news & events

Nov26

saved by the bell

jane221It is a fact that domestic violence crosses all economic, social and cultural boundaries. Rich people do it. Poor people do it. People in-between do it, too.
 
But here’s the thing: poor people have the fewest options for self-defense.When we say domestic violence, we are talking about battering, and all forms of physical and psychic terrorism. Women and children comprise the vast majority of those who are at the receiving-end of domestic violence.
Women and children who have independent resources – cab fare, a bus-token, a credit card, a cell phone — may be able to get into a safe place where they can tell somebody and call for help, or simply get away. Women and children, and especially women with small children, living in poverty, have little choice but to stay. This is true even in American cities. There are urban areas of our own country where the police are notoriously slow to show — because they’re scared!

doorbell1This was the key topic during the Girls’ and Women’s breakout session during the CGI — there were 50 breakout rooms, and in our group of 12 or so people, I sat next to Jennifer Buffet (Warren’s daughter-in-law: see blog dated October 15) along with Marguerite Margolies, who is Chelsea Clinton’s mother-in-law. Both women are Dermalogica fans, as I discovered when I gave them my card!

Mallika Dutt, from India, spoke about a public service campaign underway in her country that confronts domestic violence — President Clinton had also mentioned it during the opening plenary. It’s called “Bell Bajao” or “Ring the Bell.” If someone hears sounds coming from a neighbor’s home that suggests violence, they go to the door and ring the doorbell. This action interrupts the violence, and chances are that the perpetrator is aware of the campaign, and may stop. Check it out at www.bellbajao.org/ — India

Would this work in America? I’m not so sure. The fact that it is working in India is relevant, though.

The entire discussion raises interesting and disturbing links between domestic violence, especially violence perpetrated by men against women, and poverty, and war. This unholy trinity absolutely dictates life in the developing world. This realization was one of the key “Aha!” moments we had when deciding to form FITE: to give disempowered women ways out. Physical safety, and mental security from the threat of violence, are the first steps toward creating personal, professional and economic stability.

We’ve all seen the astonishing photographs of Bibi Aisha, an Afghani 14-year old whose nose was cut off by her husband and his brother as punishment when Aisha fled her marriage from her Taliban-fighter spouse. As a side note, Aisha’s father had delivered her into this marriage in exchange for a bride-price which paid off his debts. We’ve all heard the phrase “using women as chattel.” In case you’ve ever wondered, this is exactly what it means.

I also just read that according to Margot Wallstrom, the UN’s special representative on sexual violence, the “Democratic Republic” (I cannot resist putting those words in bitter quotation-marks) of Congo is the rape-capital of the world. For a taste of brutality more barbaric than most of us can easily imagine, just Google “Congo rape” or words to that effect, and have a read.

Sexual violence, which often takes the form of domestic violence within families, is epidemic worldwide. It’s also happening right down the street from you and me. Just listen. And if you hear something, ring the bell (or at least call 911).

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