Peace House Shelter - A home to stay after the storm
"We came to the Center for Women and Development (CWD) of the Vietnam Women's Union located on Thuy Khue street in Hanoi on a hot afternoon. Our feelings intertwined since we already knew where we would go during this work trip of FNF Vietnam members. It has been nearly two months since I officially became a Communication Intern of FNF Vietnam. This is two months with a lot of experiences, with new knowledge to learn, new colleagues to discuss with, but this must be the very first time I feel that nervous because this is a trip to visit the Peace House Shelter - a home for women who have been victims of domestic violence and women trafficking. Being aware of the sensitiveness, we went there as a small group of four people, looking forward to hearing stories, anecdotes from the insiders, the social workers and victims.
While walking to the Consultation Room of the Center, we remember the 2019 National Survey on Violence against Women in Vietnam, showing that nearly 2 out of 3 women (nearly 63%) have one or more physical, sexual, emotional and economic violence as well as controlling acts committed by their husbands in their life. Besides, nearly 32% of women have experienced current violence (in the last 12 months) and then we think about the great purpose of today's trip of FNF members, think about how its values will change our life.
The Consultation Room was a first place that we visit, not only it is a space that women can be advised on women's rights, legal aid, it is also the first place to receive victim’s information, contact with its relatives to provide initial information, seek support, coordinate to solve related issues. We stayed there for a couple of minutes, listening to the Director of the Center presenting that this project of Peace House Shelter has been maintained in three locations, two in Hanoi, one in Can Tho city where the national number of victims of domestic violence is very high, from 2007 with a lot of ups and downs. At the very start, although being partly supported by the government, they did not have sufficient financial aid that they have since most of the people did not understand the project’s purpose and goals.
These houses, with a somewhat ‘poetic’ name - “Peace House Shelter” - are the reality of domestic violence showing the fate of 1400 victims (also known as temporary residents) who have received support by the Center with accommodation, consultation, vocational training and tools.
After that, we got in a car and went to a confidential address in Hanoi, all to ensure the safety of the victims. Some minutes later, I walked into the Peace House, feeling at home. In the living room, a group of 9-10 children sitting on a couch, coloring, reading children books and chatting happily. Behind these peaceful smiles are the unforgettable stories and painful tears of their mothers, who have suffered so much abuse in their lives.
We went to the 2nd floor, met the housekeeper and the social workers, who look after the victims from dusk to dawn, counsel them, listen to their stories. They tell us, our FNF members some thrilling and shocking stories behind that we can never forget. One of those is a story about a woman that had been helped by the Center when she was still in the Viet Nam National Institute of Burns with a body burned to 70%.
We realized that the women who came here are stronger than their peers who also suffer from domestic abuse. They know how to fight for themselves and overcome the situation. Usually, Vietnamese women who are abused often endure because they do not want to receive criticisms from neighbors, relatives, because they respect and want to keep their husbands’ dignity, and because of the fear of birth parents, fear of divorces, etc.
They also shared with us the stories of violent users - the victims' husbands. They find ways to challenge the social workers, by threatening, by cursing, by using violence (again), stating that “Peace Houses” are crushing their family’s peace and happiness. There was many times the Center needs to seek help from police and security force to protect them from the verbal and physical assaults of violent users who tried to take their women back. Being risky of engaging in danger situations when performing their job, many of social workers here left the houses for their safety. Some of them (mostly are also women) even had to attend therapy program to support their mental health from the continuous depression they experience.
Furthermore, before we came here, some of us used to think that domestic violence only took place in families with low literacy, but the victims’ different situations had proved that we are wrong. Domestic violence does not only occur in families with low intellectual standards but also in intellectual families, some of whom are doctors, lecturers, teachers, directors, successful businesswomen.
Also, it is the persistent efforts and meaningful messages that the Center was spreading that create positive changes for the Vietnamese government and society. The Law on Domestic Violence Prevention and Control was introduced in 2007, followed by many other laws to protect women. This change is even more significant among young women who no longer live up to their resilience, but are much stronger in the fight against violence, they are more confident, more autonomy in married life.
The Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom Vietnam, before returning to the office, also sent encouragement to the housekeeper and social workers with an “iron heart’’, a strong spirit to help all the victims. Soon, FNF Vietnam will have seminars collaborating with our partners to support capacity building for women, to join hands to help women in Vietnam achieve their ambitious and leadership.
In conclusion, Vietnamese folk has the saying “Một điều nhịn, chín điều lành”, which means “You have to suffer, peace will come”. However, perhaps in this modern society and the context of domestic violence, this saying should no longer be applied. We are in the 21st century, it is important for women to fight for themselves since there are always people, organizations, and open arms that are ready to help you to find peace in your heart!"
*Note: This article has been published in German on Freiheit.org, the official website of Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom. Please access the following link for your reading: https://www.freiheit.org/vietnam-zwei-drittel-aller-frauen-wurden-opfer…
Followings are photos taken during FNF team's visit when we are in Consultation room of CWD, in the Peace Shops where support small businesses of women living in Peace House Shelter and in the Guest room of a Peace House Shelter in Hanoi.