Recognising and tackling domestic violence

Fatema Dewji is an iconic figure in Tanzania - she's young, successful and determined to end gender-based violence, and has founded online show Educate, Empower and Inspire. As part of our 16 Days series, Fatima discusses the signs and impact of domestic violence and how it can be tackled.

There’s a good chance you know a victim of domestic violence.

Around the world, 1 in 3 women will experience domestic violence in their lifetime, according to UN around one third of the entire female population experiences physical or sexual violence from intimate partner. That means that someone in your life – a friend, sister, neighbor, or teacher – has been assaulted at the hands of a partner.

In no country in the world are women safe from domestic violence. Research shows that in the US alone, a woman is beaten or assaulted every 9 seconds. One in 5 cases of “honor killings” worldwide occur in India, but some organizations claim the number is 4 times higher. According to WHO in Tanzania, 41% of women in Dar es Salaam and 56 % in Mbeya have experienced physical abuse at the hands of their partners (IPV) in their lifetime. In China, the UN reports that 25% of married women suffer domestic violence but the number may be as high as 40%.

Children exposed to domestic violence are 3 to 4 times more likely to perpetuate the abuse as adults, creating a seemingly never ending cycle.

So a woman in a picture perfect marriage might also be a mother who needs to shield her son from his father’s blows, put makeup on bruises, smile when everything inside her feels broken. She might be desperate to leave, but can’t because her husband is controlling her every cent, her every move. And in the end to make matter worse her son still may grow up to treat women the same way his father treated his mother.

Violence can happen even before the child is born - miscarriage and even death are much more likely when a pregnant woman is abused, as well as higher rates of growth retardation, premature birth, and low birth weight

This is a rampant issue, but why don’t we talk about it more?

Because it is not always obvious, and most attacks go unreported. Because of the stigma of divorce and normality of domestic violence, only about 3% of divorces in China are granted on the basis of domestic violence alone. Nearly 56% of abused women in Dar es Salaam did not seek help because they thought that such violence was “normal.”

To this day, people are more afraid of strangers than they are of those more likely to hurt them –their loved ones, (husbands, partners, boyfriends etc). You are more likely to suffer abuse from someone you know, “It’s just marriage issues”, “they’ll figure it out on their own” or “it’s somebody else’s business”, what happens behind closed doors stays behind closed doors, these are some of the answers we are more likely to hear once someone raises an alarm about domestic violence.

Most abusers don’t commit violence openly, but it still reflects on their public life. You can note actions/behaviors which are not very pleasing this can be like; having a tendency of putting partner down in front of friends, belittling her actions and opinions, maybe he is extremely possessive, never letting her out of his sight or maybe he is always, always angry. Maybe she is always worried of making him angry, maybe she makes excuses for his behavior, maybe she has unexplained bruises she tries to hide.

If you see something, say something. Be attentive to the warning signs. But before that, you must remember not to be judgmental, just be as understanding as you can. Don’t accuse her of lying, or ask her why she hasn’t left him. Abuse can come in many forms – it’s not just physical it can even be financial where a partner controls all the money in the house so the victim cannot support herself without him. You cannot know, and you won’t know until you ask.

Acknowledge the pain she is going through. Be supportive of her decisions. But always remember that you cannot fix it for her – she is going to have to do that for herself.

If you feel trapped in an unsafe relationship, remember this – you are worthy of being loved. You are more than this more than your bruises and broken bones, and more than his hate and anger. There is still hope. Reach out to a friend, a coworker or someone you know you can trust. If you don’t know anyone, there are still many resources you can reach and hotlines you can call to find the help you need. Just know that you are stronger than this.