Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Domestic Violence in the South Pacific - A Global Health Perspective

Recently, DCVLP Program and Outreach Manager Ashley Badgley was invited to participate in a wonderful program sponsored by the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative. The trip was the reciprocal tour to a Fall 2012 program in which over 20 law fellows from several South Pacific nations joined one of many DC-based legal service organizations, including DCVLP, as part of a Women's Rights Program. Ashley worked with five other DC-based organization members as well as the ABA to engage in conversations and participate in a colloquium based at the University of The South Pacific in Suva, Fiji. 

Her individual presentations, and main interests in meeting with local Fijian women's groups as well as National and International organizations such as UNWomen and the U.S. Embassy reside in the realm of public health - how domestic violence is a public health crisis and should be addressed as such. With the recent publishing of the WHO report stating domestic violence is a global epidemic, we here at DCVLP felt it was the appropriate time for Ashley to write about her trip, experience and public health approach to domestic violence. 

I, Ashley Badgley, am the Program and Outreach Manager at the DC Volunteer Lawyers Project, and I believe with all of my being that domestic violence is a global public health epidemic. No matter where, how, or to whom, I see domestic violence as something that not only contributes to the overall detriment of society, but also prevents improvements in community development, economic prosperity and the overall quality of life for the entire planet. 

I believe that if we view domestic violence, all gender-based violence, as a public health issue, laws change faster, communities become more involved and ideas promoting anti-violence take over what once was viewed as a "private" issue. Domestic violence might happen in private, but in no way should it be viewed as an issue bound by culture, gender, race, sexual orientation, socio-economic status or any other intersection. Domestic violence occurs EVERYWHERE in the world and should not be tolerated by any society, for any reason. 

Fijian women attend ABA ROLI Colloquium on Women's Rights

While in the South Pacific, I was encouraged, inspired and motivated to talk about domestic violence in a public health way. Populations, one of the most important aspects of public health, are harmed in domestic violence situations, and that hurt leads to generations of more hurt. There are children and adults with physical, mental and emotional concerns, as well as societies with large portions of the population being forced out of work and into lives that rely on others for financial stability at the sacrifice of personal safety. 

If a violent act that is taught, trained and repeated in the same way as a virus isn't a public health issue, then I don't know what is. If the costs of repairing the effects of domestic violence drastically outweigh the costs of preventing the violence is not a public health issue, then what is? Domestic violence, just as a contagious disease, spreads like crazy without intervention, investment and a look to the future.

Now I promise I won't get too deep into Women's Studies theory of philosophy, but there is a school of thought that ties women to nature - that a history of societies where women cultivate, gather and grow to sustain life has led to a deep connection between women and the environment. In the same belief system, people see abuse against the environment and nature as a direct abuse against women and the skills they have been historically taught to feed and provide for their families. In a world of environmental destruction, violence against women is seen as a physical, mental, emotional and societal attack. But, it is also viewed as an attack on the overall livelihood and health of future generations that must survive using these skills.

Domestic Violence affects current and future generations in more ways than one.

I was lucky to see how women in the South Pacific, Fiji in particular, look at violence as something that stands in the way of their abilities to be the people they DESERVE to be - the strong women they were BORN to be. They take the environment around them, the quality of their surroundings, as something directly related to surviving domestic violence. I heard wonderful stories of women who constantly strive for survival and economic recovery to support themselves and their children after escaping a violent situation. Economic empowerment is incredibly powerful, but programs must be in-tuned to the very unique needs of survivors and their families. They see their environment as their home, family, land, air and the ocean - they work to end the violence against all of their environment, and use the survival of their home, family, land, air and the ocean as a way to escape a life they don't deserve. 

When delivering my presentation on public health and domestic violence at USP in Suva, Fiji, I heard stories of how neighborly relationships in a culture that values community above almost everything else can lead to surviving domestic violence. If we take that same perspective and look at domestic violence as a health problem, we can utilize these same community relationships to support survivors and encourage change.

I learned more from ten days in Fiji then I ever imagined - more than I could have learned in any other situation on the same topic. I learned new things as a Feminist, non-profit employee, advocate, and just as a person. I have spent years trying to teach and learn about public health and domestic violence and how they are connected, and I was so lucky to have discussions with so many inspiring and innovating individuals in the process. 

Fijian bird at Sunrise over the Pacific Ocean

I think, as time moves on and the world views domestic violence as more than slapping and bruises, as more than something we fix after the protective order is filed, we can only move towards a better place where prevention prevails and change is rapid. 

Yours in Advocacy,
Ashley Badgley
DCVLP Program and Outreach Manager

(Ashley has a Master's Degree in Women's Studies with a focus on Women's Public Health - please email her at abadgley@dcvlp.org with any questions)

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