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An NGO’s mission to combat domestic violence

By 13 June 2009 No Comment
Photo by Julie Chang

Photo by Julie Chang

Research has shown that 35 percent of married women in China have experienced domestic violence, making it one of the most serious problems facing China today. However, an NGO nestled in a handful of cramped offices in Beijing has made fixing domestic abuse their mission.

Stemming from a Chinese traditional view that women are the property of men, today’s China still tends to see men as the wealthier, more educated figure in a relationship. According to Unifem East Asia, a United Nations’ organization devoted to promoting gender equality, men who fail to meet such social expectations may resort to physical or verbal abuse of  a significant other as a means of exerting control.

Although domestic violence is more widespread in rural areas where traditional gender roles continue to thrive, urban areas still exhibit the crippling phenomenon as well. Founded in 2000 by a group of activists, scholars, and female-interest NGOs, Anti-Domestic Violence Network of the China Law Society (ADVN) is a multifaceted network that coordinates projects aimed at raising awareness and prevention of domestic violence all over China.

“There is no problem worse than domestic violence in China,” said Hou Zhiming, the director of ADVN in Beijing. Although China faces pollution in urban areas and jobless migrant workers in rural areas, domestic violence, Hou said, directly affects every part of the country.

ADVN volunteers distribute pamphlets and perform plays in communities across China to raise awareness on domestic violence. They also provide 24-hour hotlines for victims of domestic violence as well as trained law enforcement, doctors and lawyers capable of responding to domestic-abuse situations.

However, few domestic-abuse victims take advantage of ADVN’s services due to the lack of familial support and China’s traditionally patriarchal history. ”In China, 34 percent of women suffer from domestic violence, yet few call the hotline… because they are too timid,” Hou said.

It is customary for many Chinese to maintain an appearance of unity whether dealing with economical, political or social issues. Therefore, many parents of abused women discourage their daughters from seeking any help that would threaten her family unit’s reputation. Entering a domestic violence shelter, for example, would demonstrate her inability to keep a stable family, Hou said.

Unlike most Chinese NGOs, ADVN cooperates with international organizations such as Oxfam Novib and the American Bar Association to fund the execution and research of projects. Their most recent endeavors include advocating the passage of laws directly addressing domestic violence, which China’s legal system lacks.

“This organization is quite transparent, and the way [we] work is democratic,” said Wang Yi, senior communication officer at ADVN. In recent months, Yi has also launched ADVN’s English Web site to increase accessibility to the organization’s work.

As the definition of domestic abuse continues to expand, ADVN also raises awareness in gender-based sexual harassment, child and elderly abuse, and “cold” violence where a spouse withholds sex from the relationship as a form of mental abuse. These forms of domestic abuse tend to be more apparent in rural villages as women are given fewer rights educationally and financially.

“The traditional [definition of domestic abuse] is the husband beats the wife,” said Yi. Therefore, the broader definition of domestic abuse, especially in rural areas, becomes a large problem, Yi said.

Although domestic violence is not likely to ever disappear, Hou and Yin believe their organization’s efforts will spur women to speak up against domestic violence. Hou only hopes that ADVN will inspire women to share their stories and inspire others.

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