Social media platforms are always inundated with happy pictures of couples regardless of their marital status. But, the reality may not be that rosy all the time as there are complaints of intimate partner violence across the world.
As per the World Health Organization’s multi-country study on women’s health and domestic violence against women in 2005, 13-61% of women have reported experiencing physical violence by their partners, 4-49% reported experiencing severe physical violence, 6-59% experiencing sexual violence and 20-75% emotional violence. Stakeholders believe the situation has not improved significantly over these years.
The prevalence of intimate partner violence (IPV) is also widespread in Nepal. However, this problem is often normalised in Nepali patriarchal society, hence it has been a key form of violence against women, say experts.
To shed light on this issue on the occasion of 16 days of Activism against Gender-based Violence, Onlinekhabar recently talked with Nirijana Bhatta, the vice-president of Yuwalaya, a youth-led organisation that has been working on this issue about the intensity of intimate partner violence and works carried out by governmental and non-governmental sectors to minimise it.
Why do you think intimate partner violence is an issue in our society?
Being in a romantic relationship before marriage is still not acceptable in our society. Therefore, very few teenagers share about their partners with their parents or family and keep it a secret from society and family. Even parents won’t know if their children have any partner or are into a romantic relationship. As a result, many think if they speak up against any form of violence they are facing in their relationships, others will get to know about their relationships. Hence, they keep on tolerating this. I mean to say this is a serious problem because it is often hidden from society.
So why does intimate partner violence not come into the discussion more often? It seems this issue has been ignored by the non-governmental sector as well.
I agree. Our organisation has carried out a research study on dating violence, the form of intimate partner violence among unmarried couples, among youth in 2018. However, in the following years, we could not provide awareness on dating violence in a large mass due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Besides this, I don’t think any other organisation has worked on this particular type of violence in Nepal to date.
But, as intimate partner violence impacts the physical and psychological health of the survivors for a very long time, this issue should be brought into the discourse.
One of the crucial reasons why this has not been made into the larger discussion is the lack of awareness and understanding about the IPV among people as all the genders have normalised it. And, intimate partner violence is often treated as a family issue or common affair between couples, be it married or unmarried.
So, both men and women can be subjected to intimate partner violence, can’t they?
No, mostly, women are at the receiving end. Patriarchal mindset is the prime cause of every violence and intimate partner violence is no exception. A child grows up seeing his/her father verbally abusing his/her mother and beating her, hence s/he finds it normal for men to abuse their partners and treat them in any way they like.
It is ingrained in men that their wives and girlfriends are their property and they have all the rights to do anything with them thanks to patriarchal upbringing.
The same happens with the girl child, such conditioning desensitises her to coercive, and abusive behaviours. Most of the time, abuse, whether physical or psychological, is also confused with love and care.
But, people say everything is fair in love. Why do you see this problematic?
Usually, intimate partner violence starts out in a psychological form. They begin controlling your movements, activities, ask where you are, who you are with, whether you have reached home, why haven’t you reached home this late, and all this. Also, they are jealous and possessive. All these are often confused with love and care.
Initially, their partners may think how caring and loving their partners are unless it becomes physical and then they realise it as violence.
Is it seen more in married couples or unmarried ones? In what forms?
I nonetheless agree that both men and women have been victims of intimate partner violence, in the case of unmarried couples. As per our survey, most girls and women have been abused physically and sexually. They are beaten, slapped, pressurised or manipulated to kiss and indulge in unwanted sexual activities, while most men and boys have been the victims of emotional and financial violence. They experience cheating, controlling movements, and many more.
However, it is a different scenario in married couples as most women have been victimised. The incidents of intimate partner violence, no doubt, are seen more in married couples, compared to unmarried ones as both partners involved in a relationship have been groomed by social conditioning (taking a wife as his private property).
Now, the violence has also been happening through online platforms. It is minimised only if you can resist it.
What do you think stops women from resisting violence or leaving their violent partners?
It is patriarchy. The patriarchal mindset is so deeply rooted in women that they accept violence with much ease. There are women who think husbands slapping or beating them is normal because it is their right. I have witnessed such a mentality in women during a study in Nepalgunj. As we have discussed earlier, abuse is often connected with love and care, and people have become habitual with abusive behaviours.
Besides, the lack of family support also stops them from speaking up against such violence. In some cases, concerns for their children, family prestige, economic dependency, and unconditional love for their partners and the hope that they will change are also the reasons.
However, many intimate partner violence survivors have stepped out of such violent relations and reported complaints. There are helplines like 1145 for women, 1098 for children and adolescents. At least, there are systems to report and awareness is also increasing.
Still, many find the road to justice very cumbersome, plus the practice of settling the cases in negotiation is stopping them from acting against intimate partner violence.
Are governments and stakeholders aware of this issue? What have they done to address this social problem?
There has been a lot of work in order to minimise this, not specifically this, but mainly gender-based violence. If we look into laws, policies and strategies, there are really hopeful signs.
But, what we are lacking is their proper implementation. Now, as the government has reached every local level, the local government should create an appropriate environment for implementing rules and orders. The laws, policies and strategies should come along with a budget plan. Also, the administrations should focus on giving quick responses and justice.
Moreover, we should invest in our children and adolescents as the outcomes will be long lasting. Many adolescents don’t know about intimate partner violence that they are abusing or being abused. We need to work on making them aware, make them able to say no to abusive behaviours.
For this, changes should be made in the way parents bring up their children. Parents should create a space for their children to share things with them, openly discuss sex education, sexuality, and violence for making them aware. Parental education should be promoted for bringing this change. And, both the government and civil society should jointly work together for this.