For 16 Days of Action to mark the international campaign for the Elimination of Violence against Women, we’ve had the privilege of hearing from Meerim from Kyrgyzstan and Thu from Vietnam here at The Women’s Centre. They gave brilliant presentations on the challenges facing women and girls in their countries.
Thu spoke of the level of domestic abuse in Vietnam. With 58% of women in the country reported to experience the problem, it is widespread. She also spoke of the pressures of women to give birth to boys and the problems that arise from this.
As is common here, domestic abuse is a shameful topic for many women. In Vietnam few women will confide in anyone about their abuse, keeping it a secret, and will continue to experience violence and mental abuse throughout their marriages.
However, there are some progressive initiatives in Vietnam that are paving the way to combatting domestic abuse. Pioneering programmes run by men against abuse are taking off, much like the White Ribbon campaign. Safe addresses in neighbourhoods are growing in number. These are places women experiencing abuse can go for support.
The participation of women in politics in Vietnam sits below a target rate of 35%. Despite there being a number of women in elected politics, Thu outlined that many of the positions they hold are not influential, so gender discrimination is a big issue here.
Meerim opened our eyes with her presentation on the challenges facing women and girls in Kyrgyzstan. She focused in particular on the fact that in her country many women do not have a choice as to whether or not they marry. The shocking practice of bride kidnapping that sees young girls and women abducted and forced into marriage is widespread.
In fact, 20% of marriages in Kyrgyzstan are as a result of ‘bride-napping’. The tragedy of this practice is clear and the roles that cultural superstition and lack of gender equality play are important to understand as part of combatting its prevalence.
It was explained by Meerim that girls can be seen as a burden and, with education being very expensive in the country, being married becomes the default progression for a lot of young women. An overall shift in attitudes toward women and girls and bride kidnapping is being furthered by international organisations and local activists in the country, so there is a growing awareness around the associated issues.
There is much progress to be made in both countries, as there is here in Scotland. Education on an international level is an important part of this progress, especially with the power of social media to influence change. We’re grateful to Meerim and Thu for educating us.