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A Long Fight Chinese Women's Odyssey to Escape Domestic Violence

25 November 2016

LIUYANG, Hunan Province, Nov. 24 (Xinhua) -- Zhou Ping, 43, considers her husband "very nice" simply because he doesn't beat her.

Her first marriage was different.

Zhou married her first husband in 1993, and for the next 20 years suffered from brutal, persistent domestic violence. In 2014, with help from the women's federation and local justice forces, she decided enough was enough, and filed for divorce.

"In the village that I used to live in, many men beat their wives believing they were entitled to do so," she said. "But luckily, more women are finally gaining the courage to leave."

Her hometown, Liuyang in Hunan Province, central China -- a city normally known for its fireworks -- now has a special position in China's fight against domestic violence; it is home to a cross-sector body, led by the municipal women's federation, which advocates raising awareness of domestic violence while providing systematic help to abused women.

Long Huaming, chairman of Liuyang Women's Federation, told Xinhua that the local law enforcement departments, communities, hospitals and schools have all joined hands to offer legal, medical and psychological help to women.

"We gather for discussions each quarter," Long said. "Evaluations of the performances of the different groups involved in this campaign are integrated into our overall work."

The campaign was part of a pilot project launched in 2008 by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the All-China Women's Federation, in an attempt to draw on international experience to push for the elimination of domestic violence in China.

Since then, hundreds of women have received help from the project, mainly piloted in Liuyang and Chengde, a city in northern China's Hebei Province.

AWARENESS TO BE FURTHER RAISED

November 25 marks the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. United Nations figures show roughly one-third of women worldwide have been hit by their partners, and in Asia only 20 percent of them seek help.

In 2010 a national survey by the National Bureau of Statistics and the All-China Women's Federation showed that roughly a quarter of women in China have experienced some form of violence from their partners.

Zhou Ping chose to endure her ex-husband's violence to give her children a "complete" family.

It was the same for Xu Ping, 45, another woman from Liuyang who suffered years of domestic violence before finally standing up to it.

"Luckily, women's awareness has risen in recent years, thanks to promotional pamphlets, banners, TV and radio broadcasting," Xu said.

Soyoltuya Bayaraa, UNFPA's deputy representative for China, said positive changes in gender norms are one of the key factors to ending all forms of violence. "It is particularly important to include men and boys in the campaigns," she said.

Currently, over 1,500 volunteers have registered at the China White Ribbon Volunteers network, which is part of the global White Ribbon movement, the world's largest male-led movement to end violence against women and girls. The network has established 36 service stations across China.

Zhou Ping believes her poorly educated ex-husband would have acted differently if he knew domestic violence was a criminal act. "Only when men realize how serious family violence is can it be stopped," she said.

SYSTEMATIC HELP NEEDED

According to the All-China Women's Federation, one challenge is the lack of systematic help to protect women who speak out.

In Liuyang, the local court can issue "protection orders" for women who seek help. Women can also seek asylum in a government-sponsored shelter and collect evidence of abuse at a designated hospital.

Zhong Huiping, a lawyer in Liuyang, said most abused women know little about the law, so they need legal advice on divorce. "Divorce cases are difficult to handle," she said.

China's first Anti-Domestic Violence Law took effect March 1, 2016, offering new guidelines for judges. Previously, they could only refer to the Civil Law and the Law on the Protection of Rights and Interests of Women in ruling on domestic violence cases.

Zhang Yu, a policeman in Liuyang, said they now take all domestic violence cases seriously because they are obliged to offer help.

Bayaraa said the Liuyang model demonstrates that it takes concerted action by all relevant parties to win the battle against gender-based violence.

Bayaraa said UNFPA will support policy research and data analysis for an in-depth understanding of the root causes and consequences of gender-based violence. (Pseudonyms have been used in this article to protect identities)

Editor: Mengjie