Breaking the silence

Jane Gabriel

The first session I attended was ‘Violence against Women and the girl child:Urgent issues and Solutions’ hosted by the Italians.

Maria da Penha is a biochemical pharmacist who was shot by her husband in 1983 as she lay asleep in bed. He had disguised himself as a burglar in the hope of getting away with trying to kill his wife. It took Maria la Penha more than twenty years to find justice. She is now a paraplegic. She wrote a book called “Survived: I can Tell”. She was not silenced. She was not a victim.

In 2001 Brazil was widely criticized for its failure to have a law specifically dealing with domestic violence. It was then the only country in Latin America without such a specific law. Today, because of people like Maria da Penha’s refusal to be silent, it has one. When the audio on the video of her testimony broke, we watched it in silence. The sub-titles in english made even more poignant by the silence in which we sat ‘listening’ to her speak to us. It was a silence that Dr Chonchanok Viravan (who was chairing the session) said was symbolic of the issue: the silence surrounding domestic violence that makes it so hard to confront.

The urgent solution the session was trying to find is this: Break the Silence.

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