Illicit drug use helps fuel domestic violence: activists
LONG a known public health scourge for Myanmar, drug use is also fuelling gender-based violence in the country, according to activists.
“Some domestic violence cases and drugs [use] are linked,” said U Thein Kyi, a central executive committee member of the Myanmar Anti -Narcotics Association (MANA). “In some households, drug [use] is the main reason for unexpected violence happening between husband and wife, or parents and children.”
As the issue has been given greater attention in recent years, the MANA and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) have been working together to address gender-based violence by giving awareness training to police officers in how to handle these particular cases. The aim is to highlight the key role police can play in both the prevention and response to cases of gender-based violence.
Indications that illicit narcotics use was a “main problem” in these cases was the reason his association became involved in the police trainings, U Thein Kyi said.
The MANA member emphasised the importance of raising awareness among both men and women in combating gender-based violence. That means sometimes challenging traditional cultural and social norms, he said, such as the problematic notion that the spousal dynamic of husband and wife is one of owner and property, making it acceptable for a husband to beat or otherwise mistreat his wife.
Similar ideas about parent-child relationships were equally “unacceptable”, U Thein Kyi said.
The chair of a women’s committee for the Karlan IDP camp in Kutkai township, northern Shan State, offered anecdotal proof of the assertion that drug use was contributing to domestic violence.
“In our camps, the drug users or alcohol-addicted households fight and violence happens more than normal households. The men become addicted to drugs and they ignite problems in the family and beat or scold the wife and children,” Daw Yein Nu said.
U Thein Kyi stressed the importance of reporting domestic violence in order to combat it, saying those who hide such cases were only potentially exacerbating the situation.
Daw Yein Nu said part of her committee’s role, in conjunction with community leaders, was to field domestic abuse complaints and intervene when necessary. She said given community leaders’ considerable influence in IDP camps, women have typically experienced less violence, or an end to domestic abuse entirely, after they have come forward.
A member of the Kachin Baptist Church who deals with cases of gender-based violence at another IDP camp in Kutkai township, Daw Zaung Yen, said the encampments themselves were part of the problem.
“Men drink and use drugs due to a lack of opportunity to do business,” she said. “There are more problems in that kind of household.”
Currently, there is no legislation on the books that specifically addresses gender-based violence, leaving community leaders – particularly in remote areas and conflict zones – to serve as the primary protectors of women.
The drafting of a National Law on Protection and Prevention of Violence against Women has been in the works for years but has yet to be tabled in parliament.
Any law would likely include provisions on providing police with the kind of training being offered by the MANA-UNFPA partnership.
Daw Seng Hkham, a genderbased violence coordinator for the Metta Foundation, which is working to combat such abuse in part by raising awareness among communities in Kachin State, said strong communal and familial support networks were also important for victims of gender-based violence.
“GBV [gender-based violence] is preventable,” she said.
The Myanmar Anti-Narcotics Association and a UN agency have partnered to train police about gender-based violence.