Re­fus­ing to be silent on the topic of abuse

The Myanmar Times - Weekend - - Weekend|disability - NYO ME

THE morn­ing is cool and sunny but ev­ery­one is too busy to no­tice it. There’s a mixed group stand­ing in a small com­mu­nity hall, deep in dis­cus­sion, ges­tat­ing and look­ing to one an­other. A baby cries out for milk but the calls do not dis­tract the mother, who is deep in con­ver­sa­tion. The cries do not at­tract the at­ten­tion of the other par­tic­i­pants, ei­ther.

The dis­cus­sions this group of peo­ple have in­volves their up­per bod­ies. It takes a great deal of fa­cial move­ment and hand ex­pres­sion to get the point across. At the end of the dis­cus­sion hands are thrown in the air and shook about, of course, in Myan­mar sign lan­guage, this mo­tion rep­re­sents clap­ping.

In fact, this is a mixed group of deaf com­mu­ni­ca­tors. Some can com­mu­ni­cate us­ing learned sign lan­guage, mean­ing these in­di­vid­u­als have likely been deaf their en­tire lives while oth­ers are able to rely on lip read­ing, a skill more read­ily avail­able to those who lost their hear­ing at some point in their lives but re­tain im­por­tant me­mory of au­di­tory com­mu­ni­ca­tion.

This par­tic­u­lar morn­ing’s dis­cus­sion cen­tres around a lec­ture hosted the night be­fore by the Myan­mar In­de­pen­dent Liv­ing Ini­tia­tive for the ben­e­fit of the deaf com­mu­nity. The lec­ture was tack­ling a se­ri­ous, en­demic na­tional prob­lem that nor­mally will not be spo­ken about; do­mes­tic and gen­der based vi­o­lence.

Do­mes­tic vi­o­lence is the phys­i­cal bul­ly­ing, at­tack­ing or over­pow­er­ing of fam­ily mem­bers against their will, or to cause them harm through force, or threat­ened force. Sta­tis­ti­cally, it is over­whelm­ingly men who ex­ert raw, bru­tal power over their wives and chil­dren but the dy­nam­ics of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence can be as unique as the in­di­vid­u­als in­volved.

Gen­der based vi­o­lence is spe­cific to re­la­tion­ships be­tween men and women. Gen­er­ally cou­ples, gen­er­ally men against women. These dif­fer­ing but in­ter­twined is­sues are dif­fi­cult dis­cus­sions in Myan­mar, and fur­ther dif­fi­cult to quan­tify due to the cul­ture of si­lence that sur­rounds do­mes­tic and gen­der based vi­o­lence. Pa­tri­archy re­tains a strong grip on the cul­ture of part­ner­ships.

Within that purview, mar­ginal com­mu­ni­ties, such as the deaf, are more prone to fall vic­tim to these so­cial ills. Gen­der dis­crim­i­na­tion is suf­fered more by the deaf com­mu­nity than in the rest of so­ci­ety due to “lan­guage bar­ri­ers, lower lev­els of ed­u­ca­tional achieve­ment and con­ser­va­tive val­ues”, ac­cord­ing to U Kyaw Kyaw, pro­gramme direc­tor of the Myan­mar Deaf Com­mu­nity De­vel­op­ment As­so­ci­a­tion, which or­gan­ised the aware­ness train­ing (U Kyaw Kyaw is him­self deaf). “They don’t know they are be­ing dis­crim­i­nated against based on gen­der and face fre­quent ad­ver­sity” he added.

Par­ents (of deaf women) gen­er­ally are very con­cerned for their safety and so keep them at home and shel­tered. This is a form of dis­crim­i­na­tion. Be­ing kept away from the out­side world can neg­a­tively im­pact ed­u­ca­tion, work op­por­tu­ni­ties, so­cial­is­ing, ev­ery as­pect of life, ex­plained U Aung Myint Kyaing, for­mer stu­dent of the Mary Chap­man School for the Deaf, and now a trainer in deaf school teach­ing.

Within the deaf com­mu­nity, and po­ten­tially stem­ming from a lack of life ex­pe­ri­ence and con­fi­dence out­side the con­fines of the home, deaf women are es­pe­cially prone to do­mes­tic abuse. A lack of friends and con­nec­tions can cre­ate the con­di­tions for easy iso­la­tion and vic­tim­i­sa­tion.

33-year-old Daw Thet Thet Mar, deaf since birth, shared her story of do­mes­tic abuse, claim­ing that her hus­band would drink to ex­cess and come home to beat her. The worst beat­ing came while she was preg­nant, and al­most led to a dan­ger­ous pre­ma­ture birth. Daw Thet Thet Mar hit break­ing point, and brought her par­ents to stage an in­ter­ven­tion. Her hus­band apol­o­gised in front of the fam­ily, and ac­cord­ing to Daw Thet Thet Mar, ceased as­sault­ing her, but he con­tin­ues to drink and bul­lies her with harsh words.

The pre­sen­ta­tion gave some un­der­stand­ing and per­spec­tive, she now claims. None the less, Daw Thet Thet Mar’s story is hardly an un­com­mon one, and her strug­gle will con­tinue.

Is one day enough? Ac­cord­ing to U Kyaw Kyaw, the an­swer is no. It’s his opin­ion that due to the afore­men­tioned so­cial is­sues in the deaf com­mu­nity, com­bined with the mode of com­mu­ni­ca­tion, lessons in new top­ics can be tricky and slower than in a nor­mal learn­ing en­vi­ron­ment. So­cial dif­fi­cul­ties com­bined with a lack of pub­lic and stare sup­port means that not even sign lan­guage is taught uni­formly, and dif­fer­ences of un­der­stand­ing need to be ironed out in a group set­ting. Ac­cord­ing to U Kyaw Kyaw, train­ings are lim­ited to one day due to bud­get con­straints.

None the less, the lessons are con­sid­ered ex­tremely im­por­tant in mak­ing deaf peo­ple aware of their per­sonal rights and how to iden­tify if they are be­ing bul­lied or vic­timised. Per­haps most im­por­tantly of all, the les­son might be that it’s okay to talk about such im­por­tant is­sues with­out feel­ing shame. It en­cour­ages peo­ple to reach out and ask for help from friends and or­gan­i­sa­tions.

The works of the Com­mit­tee on the Elim­i­na­tion of Dis­crim­i­na­tion against Women were trans­lated into Myan­mar sign lan­guage in 2016 and gen­der aware­ness train­ing events have been held for the deaf com­mu­nity since. Ac­cord­ing to 2014 Myan­mar cen­sus, 4.6 per­cent of the coun­try’s pop­u­la­tion live with a dis­abil­ity and among those, 1.3 per­cent have hear­ing im­pair­ment. Some 670,000 peo­ple.

Pho­tos: Nyo Me

Daw Thet Thet Mar (right), con­trib­utes to the GBV event.

Dis­cussing gen­der based vi­o­lence.

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