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Seeking Help for 'private Matters' in China

LIU YANG CITY, China —" I feel happy with my life now. I believe it is going to be better," says 32-year-old Xiao Hui, who no longer fears the shadow of domestic violence.

Xiao Hui and her husband were schoolmates. After leaving high school, they both went to work in Guangdong Province as migrant workers for a few years, and they fell in love. They returned to Duzheng Village to get married.

With the arrival of their daughter seven years ago, Xiao Hui stayed at home while her husband worked with construction companies nearby. With one more person to feed, the couple began to quarrel about money. One day, her husband returned Xiao Hui’s complaints by forcefully shoving her to the bedside. "He treated me with no respect. He hurt me as much as if he had beaten me," said Xiao Hui.

Xiao Hui did not just worry and cry after the incident. She remembered seeing the anti-domestic violence posters and performances near the village and she mustered up the courage to ask Ms. Zu of the Women’s Committee whether her ‘private matter’ would qualify for some sort of formal intervention. To her surprise, Ms. Zu organized a mediation session with the couple and their parents. "My husband was told if he did not stop, he would have to face the consequences," Xiao Hui recalled.

Xiao Hui thought the mediation really worked. "My husband would have started beating me if he did not get the formal warning," Xiao Hui believes.

Duzheng Village is one of the seven local villages in Liuyang that have organized intensive community activities to encourage villagers to speak out and seek support whether violence occurs in or out of their houses. It is part of a UNFPA-supported pilot initiative aiming at setting up a multi-sectoral model on violence against women. "Our volunteers spread messages on violence when entertaining big crowds of people, even at weddings and funerals," said Ms. Zu. Every household got a letter on domestic violence and there were displays in the village on where to get support when violence happens.

According to the Violence against Women: Facts and Figure 2010 compiled by UNFPA China and a Chinese NGO Andi-Domestic Violence Network, "one of the greatest challenges to addressing this is that women usually seek help from informal networks such as family, and neighbours, or never tell anyone of the violence". In China, where the culture of "washing your dirty linen at home" is extremely strong, the village campaign on violence makes it possible for many women like Xiao Hui to speak up and seek help for what is usually seen as ‘private matters.’