Abused women face legal, cultural challenges in Vietnam
Hanoi - When Tran Thi Thu Hang's husband saw a male servant plucking her grey hairs, he flew into a jealous rage and subjected her to a vicious 15-hour attack.
The case caught the attention of local media, not only for the extent of the brutality but also because it highlighted the festering problem of domestic violence in Vietnamese society.
Hang, 46, was hung by her arms from the ceiling and beaten with a hammer, broken beer bottles and a steel chain on July 18. To stem the flow of blood, her husband, Luu Nguyen Tan, 48, used a sewing needle to close her wounds.
Neighbours finally alerted the police and Hang was rushed unconscious to hospital where doctors said she could have died if she had been admitted any later. The case was reported to the police and Tan was arrested for 'deliberately causing injuries.'
Domestic violence is rife in Vietnam, according to a study released in November by the government and the United Nations. One in three married women report that they have suffered physical or sexual violence from their husbands at some time in their lives.
The problem is damaging the physical and mental health of many women, the study says.
Legislation aimed at preventing domestic violence has not brought about much change, according to some gender experts. Many blame authorities for failing to protect women.
'The laws on domestic violence do not work well in reality,' said psychologist Khuat Thu Hong, director of Hanoi's Institute for Social Development Studies.
Hong said women are often treated as second-class citizens. Many people believe it is hard for a very well-educated woman to find a husband. It is not even socially acceptable for women to drive a motorbike when their husbands or boyfriends are on the back.
In Vietnam's traditional Confucian culture, many people believe it is the woman's duty to remain passive and accept any amount of abuse from her husband in order to ensure harmony in the family. The ideal of the harmonious family is often valued higher than the rights of individuals, so women face pressure to stay with abusive husbands.
'I sometimes want to go to parties with friends, but my husband doesn't allow me,' said Nguyen Thu Nga, a media employee in Hanoi. 'He often beats me if I don't obey him, so I don't have much chance to go out with friends.'
Some gender experts say Western techniques for preventing domestic violence by helping women flee to new lives do not work well in Vietnam's tight-knit society, where information spreads rapidly and social connections are strong, and not always to the victims' advantage.
They say efforts to stop domestic violence should focus on bringing witnesses and advocates to intervene on women's behalf within their communities.
The Women's Union follows legal guidelines recommending that women seeking divorce go through three attempts to reconcile with their husbands, supervised by police and social welfare staff. But those procedures are complicated, and many women may suffer even worse repercussions from their husbands for trying.
In May, Nguyen Thi My Linh, 36, reportedly poisoned herself after being beaten by her husband.
'Obviously, domestic violence is challenging authorities to do more to promote women's rights,' Hong said.
Despite being victims, most women don't want their husbands to go to prison because their families would lose their main breadwinners and their children would suffer. Some fear they will be even more violent when they are released.
That passivity compounds the problem, said psychologist Nguyen Kim Quy from the Institute of Vietnamese Education and Psychology.
'Women's resigned attitude is preventing them from enjoying their rights,' Hong said. 'Traditional Confucian culture has existed in Vietnam for nearly 1,000 years, so it still influences people's behavior very strongly.'
The case of Hang reflected both sides of the dilemma.
'I don't remember how many times he has beaten me since we started to live together,' Hang said. 'He beats me for any reason and I just kept silent. The more I say, the more he beats me.'
However, after receiving news of her husband's arrest, the tortured spouse expressed regret.
'I don't want him to be put in to prison,' she said.
By Pham Bac - Deutsche Presse Agentur - August 1st, 2011