Feature Story

24 June 2011

Probing Causes of Violence Against Women in China

Using technology to get the answer to sensitive questions about masculinities and gender equality

HUNAN PROVINCE, China — A lively workshop session on gender equality started with brainstorming of commonly used Chinese idioms describing a good man.

He should have a back like a tiger and a waist like a bear.

He does not shed tears until his heart is broken.

He stands firm amid adversities.

On the subject of a good woman, more hands shot up.

She should behave in a sweet and helpless way.

She should be caring and affectionate.

She should be a good wife and loving mother.

Of the more than 40 men and women who attended the interviewers' training last spring, half were university students from all over China, and half of them were recruited locally from various professions. Most of them are in their 20s, joined by a few older retirees. The training -- which included an innovative use of new technology qualified them to undertake innovative field data collection on men, gender equality and violence against women.

The fieldwork is part of the research on masculinities – the qualities generally ascribed to  men – and their connections to violence against women.

Generating new perspectives on masculinities

Equipped with knowledge of complicated issues surrounding violence and gender norms, the interviewers will seek views from both men and women in this Hunan Province city. China is one of seven countries included in a research project on gender-based violence in the Asia Pacific region. Led by Partners for Prevention, a regional programme supported by UNDP, UNFPA, UN Women and UN Volunteers, the research will generate new analysis on masculinities and violence in the region and is expected to improve measures to prevent and respond to violence against women.

  Using the PDA to conduct a pilot interview.
Photo: Guo Tieliu

“The research is the most strict one in terms of the ethics standard, and the most comprehensive one with lots of hard-to-ask questions,” said Professor Wang Xiangxian, one of the key Chinese researchers dedicated to this project. For both men and women, the questionnaire includes probing some of the most private aspects of their lives, including sexual relations, violence, intimate relationships and drug use. The greatest challenge the research team faces is how to ask these questions in the most appropriate way and to get honest answers without betraying the privacy of the interviewees.
 

Using technology to make hard-to-ask questions easier

The trendy Apple portable iTouch provides an innovative solution. All the questions are programmed in a special application that can be installed in an ITouch that will serve as a personal digital assistant for the interviewer. Instead of holding printed questionnaires in hand and going through each question face-to-face with the interviewee, the interviewer will guide the  subject to answer the questions directly on the iTouch. The questions are even recorded so that those  who can’t read will hear the questions with headsets and key in their answers. The use of the PDAs aims to avoid embarrassment, to allow self-reporting of violent acts such as physical abuse and rape, and to ensure maximum protection of privacy.

The field work will last for over a month in  the UNFPA-supported pilot site. Already the project has made some important breakthroughs, ranging from village level awareness-raising to the issuing of city-level legislation on violence against women. The findings from the research will bring valuable insights to all stakeholders involved to formulate effective actions to prevent and respond to violence against women by taking into account of both men and women. The results will also be shared with Chinese experts involved in the process of drafting the Anti-Domestic Violence Law of China

                                                                                                        --- Gao Cuiling, UNFPA China

Seeking Help for 'Private Matters' in China

Village entertainer performing, 'Say No to Violence.' Photo: Guo Tieliu

LIU YANG CITY, China —" I feel happy with my life now. I believe it is going to be better," says 32-year-old Xiao Hui, who no longer fears the shadow of domestic violence.

Xiao Hui and her husband were schoolmates. After leaving high school, they both went to work in Guangdong Province as migrant workers for a few years, and they fell in love. They returned to Duzheng Village to get married.

With the arrival of their daughter seven years ago, Xiao Hui stayed at home while her husband worked with construction companies nearby. With one more person to feed, the couple began to quarrel about money. One day, her husband returned Xiao Hui’s complaints by forcefully shoving her to the bedside. "He treated me with no respect. He hurt me as much as if he had beaten me," said Xiao Hui.

Xiao Hui did not just worry and cry after the incident. She remembered seeing the anti-domestic violence posters and performances near the village and she mustered up the courage to ask Ms. Zu of the Women’s Committee whether her ‘private matter’ would qualify for some sort of formal intervention. To her surprise, Ms. Zu organized a mediation session with the couple and their parents. "My husband was told if he did not stop, he would have to face the consequences," Xiao Hui recalled.

Xiao Hui thought the mediation really worked. "My husband would have started beating me if he did not get the formal warning," Xiao Hui believes.

Duzheng Village is one of the seven local villages in Liuyang that have organized intensive community activities to encourage villagers to speak out and seek support whether violence occurs in or out of their houses. It is part of a UNFPA-supported pilot initiative aiming at setting up a multi-sectoral model on violence against women. "Our volunteers spread messages on violence when entertaining big crowds of people, even at weddings and funerals," said Ms. Zu. Every household got a letter on domestic violence and there were displays in the village on where to get support when violence happens.

According to the Violence against Women: Facts and Figure 2010 compiled by UNFPA China and a Chinese NGO Andi-Domestic Violence Network, "one of the greatest challenges to addressing this is that women usually seek help from informal networks such as family, and neighbours, or never tell anyone of the violence". In China, where the culture of "washing your dirty linen at home" is extremely strong, the village campaign on violence makes it possible for many women like Xiao Hui to speak up and seek help for what is usually seen as ‘private matters.’