Foundation Violence Against Women International is a non-profit organization working as a special consultative status with the United Nations.
International Day to End Violence against Women
25 November 2020
Estudio multipaís de la OMS sobre salud de la mujer y la violencia doméstica : primeros resultados sobre prevalencia, eventos relativos a la salud y respuestas de las mujeres a dicha violencia : resumen del informe
“When we came across these searches, we were shocked by how negative they were and decided we had to do something with them,” says Christopher Hunt, Art Director of the creative team. The idea developed places the text of Google searches over the mouths of women portraits as if to silence their voices.
For UN Women, the searches confirm the urgent need to continue making the case for women’s rights, empowerment and equality, a cause the organization is pursuing around the world. UN Women is heartened by the initial strong reaction to the ads and hopes they will spark constructive dialogue globally”. – UN Women
Domestic violence corrodes the fabric of women’s emotional and social worlds. The process of extinguishing a woman’s sense of herself, her relationships, her understanding of her past and her present is a destructive one. It occurs behind closed doors and thrives in an environment of secrecy and isolation. Unsurprisingly, others, including professionals have had little access to this closed world and its destructive interior.
Paradoxically, the route to safety has also, and by necessity, often occurred behind closed doors. There has been little exposure of the complex process of support and healing which has been undertaken with workers and other women within the refuge sector. The need for secret addresses, high levels of security, and privacy to allow the slow process of recovery has meant that the work of refuges has also been subject to invisibility. These texts bring to light the complexity of this work and women’s journeys. It is not before time. The context of women’s services is changing. The entwining of advocacy for services combined with the high levels of emotional support required for women to embark on the difficult pathway to recovery is changing - and not always for the best. A number of challenges beset both individual women and the sector.
Firstly, the drive to provide cheaper and more ‘efficient’ accommodation for women and children escaping domestic violence has frequently meant that the complex array of services provided through refuges has been underestimated. The threat to specialist refuges for black and minority ethnic women, and the drive to provide only minimal support through hostel accommodation fails to recognize the level of fear, trauma, and grief which the crisis of separation can represent. It is not a time to leave women alone to fend for them when this act of independence and bravery can provide the first step towards a new life free from violence. High level support is essential and cost effective and should not be constructed as a luxury. The second issue lies in contrast, and possibly contradiction to the first.
This is namely that domestic violence intervention is becoming increasingly professionalized. Domestic violence forums are dominated by police, health professionals, social workers, and housing workers. While this mainstreaming is an exciting development which can create significantly more attention to domestic violence, it carries with it some dangers. These can include downgrading the high levels of competence and experience provided by Women’s Aid and other specialist voluntary sector organizations, as well as an underestimation of the role and value of mutual support provided by one survivor towards another and the effectiveness of creating shared activities for children.
Understanding the balance to be struck is particularly evident when the intervention to support the emotional well-being of both women and children is considered. Recognition that the impact of violence and abuse can be traumatizing and that the erosion of women’s esteem and identity can lead to depression, high anxiety, and suicide attempts is not new. However, problems arise if we then think that only professional counsellors and mental health professionals are able to provide the requisite help.
The interviews with women in refuges provide testimony to its significance and a reminder that as the ‘purpose-built refuge’ characterized by separate accommodation units for women and children emerges, that steps are required by workers to facilitate the opportunities for women to get to know and support each other in their day-to-day living. A major step in the recovery from trauma and hence recovery in the aftermath of violence is to re-establish social support and step away from the isolation created by violence and abuse. At the heart of a situation of domestic violence is one individual, most often a woman, who is paying a heavy personal, social, economic, and emotional cost.
She may have children - or not. She may be married – or not. She may have learning difficulties or physical impairments, be old or young, a member of a religious, ethnic or cultural minority or of any class of society. For any woman who is in a violent relationship, seeking to leave it, or trying to find the strength to rebuild her life after doing so, there is a need not only for practical support to enable her to access appropriate services but also for emotional support to build up shattered confidence and self-esteem. For some women, this support may be needed for a relatively short period; for others, it may need to extend over a much longer timescale. At the heart of a situation of domestic violence is one individual, most often a woman, who is paying a heavy personal, social, economic, and emotional cost. She may have children - or not. She may be married - or not.
She may have learning difficulties or physical impairments, be old or young, a member of a religious, ethnic or cultural minority or of any class of society. For any woman who is in a violent relationship, seeking to leave it, or trying to find the strength to rebuild her life after doing so, there is a need not only for practical support to enable her to access appropriate services but also for emotional support to build up shattered confidence and self-esteem.
For some women, this support may be needed for a relatively short period; for others, it may need to extend over a much longer timescale cost-effective services. For women who are experiencing, or have experienced, domestic violence, it offers a way of making sense of events and feelings that can seem bewildering and chaotic, enabling them to locate themselves in a process with an ending and to recognize their own capabilities of taking action and influencing outcomes. It was evident from their accounts that most of the women who talked to me had experienced abuse for between five and ten years. For some, it had extended over a much longer period – one woman had suffered emotional abuse for almost 40 years. It can be difficult, not only for the general public, but also for some professionals who come in contact with them, to understand why women remain in these relationships; or, if they leave, why they are likely to return to their abuser on one or more occasions.
This may lead to feelings of frustration and perhaps the view that there is little point in taking action in the case under consideration, or indeed in subsequent similar cases. For the woman who is experiencing domestic violence, there are complex issues around staying, leaving, or returning. Some of these may revolve around the relationship itself, where feelings may be confusing, ambiguous, and painful. Others may relate to the practicalities of leaving – the losses that will be sustained in the process, access to material resources and support, loneliness, having to manage alone, the needs of her children and the fear of retribution. Underlying all of this will be the effects that domestic violence have had on her physical health and mental and emotional well-being.