A glass wall separates the area where the interns and several staff members work from the tiny room where Winnie ma’am consults and listens to the women. These women come in often to share their stories. Each story is different, but they all have one thing in common; They’ve made the courageous decision to leave an abusive relationship.
Tuesday I spent hours researching violence against women for an upcoming workshop. Winnie ma’am saw 3 women that day. My throat tightened as I read a BBC article that revealed haunting stats on crime against women.. one crime against women every three minutes, one rape every 29 minutes, one dowry death case every 77 minutes, one case of cruelty by husband and relatives every nine minutes.
The number of cases continues to rise and the government and authorities continue to push such cases to the back-burner. The husbands often bribe lawyers and court officials to deem the complaints illegitimate and quash the case leaving. Perhaps the most disturbing fact is that according to Unicef’s “Global Report Card on Adolescents 2012” 57% of adolescent boys and 53 % of adolescent girls believe domestic violence is justified.
As I continued my research, the articles containing testimonials of women who had experienced domestic abuse for years was never ending. Even women who come from wealthier families and have lawyers, doctors, and pastors as husbands have come forward. I had put off reading up on the infamous gang rape in Delhi that occurred just this past December. After I read the graphic and violent case description I couldn't read anymore. I felt completely sick that something so terrible existed outside of horror films and other forms of fiction.
As the last woman left Winnie’s office, she tidied a stack of papers and let out a sigh. I smiled as I glanced at the plaque tilted against the glass that reads "well behaved women rarely make history". Her eyes were tired and wary behind her tortoise shell cat-eye glasses. This woman has shown me just how much one individual can do. I realized that organizations like Maitri are here to help solidify these women’s decision to leave. They let them know that despite what cultural factors have taught them to believe, they deserve a life without fear.
I continue to meet women who were victimized and are survivors of such relationships. Removing themselves from these circumstances takes much more strength than I’d previously recognized. Making the decision to leave is the most tremendous first step, because for so long they have had their decisions made for them. Leaving is not only making the conscious decision to stand up for themselves despite of cultural norms, but they also have to make these decisions and navigate their lives feeling completely alone. This decision more often than not puts them at odds not only with their husband and in-laws but even their own parents and siblings. These women inspire me and are reminders of the strength within each individual.
As I sat in my chair brewing over everything I’d just researched I remembered my favorite quote.
“I never look at the masses as my responsibility; I look at the individual. I can only love one person at a time- just one, one, one. So you begin. I began- I picked up one person. Maybe if I didn’t pick up that one person, I wouldn’t have picked up forty-two thousand…The sam thing goes for you, the same thing in your family, the same thing in your church, your community. Just begin- One, One, One”—Mother Teresa
With such daunting statistics it’s hard for me not to become overwhelmed and feel “responsible for the masses”, and discouraged when I recognize that combatting the most difficult issues takes years and years of changing cultural mindsets. But I need to remember the power of the individual. I need to remember the women I've met who are survivors and look for the women like Winnie and other at Maitri who are creating tremendous change. In the end, each person helped is one more person whose life was changed for the better. One individual can produce just as astonishing statistics. “Just begin- One, One, One”.