Can there be peace, love and harmony between the couples?

Intimate partner violence has taken a toll on many families in Nepal. Here is a story of how positive interventions can change the situation.

The caption in the flag reads ‘my home is violence-free’

NL Today

  • Read Time 7 min.

“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way,” wrote Fyodor Dostoevsky in his 1878 novel Anna Karenina. This most quoted opening line appears to have a strong message for every family relationship.

Consider the two families. Family ‘A’ where the husband stands by his wife and the wife stands by her husband in times of need. When the husband is in stress, the wife comes to help him out.  One works outside the house, the other looks after the household affairs. Or both have jobs outside but both work at home too.  Where to educate the children? Together they decide.  Where should they go on holiday? Together they decide.   How much money they have, how much debt do they have to pay? Both of them know.  They listen to each other. They have disagreements at times and they get into each other’s nerves too, at times, but they do not allow their emotions to get over reason.  Their kids have never seen their parents argue, shout at each other, let alone fight.   They are friends in the kitchen, lovers in the bedroom and guardians and protectors of each other in public spheres. They know their responsibilities for each other and for the family and fulfill them to the best of their abilities.

Then there is family ‘B.’  The husband comes home late from work or he does not work at all. He does not share with his wife how much he earns and where he spends the money.  He is often drunk, arrives home in late hours, raves at wife and children, scaring them. The wife, sick and tired of husband’s behavior, is often in anger or perhaps also drinks, because he drinks. They argue, fight sometimes physically harming each other.   And because there is no harmony and peace in the house, it attracts the attention of everyone in the neighborhood.  They either fight, or argue or cry or suspect each other of infidelity.  The husband beats his wife, the wife cannot report the case fearing the social reprisal or fearing to lose the reputation of the family.

Family A, often idealized in movies, is the family everyone wishes and aspires for but are very uncommon.  Family B is the type that exists in many parts of the world but not many people may know their stories.

IPV in data 

According to a research article entitled “Social norms, diffusion, and women’s risk of intimate partner violence in Nepal: Impact assessment of a social and behavior Change communication intervention (Change Starts at home)” published in the journal SSM-Population Health, the 12-month prevalence of intimate partner violence (IPV), which is defined as “emotional, physical, and sexual violence and controlling behaviors perpetrated by an intimate partner,” stood at 17 percent in 2022 with 28 percent of Nepali women ever reporting one or more of these three forms of IPV (psychological 14 percent; physical 24 percent and sexual 8 percent). The study attributes IPV to multiple factors including low caste, women’s employment, income stress, poor marital communication, quarreling, husband drunkenness, witnessing IPV as a child, exposure to in-law violence, and gender inequitable normative expectations, among others. According to the article, most survivors don’t seek help from the formal support services due to limited awareness of their rights and available services, stigma and shame that they may experience, and poor-quality services. Alarmingly, social acceptance of IPV makes the situation worse. One in five men and women, says the article, still believe that IPV is acceptable under certain circumstances.

This can be a reason behind the rising number of domestic violence across the country. Out of total gender-based violence reported across Nepal in fiscal year 2021/22, 78 percent were related to domestic violence, according to Nepal Police. The World Health Organization reported in 2021 that violence against women is mostly about intimate partner violence and sexual violence.  About 1 in 3 (30 percent) of women worldwide have been subjected to either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime and worldwide, says this report, adding that almost one third (27 percent) of women aged 15-49 years who have been in a relationship reported that they have been subjected to some form of physical and/or sexual violence by their intimate partner.

No doubt, this is alarming. No doubt, the situation should change. But can it? Can positive interventions make a difference?

Change is possible 

It can,  if you go by some outcomes of the ‘Change Starts at Home: Preventing Violence Against Women and Girls in Nepal,’ the project led by Equal Access, in partnership with the University of Minnesota and Yale University, and implemented in Binayi Tribeni Rural Municipality and Hupsekot Rural Municipality of Nawalpur district of Nepal. The project that mainly aimed at reducing IPV, worked with couples, making them retrospect their own relationships while also providing them information, skills and support they need to have a more balanced and happy marriage. The curriculum, which was focused on local level advocacy and awareness raising and how the group members could engage with their communities, families, neighbors on the topic of IPV—and the programs implemented as part of the project were based on behavior change theories. During the process, the programs addressed the social norms and beliefs that somehow support the IPV cases. 

The members who participated in the ‘Change Starts at Home’ project felt and observed changes in themselves who later worked as change agents teaching others what was learnt in the group meeting. They (the couples) started talking to each other openly, started to share their responsibilities, and turned to each other for support, which in turn helped to strengthen their relationship and bring peace and harmony in the families. 

