Domestic violence, a pervasive social issue, casts a shadow over societies worldwide. Nepal is no exception. Women are not only bearing the brunt of domestic violence. It also hits children, and, in some cases, men. However, women are disproportionately affected. According to a survey conducted by the Nepal Demographic and Health Survey (NDHS) in 2016, around 22 per cent of women aged 15-49 reported experiencing physical violence at some point in their lives, and 8 per cent reported experiencing sexual violence. The latest data of the Nepal Police has revealed a staggering 16,536 cases of domestic violence, with 14,610 of these cases reported by women.
Within the broader context of domestic violence, there exists a silent epidemic that affects urban, educated women. Despite their professional achievements and educational backgrounds, these women often suffer in silence, fearing the repercussions of tarnished reputation and societal judgment. Surprisingly, out of the total reported cases, only 132 cases were reported by women with graduation and above educational backgrounds. This article aims to shed light on the unique challenges faced by these women, and the reasons behind their reluctance to come forward. By understanding their experiences, we can work towards creating a safer environment that supports and empowers these women.
Urban and educated women face a distinct set of problems when it comes to domestic violence. Take the case of Usha (name changed), a successful corporate executive, who endures emotional and verbal abuse from her husband behind closed doors. Despite her professional achievements, she fears that exposing her abusive situation will taint her hard-earned reputation and jeopardise her career. Similarly, Maya (name changed), an educated woman from an affluent family, believes that her in-laws provide her with support and protection. However, the reality is that Maya silently suffers physical and emotional abuse at the hands of her husband, fearful of disrupting family bond and losing the stability her perceived privileged status gives her.
For urban, educated women with children, the stakes are even higher. Consider the case of Sunita (name changed), a successful lawyer and mother of two. She endures domestic violence in her marriage, rationalising that leaving the abusive relationship could harm her children's well-being and future prospects. The responsibility of providing a stable and nurturing environment for her children becomes a barrier to taking action. She struggles with the painful dilemma of choosing between protecting her own safety and shielding her children from the fallout of a broken family.
For many, the pressure to balance a successful career with traditional gender roles at home is overwhelming. Take the case of Gita (name changed), a highly accomplished engineer who earns equal or more than her husband. Despite her professional success, she finds herself shouldering the burden of all household responsibilities, including taking care of children, managing the house, and tending to the needs of in-laws. This disproportionate division of labour creates an imbalanced power dynamic that can contribute to emotional stress. The expectation for women to excel both professionally and personally takes a toll on their well-being. Juggling demanding careers with household responsibilities leaves them physically and emotionally exhausted. The immense workload, coupled with societal expectations of maintaining harmonious family dynamics, leads to a sense of isolation. These women often lack the support system necessary to recognise the signs of abuse and seek assistance.
Several factors contribute to the underreporting and lack of support for successful and educated women experiencing domestic violence. The fear of being stigmatised and ignored by their families, communities, and even their own peers prevents many of them from speaking out against the domestic abuse. The pressure to maintain an illusion of a "perfect" life often isolates them, leaving them without a support system. Additionally, societal beliefs that domestic violence is a private matter perpetuate the cycle of abuse. The absence of comprehensive awareness campaigns further exacerbates the problem, leaving many women unaware of available resources and options for seeking help.
To address the specific needs of urban, educated women facing domestic violence, a multi-faceted approach is necessary. Targeted education and awareness campaigns can help expose the societal expectations that bind them to abusive relationships. Workplaces can play a vital role by implementing policies that support survivors and provide resources for assistance. It is crucial to create safe spaces within communities where open dialogue about domestic violence is encouraged, breaking the silence and reducing the stigma associated with seeking help. Providing specialised support services that cater to the unique challenges faced by these women, such as legal aid, counseling, and safe shelters, is essential for their empowerment and healing.
Empowering these women to break free from the cycle of abuse and ensuring the safety and well-being of their children should be a priority. Education and awareness programmes should highlight the importance of shared responsibilities within households, challenging traditional gender roles. Creating support networks, both within workplaces and communities, can provide women with the resources and guidance they need to recognise and escape abusive situations. Lastly, it is crucial to recognise that a broken family is not a failure but rather a healthier alternative to enduring emotional and physical abuse.
Normalising the choice of leaving an abusive relationship, irrespective of societal expectations, is essential. By shifting the focus from preserving the façade of a perfect family to prioritising the well-being and safety of women, we can create a society that supports and empowers them. Nepal has made significant progress in recent years in addressing domestic violence by raising awareness, improving legal frameworks, and providing support services. However, more efforts are needed to change societal attitudes and eliminate this social evil.
(Rana is a gender expert and human rights practitioner with more than a decade of experience.)