What fuels domestic violence, and how can it be combated?
In Viet Nam, the rush to urban centres to escape the daily grind of rural life and its reliance on backbreaking agricultural work, has led to a mass migration of millions of people to cities like Hanoi which are quickly becoming overcrowded. Rents are spiraling, leading to a desperate housing situation, fuelling depression and despair.
Some migrants eke out an existence by recycling household rubbish, while others work in street markets, where they make around USD 150 per month. The low pay, difficult conditions and long hours increase tension and ill-health, which can spill over into situations of frustration and violence.
Now one group of migrants, with the backing of IOM, and CSAGA (a Vietnamese NGO), has found a creative way to combat the domestic violence eating away at their community. During the day they collect recycling materials or look for household work to make their living. In the evenings they meet to perform authentic stories from their own lives as survivors of domestic violence.
Most of them live in tough conditions but they are processing their experiences and spreading a message of hope to others.
With a few rehearsals – assisted by the Youth Theatre Company in Hanoi – a group of perpetrators and victims relive situations of physical and mental abuse. The drama is touching and lifelike, the dialogue is in your face, and delivers a strong message to the audience. It’s a fusion between classical theatre but accompanied with abstract rhythmic dance elements which brings the whole stage to life. Sometimes the simplicity and the authenticity in their message become almost uncomfortable.
The dance performance is called “Inviting myself to hope”, and forms part of the EU-Swiss co-funded project “Stand-Up: Migrant men and women working together to stop violence against women”. There is a special focus on active male participation so that migrant men become pioneers in the fight against domestic violence, and help change false perceptions of violent masculinity.
After the drama all participants introduce themselves to the audience and give a short personal testimony about their life and how they feel about their participation in the drama. When you hear their stories, you understand their vulnerability and how brave they are to expose their feelings so openly. You also realize that they are reliving and not just acting. In a society where many feelings and personal problems are taboo to talk about in public , this drama is really breaking waves and points out a new way to help victims and perpetrators of domestic violence.
The performing group has its roots in domestic violence self-help groups and self-help groups for men who struggle to change their violent behaviour. All of them are internal migrants from poor rural areas. A recent performance was for people mainly from Hanoi’s Long Bien district, a busy market neighbourhood with a large proportion of internal migrants. CSAGA (Center for Studies and Applied Sciences in Gender – Family – Women and Adolescents), one of the NGOs working with IOM on the project, arranged buses from Long Bien to enable the migrants to see the drama at the youth theatre in the centre of Hanoi.
“To address domestic violence issues among the group of internal migrants in Viet Nam marks an important step forward,” says Florian Forster, Chief of Mission for IOM Viet Nam (back row, right). “Migrants are particularly vulnerable due to the cramped housing conditions in migrant neighbourhoods, where families often only have one small room, and the fact that the traditional rural support networks of the larger family group don’t function in urban migrant neighbourhoods.”