Communities across the world are combatting the normalization of domestic violence through public health campaigns and advertisements. They take various approaches in order to be seen and heard in their respective regions, emphasizing that violence is viewed differently by different cultures and therefore requires distinct courses of action.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg unveiled the “That’s Abuse” campaign in New York City this past fall in an effort to combat domestic violence. The ads, featured in public transport stops around the city, depict a woman crying with adjectives like “threatened” and “humiliated” around her face. It explains that these negative feelings, when felt in an intimate relationship, are signs of abuse. Finally, it provides a number to call to be connected to city services such as counseling and shelters.
Studies show that emotional abuse tends to escalate into physical abuse. Thus the “That’s Abuse” campaign seeks to encourage women in abusive relationships to get help before their partners become physically violent. In America, women are legally equal to men, and the “That’s Abuse” campaign reflects the theoretical agency thus given to women.
In August of 2013, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia criminalized domestic abuse after a nation-wide ad campaign brought the topic out into the open. Women in Saudi Arabia are treated as minors under the guardianship system. This system requires that they receive permission from their husbands, fathers, or brothers if they wish to work, study, and travel. Saudi Arabian women are forbidden from driving alone, and they are often tracked through SMS so that their whereabouts can be reported to their husbands. Until recently, tribal traditions prevented women from speaking out against violent partners. In Saudi Arabia, domestic violence is permitted and seen as something a woman has to endure to remain protected and provided for by the men in her life.
The King Khalid Foundation’s anti-domestic violence campaign, called “No More Abuse”, sheds light on the taboo subject of domestic violence for the first time in Saudi Arabia last April. Similar to “That’s Abuse”, the “No More Abuse” ad features a close-up of a woman’s face. But this woman’s features are covered by a niqab—her defining characteristic is her bloodied left eye. The words under her eyes read “Some things can’t be covered – Fighting women’s abuse together”. This tactic attempts to work within the confines of a society that offers women very little personal agency. Instead of addressing women exclusively, the ad emphasizes the community as a whole. Saudi Arabian women aren’t able to tackle the problem by themselves—they aren’t viewed as real adults—so the ad is calling for everyone to take responsibility for the abusive culture and use his or her power to change it.
Alternatively, a video released in 2013 by The United Nations Women organization depicts the violence and discrimination Egyptian women face on a daily basis. The video aims to put men in the position of women as they go about their day, literally depicting events through a woman’s eyes. In each scene, the woman is harassed in various public places and the people around her offer no help. The end of the video features the slogan “Put yourself in her shoes, instead of finding ways to blame her”, highlighting how often women are blamed for their abuse in a society where sexual harassment is normalized.
According to The United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, 91.5% of Egyptian women said that unwanted touching was the most common form of sexual harassment they experienced in 2013. The UN video is a response to this upsetting statistic, as it asks Egyptian men and boys to think critically about the cultural violence shown towards their wives, sisters, and mothers.
Bell Bajao, a program launched in India in 2008 by global human rights organization Breakthrough, aims to empower men to take action against domestic violence. The program uses public service announcements and educational workshops to “to highlight the role that men and boys can play in reducing violence”. Bell Bajao encourages neighbors, especially men, who overhear domestic violence to ring the doorbell (“bell bajao” in Hindi) of the apartment in order to interrupt the abuse. The goal is to remind abusers that others are listening.
Breakthrough reports that “60 million girls, seen as less worthy than boys, are ‘missing’ [in developing countries] due to sex-selective elimination or poor care.” In countries where women and girls are treated as second-class citizens, it is vital for men to take a stand against cultures that perpetuate domestic violence. Bell Bajao encourages men and boys to join the conversation, emphasizing that they can be valuable allies in the fight against domestic violence.
Internationally, communities are beginning to treat domestic violence like the epidemic it is. Different approaches are needed in order to address the obstacles and objectives of specific cultures, but the overall goal is the same: to make the planet a safer place for girls and women.