused by babysitters.

    1. TheSeeker

      There are abusive mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, in-laws, nannies, maids. Very illogical conclusion you’ve come to. In fact, even I could post a video of a man abusing his child, what would that be?

    2. Green Lantern

      If her mother was at home to take care of her child, she wouldn’t have required a babysitter in the first place, but her paycheck is more important than her child.

    3. swati

      yes, her paycheck is important because in many countries women are single parent and they need job to feed herself and her baby.
      You want women to work so that they don’t use husband as atm then also you want them to be at home so that they take care of babies. Many companies don’t allow babies in office. What you are asking of women is too much a single person can’t work in office for 10 hrs then take care of baby 24 hrs. It is impossible. And many women install nanny cam in house to keep an eye on nanny.
      Men also beat children and more cruelly then women.Men also rape children (boy and girl). If you are only looking for female perpetrator then you are turning your eyes on those thousand boys who are victims of men.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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