Why She Stays: Behind the Doors of Domestic Abuse

Why do you think she stays? Because she wants to? Because she loves him that much? Maybe. But she may also stay because red is the only color she can identify when she sees him. She may stay because she’s terrified of the thought of her children having to live in a shelter, having no financial resources, having no one to rely on. She may stay because he threatens to take her children if she tries to leave.

In the eyes of others, he’s charming and kind. But no one knows that he’s also someone who pays the children’s school fees if he feels like it, and the light bill or buy groceries some of the time, but there’s usually a catch. He always makes sure she and the kids feel guilty about it, as though they’re strangers depending on his unjustified kindness. He’s someone and he’s no one, all at once. This is where her confusion lies.

There are also other things he is not. He is not someone who can give love, because he cannot receive it. He is not someone who is able to put himself in anyone else’s shoes. He is not someone who will share her burdens. He is not someone who wants to model compassion and integrity for his children. He doesn’t know how to pretend to be these things, nor does he care to.

He is not someone who will protect his family, and in fact, he is the one from who they need protection. He is secretly proud of his cowardly ways.

So you ask, why does she stay? What’s wrong with her? Well, would you leave if you had nowhere to go, no one who could help you, no money to feed your children or no way to get them to school or doctors’ appointments? What about if he took away your family’s medical insurance? And what about if your child had some chronic condition? What if he threatened to call immigration?

It seems easy to question some other random person. Yet, it’s more often not some other random person, it’s your co-worker, your neighbor, your friend, your sister. Maybe it’s you. Maybe you don’t know it is. Maybe you think someone else’s situation is worse and so you justify to yourself that yours isn’t that bad, so it couldn’t be considered abuse.

He doesn’t punch or slap you like those other men. He only occasionally curses at you or randomly accuses you of cheating when he’s really angry. Sometimes he shoves you but always says he feels terrible afterward. He doesn’t stop you from working. Yet he drops by unannounced from time-to-time, and come to think of it, more frequently lately.

He says he loves you so much he wants to spend all of his time with you, especially when you try to hang out with friends or make plans to see family. He says he wants to take care of the finances. He gives you an allowance because it’s convenient. He feels there is no need for you to have access to the account. Access for what?

No, no, no. None of this is me, you say. Okay. But are you afraid to say the wrong things, to do something that might upset him, go to places he may not approve of, wear clothes he might find inappropriate? Do you have a running reel in the back of your mind of what he might say about this or that, about just about every decision in your life?

But you’re always on his mind because he cares, you say. I get it. It’s all very difficult. It’s insidious. It’s perplexing. Comprehending his intentions can be difficult and even the fleeting idea of leaving is not an easy one to consider.

Let’s now once again reconsider why she stays, why you stay, why we stay, why we’ve considered leaving, why we don’t have to do any of it alone whether we stay or go. Most of us, 1 out of 3 females in fact, has been abused, most often by a loved one. You are not alone.

So again I want you to believe me when I say it, you don’t have to do it alone, no matter what you decide.

A School Project to Remember

My name is Isobel Mathews. I am thirteen years old and I advocate for global women’s rights.

Earlier this year, my English teacher assigned a project that changed me. Every student was asked to research a women’s organization. After some initial browsing, I decided to do my project on Women for Women International (WfWI).

I picked a global organization partly because I grew up traveling. I was born in Australia and my family lived in the United Kingdom for six years before we moved to Massachusetts. Living in different countries gave me the chance to see and appreciate different cultures.

When I researched WfWI I saw that they work in eight different countries and in each of those countries they work with women who are marginalized by poverty, violence, or war. They have a one-year program that gives women vocational and business skills and teaches them about their rights and their health. WfWI’s program allows women to earn an income and stand on their own feet, which is incredibly important during and after war and conflict when people lose their livelihoods.

I have always been passionate about helping people and uplifting other women so the work that WfWI does grabbed my attention right away. 

After doing my research I gave a presentation in my class and I also spoke about WfWI at our school assembly. Now, I speak about the organization and about how we need to remember and work for women’s rights around the world in my community at any chance I get! I feel proud telling my relatives, my friends, and my teachers about the organization I have learnt about and I use it as an opportunity to say that we have a responsibility to reach out to women everywhere. It is not enough to focus on women’s rights here at home. Our rights and our struggles are connected. Women everywhere have had to fight hard for their rights, and progress in one country can help push for progress in another. We also have a responsibility to help each other. We need to come together and demand equality. Together, our voices are stronger.

It is especially important for us to use our voices to support women who are less fortunate than us. During my research, I learned about the tough decisions that women survivors of war must make. Many of them have to leave their homes in search of safety. Some of them have to choose between feeding their families or seeking education for their kids. To rebuild their lives, they need support systems. Everyone needs help. No one can do it all by themselves. And every one of us can do something to make it easier for others.

