Scenario 1: Thailand: Rakata has not yet prepared dinner for husband Akito, as there is no grain in the house. Akito works as a farm laborer, but gambles away whatever he earns. Rakata and the two little children are emaciated, often ill, and fearful. Today all three are huddling in a corner of the house, fearing his fury.
Scenario 2: Madhya Pradesh, India: Rani, a domestic worker who supports her two children and an alcoholic husband, is knocking on the door of her mistress at 2 am, with a bleeding head and a broken arm. Her husband, who saw her talk to a male neighbor has given her a good thrashing, to 'teach her a lesson she wouldn't forget.'
Scenario 3, Bangladesh: Rehana, a worker in a local garment factory has been beaten black and blue by her husband. Reason: she refused to part with the money she had kept for the children's school fees for his amorous adventures.
A 7-year study conducted by the World Health Organization on the much-neglected subject of domestic violence has focused on alarming figures reflecting the physical threat faced by women worldwide. One in every 6 women is a victim of domestic violence, suffering in silence. However, the continuous physical violence by an intimate partner is far less highlighted, compared to rapes and other forms of sexual and physical abuse by strangers and acquaintances.
Over 24,000 women from different parts of the globe- Bangladesh, Brazil, Ethiopia, Japan, Namibia, Peru, Samoa, Serbia and Montenegro, Thailand, and the United Republic of Tanzania were interviewed for the study.
To give you the worst scenario, let us begin with pregnancy. Pregnancy is an emotional high tide for the woman, a time when the expectant mother should be protected and nurtured in every way. Nearly 4 to 12% of the women reported episodes of getting beaten up during pregnancy. More than a half of them were either kicked or punched in their abdomen, inducing a miscarriage. Nearly 90% of them had to put up with abusive words. The father of the unborn child was held responsible in a majority of these cases. Unbelievable? There is more coming up.
Approximately a quarter to a half of the women surveyed had been physically assaulted by their partners, the results of which led to pain, dizziness, broken bones, bruises, burns, cracked skulls, dislocated jaws, vaginal discharge, rape and fear. In addition, the abused women had a very low self-esteem, resulting in poor mental health status. The incidence of depression, anxiety and stress was twice as high among the abused, compared to their non-abused counterparts. There were also suicidal thoughts and attempts to a larger extent. Any trivial matter ranging from preparing dinner late, not finishing household work on time to refusal to have sex was found to be enough for men to 'exercise' their authority over women.
In a majority of the cases, other close family members are not even aware of such acts of violence happening inside the house, as most women refrain from discussing it with somebody, either due to the fear of more harassment or losing their children. There is a popular misconception in the Third World that it is not uncommon for a husband to beat his wife. The issue is even neglected by many a health authority, as it is perceived as a trespass into the private life of an individual and his family.
The study regarded instances of slapping, kicking, dragging or beating up, throwing objects in a way that could hurt, attempts to push, choke or burn on purpose, using of gun, knife or other weapons to threaten the female partner as forms of physical abuse. Sexual violence was defined by the following three behaviors: being physically forced to have a sexual intercourse against will, having sexual intercourse prompted by fear of response by the male, and being forced to a sexual act that a woman regards as degrading or humiliating.
The instance of domestic violence that can have a profound impact on a woman's sexual and reproductive health looms large in underdeveloped countries with poor educational standards. In addition, this paves the way for increased risk of sexually transmitted infections, including HIV. In fact, in many cases of domestic violence, the male partner had multiple sexual partners and refused to use a condom.
In view of the above report, it is high time domestic violence is given the social importance it deserves. A strong application of the current laws targeted at minimizing violence through encouraging more women to raise their voice against the menace is the need of the hour. Training and motivating health personnel to identify women experiencing violence and providing the best possible succor to domestic violence victims would go a long way in helping the helpless women. Despite government interventions and strict laws, nothing can be achieved without cooperation of the victims and a healthy social attitude, which abhors violence of any kind on the helpless.