Social mores could reinforce domestic violence: experts

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A female worker in Ho Chi Minh City. Tackling domestic violence remains an uphill task for Vietnam, experts say

Gripping her legs heavily scarred with bruises, Trang recounts the latest torture she suffered at her husband's hands"

We had a row last week over a trivial family matter. My husband was angry because I disagreed with him on how we would spend money on tuition fees for our kids. Then he beat me, again and again," Trang said, sitting in a Ho Chi Minh City shelter for female victims of domestic violence.

"He beat me then he pulled me like a dog from the gate to inside the house"¦ He took the small chair next to the dining table and hit me with it. He took off his shoes to throw at my face. I tried to run away but he lifted the chair to throw it at me. My neighbors heard the noise and came over. They held his hands and told me to run away. I ran away and he was throwing bricks at me."

"I know all this happened because I disobeyed him. He thought I was not being a good wife," Trang said.

On Wednesday (March 9), the Tuoi Tre newspaper reported that 33-year-old Huynh Ngoc Thien had been arrested two days earlier by police in HCMC's Binh Tan District for stripping his wife, beating her up and pushing a fishing hook into her mouth. The police said they were investigating the abuse. The woman has suffered several injuries but is recuperating now, doctors said.

But 35-year-old Phan Thi Hien was not that lucky. She was literally beaten to death late last month by her 36-year-old husband, Vu Tien Dai, in the northern province of Hai Duong. The police have arrested Dai and are pressing charges against him, local media reported.

Domestic violence is rife in Vietnamese society, and experts say traditional inequalities could be exacerbating the problem.

Speaking at the Policy Dialogue on Gender Quality organized in Hanoi on Wednesday by the United Nations and the Vietnamese government to discuss remaining challenges on gender equality and women's empowerment, Bruce Campbell, representative of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in Vietnam, said "cultural and traditional norms of many countries in Southeast Asia"¦ don't change quickly."

"Women are still not valued equally as boys for example, the sex ratio at birth [shows a strong indication for son preference [in the country]."

The country's national average sex ratio at birth is 110.6 males per 100 females, compared with a biologically standard figure of 105, according to the UNFPA.

 "So as long as those kinds of traditions of inequality are in place, this challenge [of addressing gender-based violence] will take time to overcome," Campbell told Thanh Nien Weekly over the phone.

One out of three Vietnamese women say they have suffered physical or sexual violence from their husbands at some time in their lives, a joint United Nations-Vietnamese government study said last November.

If emotional violence is included, the number rises to 58 percent, the study found. One out of four women who were physically or sexually abused by their husbands reported suffering physical injuries. Of those, more than half said they were injured multiple times. The study, the first of its kind in Vietnam, interviewed 4,838 women between the ages of 18 and 60. It was conducted from December 2009 to February 2010.

"Although domestic violence is widespread, the problem is very much hidden," Henrica Jansen, the lead researcher for the study, said in a statement released by the UNFPA. "Besides the stigma and shame causing women to remain silent, many women think that violence in relationships is 'normal' and that women should tolerate and endure what is happening to them for the sake of family harmony," she said.

Some experts have acknowledged that more and more women are starting to shed light on the scourge of domestic violence by speaking out about their problems, but they are also worried that the current socio-economic situation could worsen the problem.

"The society appears to be in chaos now," said Nguyen Thi Minh Phuong, who founded the Xuan Vinh Group, a volunteer advocacy organization which seeks to provide consultancy on family matters and support people living with HIV/AIDS in HCMC.

"I'm concerned that growing youth violence, coupled with mounting pressure of covering the rising costs of living in every family, would just aggravate the situation," Phuong said.

 "Yes, women are starting to speak out. But I don't take it as a sign that domestic violence will abate any time soon."


"When we talk about violence against women, the first effort must focus on prevention. In order to do good prevention work, we start with men perpetrators of violence," said Bruce Campbell, representative of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in Vietnam.  "We must start in schools with young boys"¦ If we get boys and later on men involved in hearing this message, then we'll prevent the issue."

"We're looking to do training with law enforcement agencies because we find many cases continue to go unreported. If they are reported, families are simply urged to resolve their own problems internally.  So we need to do more in terms of capacity building to support public security officers and we've found so far that they are willing to support this kind of training. So we need to find the money again to support scaling up training for public security officers nationwide."

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