The moment the man stood up, grabbed a plastic stool and moved quickly to hit the woman, I also stood up and shouted.
Elisa Fernandez Saenz
I shouted "Stop" and "Khong" ("No" in Vietnamese), while I crossed my arms making the "No" sign.
It was September 2nd, when I and some friends went to lunch at a small eatery in Hanoi to eat some noodles and celebrate Vietnam National Day, a day celebrating freedom and independence in Vietnam. Vietnam, I witnessed a situation of intimate partner violence unfold in front of all of us.
The man sitting next to us for the first time shouted so loudly at his wife or girlfriend with unmistakably aggressive speech, that she left the table and sat down at an empty table behind him.
Her face and body language showed that she was clearly influenced by the situation as she kept her head down in sadness and silence.Her rather careless attitude makes me think this is not the first time she has been treated like this.They look young, like in their late 20s, and seem educated, wearing fashionable clothes.The man continued to speak loudly with signs of growing anger, while a couple sitting with him remained silent.
By standing up and shouting at him, I probably reduced the intensity of the violence but unfortunately, he still hit her once.The violence happened in front of all of us, but no one in the restaurant except me acted.Apparently I made the situation "nasty"; so the man paid and quickly left the restaurant with his partner and the other couple.
This whole situation leaves me deeply saddened and angry, wondering how we can change so that violence against women stops once and for all. One woman battered is one too many!!!
I can still not take the image of this man hitting his partner with the blue stool out of my mind. In my head, there are too many questions unanswered: Why did that man feel so entitled that he could insult and hit the women in public without any fear of repercussion? Why did she feel so disempowered to act, to protect herself, to demand for help from all of us around her? Why did the people in the restaurant felt so removed from the situation that they did not feel compelled to help another human being in distress, like we would normally do?
What happened in that restaurant was not OK! The verbal and physical violence this woman experienced is unacceptable.It's not a matter of the couple alone.It is a public issue.It touches us all, and we should react! Regardless of the nature of the conflict, those women did not deserve the aggression she was receiving.Differences and conflicts occur in couples and families.They can be resolved with respectful, non-violent communication.
This woman could be me, or my colleague, or female politician, businesswoman, street worker, or student.Statistics on gender-based violence in Vietnam are too high and have not been improved.Unless we realize the damage this is doing to the core structure of our society, things will not change.And men need to be part of this perception.
Over the years, much effort has been made to improve legislation and services to prevent and protect women from gender-based violence in private and public spaces, but if we change our point it will just take too long before we see a difference in the way we relate to each other.Too many women will be injured in the process.
To the young woman in the restaurant and the thousands of women who are abused by their partners every day, I want you to know that you don't deserve abuse and that help is available.If you constantly feel unhappy, depressed, scared, and insecure around your partner, something is wrong.Don't blame yourself.Instead, find ways to protect yourself (and your child) by talking to a trusted friend or relative and seeking help at available hotlines and services (Central). Center for Women and Development, Peace House, Center for Research and Applied Science on Gender, Family, Women and Adolescents (CSAGA).For violence to happen is possible.Violence is not your destiny.
For witnesses or witnesses to situations of gender-based violence, you (we) have a role.Do not be silent.If you find yourself witnessing a person being harassed, threatened, or beaten, you can distract the perpetrator to allow the targeted person to get out of the situation.Very important, do not risk your own safety.Try not to act alone.Call on those around you for help and interrupt the situation to send the message that the behavior is not acceptable in the community.You and others can talk to the perpetrator to tell him respectfully, directly and honestly that his words and actions are wrong, such as by saying "you need to" stop", "what you are doing is inappropriate", "we need to talk about what you just said/did."If you don't feel safe doing any of the above, consider contacting the police.
We all have a responsibility to react when violence occurs - say something, stop acting, call the police, ensure the victim's safety and offer some help, and refer her to hotlines and shelters are available.
As we go back into our routines, let’s reflect on the fact that a true free, peaceful and prosperous society is not possible until we end the violence within our homes and our hearts!
*Elisa Fernandez Saenz is the Country Representative of UN Women in Vietnam.
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