Participants in the launching workshop of National Communication Campaign “Take Action to End Violence against Women and Girls" held in Hanoi on November 18 to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women on November 25.
Phuong, 45, recently arrived at a provincial hospital in Thua Thien-Hue's Phong Dien District with both her arms and legs broken.
Bruises covered her body.
According to a policeman, Phuong's husband had beaten her unconscious with a bamboo stick for failing to listen properly.
In another case of domestic violence that occurred in Hai Phong in March of last year, Luyen, 28, and her two young daughters (4 and 5 years old) were burned by her in-laws because Luyen had 'failed' to produce a son.
The two cases illustrate the alarming violence directed against women and girls in Vietnam.
While severe, those cases were not exceptional
During a 2010 nationwide survey on domestic violence, one in three female respondents who reported ever having been married said they had been beaten by their husbands at some point in their lives; 58 percent of those same women said they'd suffered at least one form of physical, sexual and emotional violence from their husbands at some point in their lifetime (GSO, 2010).
However, 87 percent of those victims hadn't sought government assistance or intervention citing a lack of services, fear of violent retribution, social stigmatization and blame for tarnishing the reputation of the perpetrator.
The pervasiveness of violence against women and girls is shocking. Violence – and in many cases the mere threat of it – is one of the most significant barriers to achieving full gender equality.
The human costs are enormous.
The effects of gender-based violence (GBV) in Vietnam are not limited to individuals and families; GBV has significantly hindered Vietnam’s economic development.
One study found that the cost of violence, in the form of domestic violence against women, in out-of-pocket expenditures and lost earnings, represents nearly 1.41 percent of national gross domestic product (UN, 2012).
Vietnam has a relatively advanced legal framework, which includes the Gender Equality Law, the Law on Domestic Violence Prevention and Control and related policies to promote gender equality and address domestic violence.
However, the traditional patriarchal family system remains continues to govern women's lives. Women are expected to be subordinate and "belong" to their husbands and in-laws after marriage. Women are frequently subjected to physical, psychological and emotional threats, but within marriage, violence is rarely recognized because of culturally-defined gender expectations, gender norms, moral standards related to gender issues, as well as patriarchal ideology.
Taken together, these factors leave female victims feeling ‘invisible’ and trapped in their homes.
So while they may enjoy equal de jure protection, women’s de-facto status is lower than that of men.
The situation has left many women to conclude that male domination and violence are natural and inevitable parts of their lives. In addition, these cultural barriers prevent women from seeking help, support and services.
Today (November 18) is the start of a 16-day campaign to stop violence against women and girls.
The kickoff coincides with the International Day on the Elimination of Violence Against Women (November 25). The task is daunting and I have no illusion that the problem of violence against women and girls will be forever wiped off the face of the earth or at least from Vietnam's soil.
But, together we can make a difference! If men and boys are the main perpetrators of violence against women and girls, men and boys can put as stop to it!
Violence against women and girls is not a disease for which we must seek a cure. Violence against women and girls stems from the way we, as a society, look at and value our women and girls, our mothers and sisters, our daughters, our wives.
It is fostered by gender stereotypes and reinforced by dominant male attitudes, unequal power structures and inequitable relations between women and men. Since men often are the dominant power in society, violence against women is inherently a man's problem.
Since we, men, are the cause of the problem, we need to be a major part of the solution. Recent research conducted by UNFPA with men and boys suggests that well-implemented interventions can transform men's attitudes and behaviours in favour of gender-sensitive practices and, as such, foster less violent behaviour towards women and girls.
Moreover, we need to reform our education policies to include curricula aimed at teaching boys and girls, and young men and women, about non-violence, healthy relationships and gender equality. Communication and education programmes should also help men develop skills to control themselves and to resolve social and family conflicts without resorting to violence.
As we embark on this 16-days of activism to end violence against women and girls, let us join hands and say "No" to gender-based violence! Let us all strive toward a Vietnam free from violence against women and girls, and where women like Phuong and Luyen can live free from fear of being beaten simply because they are women.
* The writer is the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Representative in Vietnam.