07.09.2020, 00:13

Violence by an intimate partner: A public matter

On September 2 as I venture with some friends for lunch at a little local Vietnamese restaurant to celebrate Vietnam’s National Day, a holiday commemorating freedom and independence in Vietnam, I witness a situation of intimate partner violence which happened in front of all our eyes.

Violence by an intimate partner: A public matter
 Elisa Fernandez Saenz is Country Representative of UN Women in Vietnam. Photo: UN Women

A man sitting next to us first shouted very loudly to his wife or girlfriend in what was unmistakably verbal aggression, to the point that she left the table and sat in an empty table behind him. Her face and body language showed that she was clearly affected by the situation; yet, her rather unresisting attitude made me think it was not the first time that she had been treated this way. The man kept on talking loudly with apparent signs of being increasingly angry. Suddenly, he stood up, grabbed a blue plastic stool and moved quickly to hit her. In that moment, I also stood up and shouted “Stop” (in English), and “Khong” (in Vietnamese), while I crossed my arms making the “No” sign. I probably reduced the intensity of the violence but unfortunately, he still hit her once. I evidently made the situation “uncomfortable”, thus, the man paid and left quickly the restaurant with his partner and another couple.

The whole situation has left me deeply sadden and angry, wondering how we can bring a change so that violence against women stops once and for all. One woman battered is one too many!!!

I can still not take the image of this man hitting his partner with the blue stool out of my mind. In my head, there are too many questions unanswered:

– Why did that man felt so entitled that he could insult and hit the women in public without any fear of repercussion?

– Why did she feel so disempowered to act, to protect herself, to demand for help from all of us around her?

– Why did the people in the restaurant felt so removed from the situation that they did not feel compelled to help another human being in distress, like we would normally do?

What happened in that restaurant was not OK! The verbal and physical violence this woman experienced is unacceptable. It is not a private problem of that couple. It is a public matter. It touches all of us, and we should react! No matter the nature of the conflict, that women did not deserve the aggression she was receiving. Differences and conflicts happen within couples and families. They can be resolved with respectful, non-violent communication. It is the responsibility of all of us to react when violence happens – say something, stop the action, call the police, secure the safety of the victim and offer some help, and refer her to the hotlines and shelters available.

This woman could be me, or my colleague, or the female politician, the businesswomen, the street worker, or the student. The statistics of gender-based violence in Vietnam are just too high and not improving.(*) Unless we recognized the damage this makes to the core fabric of our society, things will not change. And men need to be part of this realization.

In the past years, there have been a lot of efforts to improve legislation and services to prevent and protect women from gender-based violence in private and public spaces, but unless we change our mindsets it would just take too long before we see a significant difference in the way we related to each other. Too many women will get hurt in the process.

As we go back into our routines, let’s reflect on the fact that a true free, peaceful and prosperous society is not possible until we end the violence within our homes, our mind and our hearts!

* The 2nd National Study on Violence Against Women in Vietnam 2019 found that nearly 2 in 3 women (62.9%) experienced one or more forms of physical, sexual, emotional and economic violence, and controlling behaviours by their husband in their life time, and 31.6% currently (in the last 12 months). [Produced by MOLISA, GSO, UNFPA, and funded by Australian Government https://vietnam.unfpa.org/en/publications/national-study-violence-against-women-viet-nam-2019]

Ms. Elisa Fernandez Saenz is Country Representative of UN Women in Vietnam.