Some people might say that they don’t know how to help or they are too young, but I learned that you always have power. No matter where you are or what situation you are in, you can do something, even if it is small. You have a say and you can raise awareness. You have the power to make change, whether it is through a sign that you put in your yard, or a tweet that you send out, or a letter that you write to your legislator. You can also write about these issues on social media, or talk to your teachers, classmates and community. Even the little things can help. For example, I am urging my parents to sponsor a woman through WfWI’s program. For $35 a month any one can sponsor a woman survivor of war to participate in WfWI’s program and learn skills that will transform her life. Once you sponsor a woman, you can write her letters and learn about her progress throughout the vocational, business, health and rights trainings. It is one small way to create a big change.

 

Isobel Mathews is a seventh-grade student at Charles River School in Dover, Massachusetts. She’s a proud advocate for women’s rights and Women for Women International.

It’s Time to Recognize Women Farmers in India

Farmer. I don’t know about you, but when I hear that word, I think of a man.

Or, at least I used to think of a man. Before I went to India, that is. In India, 80% of all rural female workers are in agriculture but due to traditional gender roles they are rarely recognized as farmers. This is no news, but because of severe climate change and male work migration to cities women farmers are now more visible than ever, which creates an urgent need for them actually to be recognized as such.

So, the feminization of farming does not mean that women suddenly start taking part in agriculture work, but rather that they become visible within the agricultural sector. It means that many women across India are now taking care of both their households and their farms, while their husbands move to the cities in order to find another income to make ends meet. It means that women work for 3300 hours, while men work 1860 hours in a crop season. It means that there is an urgent need for women farmers to be recognized in order to be able to maintain a sustainable way of living.

There are a lot of initiatives in India aimed at the empowerment of small farmers. However, they are often formed to fit the average male farmer, which means that they fail to address the specific needs of women farmers. Taking care of the household and the children result in women having less time and opportunity to, for example, take part in farming training and travel to the market to sell their produce. Furthermore, if women are not recognized as farmers in the first place, they will still be overlooked when new projects for farmers’ empowerment are initiated.

Women play a vital role in food production, not only in India, but around the world. However, due to patriarchal structures they do not have equal access to land ownership. In India, 80% of all rural female workers are in agriculture, but only 9.4% own land. We know that if women could improve their economic and social status it generates more productive farms and decreases child malnutrition. If women were to be given equal access to productive resources, they could yield 20-30 % more.

Farmer. I don’t know about you, but when I hear that word I now think of strong women.

In addition to tending to their farms, they are also looking after their children, cooking, cleaning and fetching water and firewood. These women have been discriminated for ages and their skills and knowledge have not been recognized simply because they are women. It has to change. If women farmers are not recognized, if they do not have access to productive resources, if they do not have access to proper education, who will feed the next generation?

The feminization of farming has been going on for decades, and it will most likely continue. Women farmers are the future and there is an urgent need to recognize them as such. Not only in India, but everywhere.

Politics in the Face of FGM: Kenya Edition

Kenya is scheduled to hold presidential elections this coming August. In every election cycle, citizens engage in dialogue and negotiations with their respective political aspirants regarding pressing local issues. Based on past election cycles, these issues include infrastructure, healthcare, education, sanitation, food, security and peace – among others.

In democratic societies, communication between leadership and citizens ensures that information vital to the existence, survival and development of constituents is available to them in a timely and balanced manner. Thus, the visible silence regarding harmful cultural practices by the candidates vying for the various positions in Kenya this year is hugely significant.

Given the officialdom associated with  legislators such as Members of County Assembly (MCAs), Members of Parliament (MPs) and other elected officials, the campaign period provides a perfect opportunity for members of the public to access  prospective power wielders. This is particularly important because, apart from being eventually responsible for representing their people both at county and national level, legislators are responsible for making and amending laws. An early encounter can create a rapport between citizens and lawmakers that will be invaluable during a future term in office.

It is during campaign season that activists have a perfect chance to reach out to prospective candidates and have a genuine discussion about the need to include eradication of FGM as part of any political agenda. These negotiations could not only inform the party manifesto but also raise the possibility of creating an official policy – should the particular party and its leaders ascend to higher office. In this case, anti-FGM activists can piggy-back on political aspirants at the grassroots level to reach out to their party leaders as a means of escalating the message to discourage the practice of FGM.

More specifically, women political aspirants – by virtue of vying for a special political seat of ‘women representative’ – have a more powerful platform to mainstream ‘women’s issues’ within their agendas. They can address the issues that their male counterparts would still rather not talk about. Women representatives aspirants, irrespective of party affiliations, are by virtue of their position expected to speak on women’s causes without fear of losing votes.

Overall, I fault the donor community for the silence around FGM in current Kenyan politics. Despite being conscious that 2017 was an election year, they have not considered the importance of investing in activities aimed at bringing together anti-FGM actors and aspirants in areas where harmful traditional practices still occur. While it is understandable that donors may prefer to remain apolitical, when it comes to battling FGM they must be more willing to roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty. FGM is, after all, a cross-party, urgent issue that requires massive political capital.

On a disappointing note, I fear that that most politicians will avoid talking about FGM among other harmful traditional practices for fear of losing votes. It defies logic how leaders elected on the promise of alleviating poverty and misery can ignore or even encourage a practice that continuously enslaves the electorate.