So as the end of 2010 nears and we comfortably recline in the achievements of the year, our community and society as a whole I was forced to pause when I read this post that was being circulated among my friends on Twitter. It's a great post and I recommend reading it.
It made me stop and recall that earlier this year, in recognition of International Women's Day, I was sent a copy of a speech delivered by a member of my extended family. Mum had sent it to me as she was more than well acquainted with my outspoken views on domestic violence, particularly within the Indo-Fijian community. I dug it out to have a read again this afternoon and recalled how affected I was by it when I first read it.
I am outspoken about this violence because I survived it, she survived it and many of the women around me were lucky enough to survive it. We don't talk about it though because despite the increasing opportunities to do so, it is not done in polite society. You sure as heck don't say out loud that you were beaten relentlessly for minor transgressions, or that you know that sustained striking to your head with plastic pipe will split open the skin. In fact knowing that you made the startling discovery the blood is very warm as it leaks down your scalp and that it can actually dye your hair is destabilising just quietly. Having someone threaten to kill you with startling regularity is also an undesirable experience you don't care to bring up at dinner parties. But it exists and I come from a community in which it is largely accepted that it happens. To lots of us. All the time. And unfortunately it followed us when we migrated to countries like Australia and New Zealand. Even though we've left our rural backgrounds, drive european cars, give our children English names, have several letters after our names and live in a McMansion.
The author I will call "cousin" - she isn't by western standards, but I don't care to adopt those when referring to my familial connections. The speech itself is unsophisticated and lacked any publishing merit, it was however honest. Brutally honest. The details of the actual violence are irrelevant, but it was the the deep fissures in left her psyche which truly struck a chord. Her circumstances meant that she could not fulfill the most important duty of caring for one's parents when they are ill or her ostracisation from polite company for being divorced.
When we talk about an Indo-Fijian woman's life we often use descriptions like "bahuth dhuk" which roughly translates to "great pain/suffering". That is code for things like: the mother-in-law was a complete hedonistic bitch, the in-laws joined the husband in beating her, humiliating her, locking her up, and threatening her life. Or the one that is never uttered out loud, the threat of spousal rape was always around her. Even among those ready to voice our opinion, would not turn around and point a finger in the face of the perpetrator we actually know and say what we really want to say like "I know you f..g lay a hand on her and I want you to know that you shouldn't sleep too soundly at night cos' one day I will be brave enough to come and get you". Nup, not likely to happen in such a proud community. Or no your brother is not going to stand up for you because, well, that would be hypocritical because he slapped his wife before they joined you for dinner this evening. It is a confronting truth.
I knew as a child that paraquat was a commonly used poison in suicides. It always seemed to be women that would self-administer this horrid stuff. A first cousin's daughter hung herself. Stuck in a far-flung rural area after marrying at a young age she took her own life. I never did hear whether or not someone dealt with that bastard of a husband (or really in all honesty the young man who did not have any idea how to communicate with others nor adequately manage his frustrations). I'm not talking about 1965 here. The girl was younger than me. I really didn't need to know this stuff so early in life.
There is plenty of independent opinion and attention cast on the prevelance of violence in Indo-Fijian communities. It's existence is not disputed and as generations pass through we have become better at acknowledging it but also that it happens in our own worlds (i.e. not just at someone else's house). Fortunately in NZ due to the size of the community, appropriate support services have been made accessible to women of Indo-Fijian descent but there is still a long way to go.
So I read my cousin's speech with some pride. She is a woman in her 60s, she has lived in Fiji, Australia and New Zealand. She is divorced (a major stigma in 'her story') and living as a single woman in a society that pays no respect to single women. She has found the time to educate herself, surround herself with friends and consequently found the words to tell her story. She also became a volunteer at Shine. I am so very very proud.
If you were in any way affected by the words in this post, please consider showing your support to White Ribbon Australia by swearing an oath in recognition of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, 25 November.