Skewed perceptions tolerate domestic abuse

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Confucian traditions and notions provide fertile ground for violence against women in many Vietnamese homes

Tran Thi Thu Hang, 46, being treated at the Construction Hospital in Hanoi after being brutally beaten and tortured by her husband Luu Nguyen Tan

After hitting his wife with an empty beer bottle, Luu Nguyen Tan used a piece of the broken glass to cut her arms.

As the blood gushed out, the 48-year-old motorbike mechanic from Hanoi's Thanh Xuan District used an ordinary (unsterilized) sewing needle and thread to stitch the wounds.

For many hours, the wife, Tran Thi Thu Hang, 46, stood on the ground in their home, an iron chain around her neck tied to a beam on the ceiling.

At 8 p.m. on July 18, she was finally let down. She had been standing tied up since 5 a.m. in the morning. The torture inflicted on her included having her ankles hit repeatedly with a hammer.

The incident that sparked this treatment by her husband was Hang asking a male employee of the eatery she ran to pluck some grey hairs from her head.

Tan only ended his beating when their daughter living in Russia called home. He forced Hang to work again at the eatery she ran, but the neighbors saw her bleeding and called the police.

Hang was taken to the Construction Hospital and Tan was arrested on July 20 under charges of "deliberate assault."

Tan's medieval torturing of his spouse has shocked people and elicited calls for stricter enforcement of laws, campaigns to improve awareness of domestic violence and so on.

However, experts say all these efforts run up against the wall of a Confucian tradition that is so extremely patriarchal that it practically condones violence by men against women.

"Under the traditional Confucian beliefs, women's duties are primarily associated with housework and the nurturing of male offspring to perpe-tuate the husband's family lineage. Their central role is to maintain "˜family harmony' and the reputation of the family as mothers, wives and daughters-in-law," said Montira Narkvichien, Communications and Outreach Officer with the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women).

The chains and bottles that Luu Nguyen Tan used to torture his wife Tran Thi Thu Hang and the sewing needle and thread he used to stitch her wounds.

Women are considered inferior to men and as such, required to be obedient and submissive, she said.

An offshoot of this strong-rooted tradition is that domestic violence was considered a "sensitive" and "private" issue in Vietnam.

That has changed and cases of abuse have been reported in the media, but the abuse still continues despite strong commitment shown by the government to promote gender equality and prevent violence against women by ratifying several core international human rights treaties and national policies and laws.

"There are challenges such as a gap between the laws and the implementation at all levels. Advocacy remains important  as well as a change of attitude from one that views domestic violence as an internal family matter to one that recognizes domestic violence as an attempt against one's dignity and a violation of basic human rights," Narkvichien told Thanh Nien Weekly via email.

"˜Family order'

A survey released by the Institute of Sociology under the Ho Chi Minh National Politics and Administration Institute last month found between 70 to 80 percent of respondents considered domestic violence to be necessary to maintain "family order."

Between 66 and 76 percent considered domestic violence a family issue, according to the survey of 1,300 communal level government officials nationwide.

Vo Thi Hong Loan, lead author of the survey, said the research team was surprised when many respondents maintained that forced spousal sex, quarrels and refusal to communicate did not constitute domestic violence.

Around 15 percent of male and 14.5 percent of female respondents said a husband has the right to insult his wife. Also, 10 percent of male and 7 percent of female government officials polled think that a husband beating his wife is not domestic violence.

The Domestic Violence Prevention and Control Law took effect in 2007. However, the survey team said anti-domestic violence has only been addressed through public service campaigns and not yet through a thorough enforcement of the law.

"I interviewed many victims of domestic violence. I have talked to a woman who is always afraid to meet her husband because he often buys porn magazines and movies for them to watch and forces her to imitate them," Loan said. This is not seen by many as domestic violence, and these are difficult to counter even in present-day Vietnamese society.

Loan also said domestic violence in urban areas is the same as rural areas but "more sophisticated."

Women share responsibilities

According to a recent study, titled "Research on Law enforcement practices and legal support to female victims of domestic violence in Vietnam" released by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, one of the main reasons that women and victims of domestic violence do not report crimes to the authorities is that they still think that it is a family issue and feel ashamed about reporting the incident.

"This has become one of the main challenges in raising awareness of domestic violence in Vietnam," said Narkvichien.

"Other reasons mentioned are the capacity to respond to the issue. Services such as medical, counseling, shelter and legal services provided to victims are still segmented at the community level. The different sectors need to work in collaboration to provide comprehensive services to the victims," she said.

According to a flagship UN report on women, "Progress of the World's Women: In Pursuit of Justice 2011-2012," grievances are commonly resolved within families or communities, or through a traditional or non-state justice process.

"In Lesotho, Mozambique and Vietnam, more than three times as many women say they have contacted a traditional or community leader about a grievance rather than a government official," according to the report.

At a seminar on domestic violence held in Hanoi late last year, experts said many women found justifications for her husband's abuse, while local authorities considered it a common issue.

In a recent case of spousal abuse, police on August 3 asked Nguyen Van Quy of Dak Lak Province's Cu Mgar District to come to the station and submit a report about beating his wife Tran Thi Bay.

Quy told them he would do so in the afternoon. Instead, he bought five liters of gasoline and set himself, Bay and her four-year-old daughter on fire. Quy died on the spot while Bay and her daughter suffered 40 and 6 percent burns respectively.

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