Tshering P. Dorji
A survivour of gender based violence in Peru, was once quoted as saying, “It is said that we were all born under a star; when I watch the stars at night, I ask which of them is mine, so that I can change it for another one.” Such is the plight of women who fall victim to violence at homes.
At the stakeholder’s consultation meeting on 27th August 2010 held in the capital at Bhutan Chamber for Commerce and Industry (BCCI) the members reviewed the much awaited domestic violence Bill of Bhutan. The members consisted of parliamentarians, health officials, police, officials from the non-governmental organizations and other champions of the cause.
“As we embark on this journey each and every one of us have a responsibility and a duty to leave behind a better world than we found. It is our moral obligation to hand to our children a society free of social malice,” Chimi Wangmo, the executive director of Respect Educate Nurture and Empower Women (RENEW) said. She added that social problem we face today is as complex as it has ever been. “It is a daunting challenge to tackle the issues of substance abuse, aggression, and domestic violence within our society. But every long and difficult journey begins with the first step and we have actually made a leap to begin our journey,” she said.
According to the United Nations to which Bhutan is a signatory, domestic violence, any act of gender based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual, or psychological harm or suffering for women, including threats of such acts, coercion, or arbitrary deprivations of liberty, whether occurring in public or private life.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) domestic violence accounts for a high proportion of homicides of women internationally. About 40 percent to 70 percent of female murder victims (depending on the country) were killed by their partners/former partners, whereas the comparable figure for men stood at 4 percent to 8 percent.
The study conducted by RENEW on domestic violence concluded that domestic violence has become a cliché in Bhutanese society over time. “Like any other society such form of violence is viewed casually as a private affair and is sanctioned under the semblance of cultural practices, social norms, misinterpretation of religious tenets and misguided jurisprudence often referred as ‘balance judgment’”, the report said.
In a population based survey conducted in Thimphu by RENEW in 2007 indicated that 77 percent of the participants in the survey have experienced domestic violence in the past three years. The statistics from the forensic unit of the National Referral Hospital in Thimphu indicates that 70 percent of the reported assault cases are of domestic violence. In 2008, the forensic unit recorded 339 cases of domestic violence perpetrated against women. In the first half of year 2009, the unit saw 169 cases. 80 percent of the domestic violence cases reported to RENEW is of repetitive violence they have endured anywhere from 3 to 14 years.
The Bill reviewers concluded that gender norms and inequity condone and perpetuate violence against women and that the violence against women is used to support unequal gender roles.
Doctor Rinchen Chhophel of National Commission for Women and Children (NCWC) in his presentation said men notion that they have the right to control wives’ behavior and to ‘discipline’ them. He quotes a typical husband saying, “If it is a great mistake, the husband is justified in beating his wife. Why not? A cow will not be obedient without beatings.” The notion, he asserted is that “There are ‘just’ causes for violence.”
The reviewers as well deliberated on some of the myths and realities about gender based violence. “To say that gender based violence happens only to poor and marginalized women and that men cannot control themselves because violence is simply a part of their nature is but a facade. The reality is, such violence happens among people of all socioeconomic, educational and racial profiles,” one reviewer pointed out.
“Male violence is not genetically based. It is perpetuated by a model of masculinity that permits and even encourages men to be aggressive and that blaming the victim is precisely the kind of attitude that has the potential to cause harm to a survivor of violence,” Dr Chhophel said.
According to WHO report, incidences consistently show that most women who experience domestic violence are abused by people they know. “Often the perpetrators are those they trust and love,” the report said.
The RENEW’s report, ‘domestic Violence: social malice’ says that their study revealed 77 percent of the women surveyed in Thimphu have experienced domestic violence within the past 3 years.
Police records indicate domestic violence reports of up to 6 times per week. The forensic unit in the National Referral Hospital recorded 339 cases in the year 2008, and 169 in the first half of year 2009. RENEW alone has catered services to 400 victims of domestic violence so far.
Gender based violence according to Dr Pakila Dukpa is also one of the major public health issues in the country. “Besides socio-economic and psychological impacts, domestic violence also causes severe reproductive health impacts. Forced sex for instance, is directly correlated to fatal diseases like HIV/AIDS,” he said.
The reviewers revealed that world wide, US $ 5.1 billion is spent annually in treating victims of domestic violence. Statistics for Bhutan as of now is unavailable.
Dr Chhophel concluded his presentation saying that the journey is long, tedious and painful but “we must make a start” and with the drafting of this Bill “the start has begun”, he said.