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Domestic Violence in Vietnam and the deeply rooted misogyny behind it

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Illustration by Anh My Ngo

The idea of seeing women as inferior to men still exists in Asian countries. It has been engraved in every man’s and woman’s mind for decades, and has since become the dominant perception. This point of view negatively affects Asian women both physically and mentally, being considered in a lower position than men, and men for that reason saw that they had more power to dominate and to force women into doing things that will please only the men.

The most notable consequence of this root issue is domestic violence. This happens in every country in the Asia continent, and Vietnam is no exception.

As reported by The 2013 United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime’s “Assessment of the situation of women in the criminal justice system in Viet Nam,” more than 50% of Vietnamese women experience different types of domestic violence. This includes being abused mentally, physically, and sexually. However, less than 20% of them sought help, reported the UNODC in 2014.

Why is that?

In such a culturally preserved country like Vietnam, the relationship between husband and wife – despite how violent and cruel it can be – is still seen as private and happens only behind closed doors. Outsiders are often brushed off with a “don’t interfere, this is not your business” kind of reply whenever they try to conciliate. This has, unfortunately, made many people afraid of putting a stop to this cruelty, leading to avoidance and ignorance when being presented with a domestic violence scene. This also leads to the fact that abused women feel abandoned by society. Therefore, they tend to remain silent about being treated violently at home and refuse help.

It is an unjust situation when violence starts from the idea of one individual having dominating power of over another. This kind of thinking has been rooted in the Vietnamese society for ages, for as long as one can remember, which makes it difficult to be removed completely. Many nonprofit campaigns and women’s rights activists have spoken and put great effort in raising awareness about domestic violence in the society. They need a lot more time and helping hands to push this message forward though, because many Vietnamese women are still expected to never go against her husband and his family.

Many might be wondering “Why is the husband’s family involved?” Sadly, the most ridiculous thing about the domestic violence situation in Vietnam is that husbands are not the only force that abuse women, but the entirety of his family is also involved. The woman, once she’s married into her husband’s household, will have to obey the in-laws, and sometimes is treated no better than a maid.

That is also a kind of mental abuse she has to face. Vietnamese women, in general, are considered as less intelligent than men, so she is often looked down on, and must obey her husband no matter what he asks of her. She is expected to do all the chores of the house without getting any help from the in-law family members, and is “rated” how good she is as a housewife. This kind of “scale” still exists in even modern times.

Moreover, she is never to speak up for herself whenever being scolded by her mother-in-law, her husband, or any of his family members. “They” consider this as inappropriate and insolent behavior for a woman; it’s seen as disrespect towards the in-law family. In many households, daughters-in-law are even forbidden to have a full time job or a career of their own, treated only as a breeding machine for a family that is biologically not hers, and are easily cast aside when they cannot give birth to baby boys. The woman is financially dependent, having her right to speak and right to be treated equally taken away forcefully, and there’s nothing she can do about it.

Even divorce is not on her list of options.

Illustration by Anh My Ngo

Illustration by Anh My Ngo

Vietnamese women are scared of divorcing, because, firstly, it is considered not only as a “marriage failure”, but also a disgrace to her reputation. It is believed to leave unerasable trace that will prevent her from remarrying. Secondly, the reason why Vietnamese women avoid divorcing is that they are expected to sacrifice themselves for the sake of their children, so many stay in unhappy or abusive marriage believing that it will make their children happier. Men, however, are not asked to do the same. It is this imbalance in terms of parental responsibility that has pushed the level of domestic violence higher, when the wife chooses to remain silent, never fights back just to protect her children’s future and unfortunately contributes to paving the way for her husband to abuse her even harder.

Vietnamese people in general still judge women who divorced her husband, and never bother to dig deeper to understand why she did what she did. Afraid of being judged unfairly and insultingly, Vietnamese women, therefore, never consider divorcing as a solution to free herself. That is the reason why even within themselves, Vietnamese women still embrace the idea of “having a good husband” is equal to “having a happy life”, and is the ultimate goal of a woman’s life. Mothers tell daughters, girlfriends tell each other, generations of women pass on this perception, rooting it even further. Unless they abandon the belief that their life is best defined by a man, the cause of all their miserables in marriage is still unable to be removed from society.

Of course, the solution has to come from both sides, women and men, because they themselves must realize the level of severity domestic violence causes to each individual in the family. Vietnam has already established and enforced laws to protect women from being abused, but not all cases are reported and seek for protection from laws. Since it has to start from each man and woman’s mindset about the problem – changing their way of perceiving domestic violence, its reasons and consequences are much more important if we want the society to be a safer place for women.

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