Today we celebrate 100 years of International Women’s Day.
While it is a time to reflect on the progress made, for me, it’s also a time to remember how little has changed in some of the areas I take for granted and to make a commitment for that to stop.
Last week, I attended “A Call for Help”, a UNIFEM Singapore video screening cum talk about domestic violence, organised by a group of young ladies from Temasek Junior College. Their aim? To educate the public on the prevalence and seriousness of domestic violence and encourage the masses to be more proactive in taking a stand against it.
Domestic violence is appalling, yes, tell me something I don’t already know. The big question on my mind that whole night was: so what can we do about this thing that seems so invisible and private? As the evening unfolded however, and the clear messages never to condone, commit or keep silent about violence against women rang out, a long buried memory surfaced.
When I was 17, I had a classmate who, every now and then, would walk into our class with bruises on her arms. We all knew she and her boyfriend had a tendency to get into heated arguments (or rather her boyfriend had a tendency to get angry while she attempted to pacify him) but did that have anything to do with her tendency to bruise? Surely he wouldn’t be violent, or would he? One day, she walked into class with a big, ugly bruise on her cheek and claimed she’d walked into a door handle. That was probably the day we all realised that something really bad was going on, though we refused to admit it to ourselves, much less to each other. Such a thing could not be happening to our friend, not from the guy she was madly in love with, and who claimed to love her back, not from the guy who could make her so happy, surely?
And it was because of this ridiculous naivety that I never did anything about it. I rationalised to myself then that I didn’t want to jump to conclusions, nor get either of them in trouble. As her friends, we’d give each other puzzled looks when she walked in with yet another bruise, but it was as if by not speaking about it with each other, we could magically make it true that this nightmare was not happening.
Fortunately, the two eventually broke up, the volatility of their relationship unable to survive his graduating from school a year earlier than her. Unluckily for me though, I ended up in the same faculty as the guy in university, and had to endure the sight of him in the corridors throughout those years. Yes, there was anger emanating from me every time I had the misfortune of bumping into him, but what use was that? Too little, too late.
What was the anger all about? I think it stemmed mainly from the guilt of wishing I had actually had the guts to admit to myself that all that was happening and that I needed to report the guy. Whether my friend would choose to hate me for jumping to conclusions or for messing up their relationship was beside the point. I know now what I didn’t know then, that when it comes to abuse, you do not keep quiet, even if you’re only operating on suspicion. Err on the side of caution. Trust your instincts. Speak up. Because violence isn’t right. Because she needs you to break the silence, even if she doesn’t know it yet.
If you suspect someone is a victim of domestic violence, don’t hesitate. Do something…because you love her.