Four years ago, while doing my internship at The Union of Professionals Graduates in Social Work (SPDTS) in Antananarivo, Madagascar, I learned about domestic violence. SPDTS is led by Norotiana Jeannoda, a figure well known in social work in Madagascar. Her goal has been to end violence against women and children, especially in cases of sex trafficking, forced labor, child labor and domestic violence. This was an eye-opener for me. I saw how helpless, dis-empowered or injured the women seeking for help were. I was shocked by the number of mistreated women in a small area of the city. Everyday 3 to 5 women came to SPDTS, hoping to receive assistance and support.
Madagascar, my home country, is the fourth largest island in the world, and is situated on the southeast coast of Africa. Antananarivo is the capital with 1.6 million people. The island, best known for its unique flora such as vanilla, baobab and fauna such as lemurs, is a unique tropical environment. However, since gaining independence in 1960, Madagascar has suffered disputed elections, political instability, coups, and violent unrest. The current political situation remains fragile, with high levels of insecurity and poverty.
Domestic violence exists in both developed and developing countries, but is more common among low income families. Notably, according to the World Bank’s Poverty & Equity Databank in 2017, 70% of Madagascar's population lives on less than the $1.90/day poverty line. Thus, poverty exacerbates women’s vulnerability in Madagascar's deeply traditional society where men are typically the sole providers and women stay home to take care of children and the household. Local papers report domestic conflicts over money, as well as increased alcohol and drug abuse. As the husband fail to give money to his wife, she then does not have food and the children cannot go to school. If the husband comes home drunk, violence in the home is perpetuated. Impoverished women also have fewer options to escape violence and are less able to advocate for the safety of themselves and their children.
Further, domestic violence is not restricted to physical abuse; it often begins with emotional and psychological abuse and gradually increases to violent physical abuse. Psychological abuse is very subtle and is usually the most pervasive form of abuse. According to IRD (Research Institute for Development), in 2013, 65% of women in Antananarivo were victims of domestic violence and 46% of them were psychologically abused. Unfortunately, most cases of domestic violence go unreported, and many victims justify their abuser's actions and convince themselves that the situation will improve. Patriarchy still dominates Malagasy culture; until women enjoy greater social equality with men, this situation is unlikely to improve. However, a new trend is apparently emerging in some Malagasy households: as some women climb the social ladder, the tables are turned because now men are also inclined to be victims of violence. Debra Houry, et al, (2008) in the article, “Differences in Female and Male Victims and Perpetrators of Partner Violence with Respect to WEB Scores” report that although men can be victims of domestic violence, women are the primary victims.
The truth is, victims of domestic violence usually do not know their rights due to a lack of education and misinformation. However, just because a woman lacks education or power, she is not doomed to be abused. Unfortunately, women stay in their abusive relationships for many reasons. Primarily they are afraid and see nowhere to go. They are shamed by the situation so that they prefer to quietly suffer. Many women will give a statement but then refuse to take their husband to court. Cases of domestic violence are often difficult to prove. It is the wife’s word against her husband, and usually there are no witnesses. The only time the husband gets arrested is if the woman is badly beaten and cannot hide her bruises.
While studying Psychology at the Alexandria Campus of Northern Virginia Community College, I attended leadership training as well as training on sexual assault and consent, alcohol and substance abuse, healthy relationships and domestic violence. I became a Sexual Assault Peer Educator for almost two years, working under the Student Integrity and Conduct Office of the college. Through classroom visits, workshops and interactive experiences that were designed to educate students about these topics and the processes for reporting them, I participated in effort that reached more than 1 000 students. Individuals in this program worked closely with the college's Sexual Assault Services and campus police to ensure that all reported cases were properly handled and that victims had the support they needed. While being trained and creating programs and workshops, I realized that everything I was learning was linked to my internship in Madagascar. My studies and experiences have motivated me to contribute to my community and society.
My name is Francesca Raoelison, and I am committed to ending domestic violence in Antananarivo, Madagascar. I want to share the knowledge and experience that I have gained in the hope of reducing the frequency of and ultimately ending domestic violence in Antananarivo, Madagascar. I want to provide educational opportunities to students about the different forms of domestic violence: emotional, psychological, financial, physical, and sexual. Projects like this have already proven successful on college campuses in developed countries but this is the first initiative given for a developing country such as Madagascar.
I believe that raising awareness in schools for all students will allow them to know and detect the red flags in any relationship as well as reporting them if seen in the community. This issue requires everyone’s involvement (parents, schools, police, criminal justice system, families, neighbors and all others in the community) to end domestic violence.
If funded, I will return to Antananarivo to manage this project for a year. Under my leadership, I will recruit and train a team of 20 people on sexual assault, alcohol, substance abuse, consent, healthy relationships, domestic violence and human rights. We will then create workshops and programs that teach awareness about sexual and domestic violence to introduce in schools and colleges. According to ACCESMAD, there are 40 high schools and 13 colleges in Antananarivo. Every week, we will reach out to two schools at which to present the workshops and programs of awareness. Finally, I am committed to finding partners in Madagascar that have a shared vision to help develop a network referral services where individuals can get the assistance they need. I am aware that my country has many challenges, but I believe domestic violence and abuse is an important issue that touches upon basic human rights, public health, and the economy by degrading the human capital of the nation. Please support this cause and help me turn this idea into actions that can make a real difference!
Photo credit: Taylor Moulton
http://fr.allafrica.com/stories/200804150540.html http://povertydata.worldbank.org/poverty/country/MDG https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2562919/ http://www.nvcc.edu/novacares/sas/index.html