A Ukrainian tongue twister goes: “Bihla baba berehami, byly babu batohamy”. It translates into English as: “An old woman was running along the riverbanks, the old woman was beaten with straps”. It’s not known how many generations improved their elocution repeating it.
Lots of people do not even speculate about its meaning.
However, when asked what they hear and how they understand it, people often answer: well, these are simply nicely-ordered words starting with the letter “B”; it is not meant seriously, it’s just for practice; no one ever beats normal people and good women; she deserved it, she provoked it, she was guilty.
I hear the same words when discussing real stories of domestic violence. We live in a society where a lawyer and a psychologist can ask a crippled, bruised woman during a television show: “Why did he hit you with the hammer, what did you say or do wrong, maybe you talked to him the wrong way? Maybe you simply pushed him over the edge, infuriated him?”
With such attitudes we impose a feeling of guilt on those who live in a climate of domestic violence. We stuff the feeling of guilt down their throats, so that they never dare speak about it.
Statistics reveal that the majority of women who killed their husbands had experienced family violence.
Only now will the actions of a person who committed a crime due to systematic psychological, sexual, economical, or physical abuse be judged through the lens of mitigating circumstances. This legal norm will come into force from January 2019.
It may be hard to believe, and you might not know such people, or you may think that this issue is not relevant for you. To begin with, watch the “Big Little Lies” series or the “Arrêtez-moi” (“Stop Me”) film, in order to realise the importance and the severity of this problem.
On 25 November – the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women – the campaign against gender-based violence begins. It will last for 16 days, until 10 December (International Human Rights Day).
All persons can only contribute to public health in their own ways. It may seem that we do not have many tools, but we should not underestimate our own strengths.
Sometimes it is enough to read materials, study statistics and discuss the issue among friends, family, or community. To read the Istanbul Convention. Or just to become more aware, not close our eyes to the problem, not turn away from those who have suffered from it.
We can listen carefully to the authorities we elect and ask them: what do you think about domestic, gender-based violence? How are you going to prevent it? Are you going to push the Istanbul Convention forward? Are you going to make a stand against gender-based discrimination?
We can achieve a lot within our communities. We can ask the churches to address the issue of domestic violence in their sermons. We can organize a meeting with the police, visit our local councillors and discuss allocating part of the budget to create a shelter for people who have resisted abuse in the family.
We can speak honestly with our children. We can explain to our son that when a girl says “no” to his flirtation, it simply means “no” and not that she is being coquettish, that it is wrong to think that “a real girl will never directly say ‘yes’, so her ‘no’ means ‘yes’”.
And we can teach our daughter to defend her borders and do everything to prevent her from feeling guilty and walking hunched over when her breasts start to grow, and not to feel ‘unsexy’ near other girls with physiological differences.
We can simply stop keeping silent. When you constantly hear a person groan and cry, when you see a frozen tear in her eyes, you can become her voice, until she dares to speak for herself.
You can become her voice calling the hotline, or informing the police about what is happening behind the closed doors of your neighbours, or put a leaflet in the post box about where the person can seek help.