I personally know three women who have experienced domestic abuse – and probably more who have not yet spoken out – all three are strong, intelligent, resilient women, they stayed silent for their own reasons, but eventually asked for help.
One of them is someone I have known all my life, a woman I admire greatly. I have never been in her situation and so don’t fully understand why she stayed silent for so long, I do know that there were many factors influencing her, not least her financial situation. Like many women, she felt that she had nowhere else to go, her priority was feeding and clothing her children, and staying in the family home seemed like the best option. She was doing her best for her children and I can’t argue with that. When she finally reached her personal tipping point and started to fear for their safety too, she bravely asked for help.
Life has continued to kick her in the guts from time to time. She met a wonderful man and re-married, only for him to die tragically young, leaving her a widow in her 40s. Illness and wayward sons have brought her further heartache, but she never gives up. When I asked her how she carries on, and in such a cheerful way, she said simply, “Well you just have to, don’t you?!”
Knowing her and hearing her story – because once she did speak out she was remarkably open about her experiences – has lead me to the conclusion that women who are abused are not weak, they are often the strongest people we are likely to meet. The men who carry out such abuse, physical, emotional, or most often a combination of the two, they are the weak ones. My personal opinion is that such men are looking for someone else to blame for their own inadequacies and by abusing the one person they should love and care for most, they simply show just how weak they are.
To the three women I know and admire, I say thank you for being in my life and for teaching me so much. And to those out there still in such a situation, there are people waiting to help when you are ready. Until then, remember that you are the strong one and you prove it every day!
25th November has been designated International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women by the United Nations General Assembly. It’s aim is to raise awareness of the fact that women around the world are subject to rape, domestic violence and other forms of abuse on a daily basis. The date also marks the start of the ‘16 Days of Activism’ that precedes Human Rights Day on 10th December each year.
There is still much work to do, especially as extreme conservatism tends to raise it’s ugly head in such debates. In March 2003, during a meeting of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, the delegate from Iran objected to the inclusion of a paragraph that called on governments to “condemn violence against women and refrain from invoking any custom, tradition, or religious consideration to avoid their obligations with respect to its elimination as set out in the Declaration of the Elimination of Violence against Women.” Representatives from Egypt, Pakistan, Sudan also raised objections – no surprises there – but I was shocked to read that one other country joined in their objections, and that country was The United States of America! The US, supposedly the world’s greatest democracy, contributed towards the first ever diplomatic failure at the UN Commission on the Status of Women. 
Iran, Egypt, Pakistan and Sudan aren’t known for their liberal attitudes towards women’s rights; the fact that the United States joined them made me angry, but after a some thought it made sense. After all, the US is one big contradiction when it comes to human rights, and sadly their allies – my own country included – seem more and more inclined to follow their lead when it comes to hypocrisy.
My conclusion is – we must try harder. We should not rely on others, and certainly not the UN. We can start by helping those closest to us, our mothers, our daughters, our sisters, our cousins, our friends and our neighbors. We need to open our eyes, because whether we realise it it or not, we all know someone who is dealing with domestic abuse, often in silence. Actions speak louder than words.
 Freeburg, Emily (2003-04-23). U.N. Pact Sinks on Issue of Violence Against Women. womensenews.org.
© Alyx Aerallo 2013