BY SUSAN BIGGS, CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER
It’s hard not to feel a little defeated when you read the statistics about the rampant violence that impacts women across the globe. 2015 marks 40 years since I began a career committed to improving the lives of women in Australasia and in the developing world, and while some things have progressed over that time, rates of sexual and physical violence continue to impact too many women across the globe.
One in three women globally will experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime — mostly by an intimate partner. Women aged 15-44 are more at risk from rape and domestic violence than from cancer, car accidents, war and malaria, according to World Bank data.
Whether at home, on the streets, or during conflict, violence against women is a global disgrace and it must end.
At Adara, the wellbeing of women is at the heart of all we do. Women’s empowerment and the provision of opportunities for women to improve their lives are at the core of all our projects.
In Nepal, Adara is working to address domestic violence in partnership with a small grassroots Nepali organisation called the Women’s Foundation of Nepal. Since its establishment, the Women’s Foundation has worked to combat violence and inequality, offering many programmes to support women and children, including a domestic violence shelter, childcare programmes, and skills training to help women get back on their feet after they have experienced violence or hardship.
Adara has partnered with the Women’s Foundation of Nepal since 2011 to ensure pro-bono legal assistance is provided to girls and women who are victims of domestic violence. A team of experienced staff are led by an Adara-supported lawyer. Since we began supporting the programme in 2011, more than 1,700 women have registered legal cases with the Women’s Foundation.
These are women like Uma.
Uma and her husband Shiva were married and had two children together before the violence began. Although Uma had doubts about marrying Shiva, her family promised her he was a good man. In reality, he was in a lot of debt and had a drinking problem. When he drank, he got angry.
Shiva had completed schooling up to grade 10, but he could not secure work. Without a steady stream of income, the family struggled, and Uma had no idea how she could possibly care for her sons. Uma’s father-in-law had died before her marriage and her mother-in-law was too old and frail to work. So the burden of providing for the family fell to Uma, who had to carry out the entire household activities, as well as tend to their crops in the field every day.
The income Uma generated from agriculture was barely enough to feed their family of five. In desperation, Uma begged Shiva to look for work abroad like many Nepalis do, but he refused. It was around this time that the emotional and physical abuse began. Shiva was furious that Uma ‘thought she was smarter than him’ and that she had questioned his judgement and authority.
Over time, the beatings got worse, to the point where Shiva would beat Uma every single day while drunk. If Uma ever found the nerve to raise her concerns, their future, and how they could survive with such limited income, Shiva would either respond with violence, or leave in a fury and not return for weeks at a time.
After living like this for some time, eventually Uma could no longer bear the torture and decided she wanted to leave. She built up the confidence to ask Shiva for a divorce, telling him that she wanted her share of their wealth and that she wanted to take her sons and give them the opportunity to go to school and get an education. This was the last straw for Shiva, and in his rage at this news, nearly beat Uma to death before he forced her out of the house. He refused to let her see her sons and threatened to break her legs if she tried talking to them. Uma had no money to file for divorce, and nowhere to go. Luckily, one of her friends brought her to the Women’s Foundation, where, with legal support, she filed for divorce and for part of the wealth that was rightfully hers.
Last I heard, the court decision was yet to be handed down, but the Women’s Foundation legal team are confident the courts will support Uma and protect her rights. Since 2011, 91% of all cases that have been taken to court by the Women’s Foundation have been settled in favour of the victim – an astonishing result, and a testament to their great work.
Organisations like the Women’s Foundation of Nepal do our communities a great service in combating violence against women. Their commitment to justice and to protecting the rights of all women is inspiring and encouraging. I hope for a future where they are obsolete, where women are freed from the scourge of violence that has impacted them for generations.
But until that time, we must keep raising our voices against injustice, and keep on supporting organisations locally and abroad that protect women from violence.
Adara are seeking a funding partner to help us support the incredible work of the Women’s Foundation of Nepal. It costs US$5,500 to support the costs of a Nepali lawyer to fight for the rights of women for a year. If you are interested in supporting this project, please contact Adara’s Partnerships Manager, Cabrie Kearns, at email@example.com