Among other programs, the violence-free community campaign (VFCC) appears to have left a lasting impact on the people. A violence-free community campaigning committee (VFCCs), formed in the Ward and the Municipality level, started the violence-free community campaign, first of its kind practice in Nepal. As the ward offices took ownership of the VFCC, the campaign resonated well with the community members.

Dala Bahadur Soti, the president of violence-free community campaigning committee (VFCCs) at Hupsikot-1 Beluwa, attested the effectiveness of the program. “The development of a person, a country is possible only when there is violence-free community,” he said. “There are more cases of unreported violence, especially those taking place inside the four walls of the houses and between the spouses.” Soti has understood violence for what it is. “Violence is not only about causing physical harm. If I speak to somebody without giving him/her due respect, that is also counted as violence,” he said. This renewed understanding reflects on the commitment that Soti expresses. “We want to maintain Hupsikot-1 Beluwa as the violence-free ward.”

The flag campaign that followed as part of the VFCC to declare each home violence-free home is where one can see the change.  Each house was given a yellow flag which they hoisted at their house to show that they are free from violence. Flag hoisting event carries greater importance because it is about adhering to basic principles of equity and dignity. In practice, each member who took a flag (which read violence-free home) to hoist at their homes agreed to implement following five declarations: 1) “Every woman member in this family, including the buharis (in-laws), are equal in this home and they will be treated as a full member with dignity.” 2)  “There shall be collective participation in decisions related to families and equal distribution of work among the family members.” 3) “There shall be no tolerance against violence and abuse against any member of this family in any circumstances whatsoever.” 4)  “As a family, we shall not stigmatize or allege any member of the community who faces violence, instead we listen to them, we regard them and we support them.” And  5)  “We understand that excessive consumption of alcoholic beverages can trigger the situation of violence and crisis/conflict. Therefore, we are committed to minimizing, and encouraging others to minimize, alcohol consumption in the community.”

The result of these efforts has been encouraging. More than 1200 homes in these two rural municipalities have been declared violence-free homes.

The local leadership has a better sense of what it means for a community to be violence-free. Tara Devi Paudel Adhikari, President of Tribeni Women Saving and Credit Cooperative Ltd, said: “In patriarchal society like Nepal, women are suffering violence. To free women from violence, the couple needs to be educated and it is necessary to eliminate violence because we need to be violence-free and women also need to be able to enjoy equal rights.”

The elected representatives at the local levels are committed to taking the violence-free campaign forward in the days to come. “The goal is to create a violence-free community,” said Laxmi Devi Pandey, Chair of Hupsekot Rural Municipality. She has received encouraging reviews of the program from ward chairs who have told her that ‘this is a totally different type of meaningful program.’ “They have told me that the program [VFCC] should be implemented in every household.”

Ganashyam Giri, Chairperson of  Binayi Tribeni Rural Municipality, sounds equally committed. “There is violence in one or other form. We need to be able to root it out completely,” he said. “We all need to change. We all need to work to make this campaign against gender violence successful.”

Story of love regained 

Maniram and Indu are a married couple from a Mushahar community in Binayi Tribeni-7, Nawalpur district. Their story is the story of love lost and love regained.  The poor couple were married 15 years ago and have five children—three daughters and two sons. But the couple were not in harmony for the last several years: They did not like to see each other’s face, they did not have hearty conversation and both tried to avoid each other instead of being together.  They lived under the same roof but it felt as if they were separate families. The souring relations between the two took a toll on the emotional wellbeing of their kids.

A few days of training and orientation from the Change Starts Home project helped to change perceptions of Maniram and Indu about each other and to see how unreasonable they had been to each other. Maniram, in particular, saw how he was perpetuating violence on his wife. “I have understood that we should have sex with the consent of both of us. When she  doesn’t want it I do not force her into it , when I do not want it or I am tired she does not insist. We ask each other whether we are ready for it and then decide whether to do it or not,” Maniram said, indicating that he used to force her into sex despite her will.

“I would be away at work, working in the field of others. I would return home tired. He would come home drunk and pick fights without any reason. He would beat me for no reason,” Indu said. “Today the situation has changed. We don’t fight any more.”

Today Indu and Maniram are a heartly couple, who share their problems with each other, who stand for each other and who take decisions about the family matters together. Change has started from home.

The change story like that of Maniram and Indu might sound romantic but for many people in many parts of Nepal such a change is still a dream, for the state of violence against women is still scary. According to Nepal Human Rights Year Book 2024 published by Informal Sector Service Center (INSEC), in 2023 alone, 109 women were killed by their husbands. And Madhesh Province saw 45 women victimized in dowry related incidents of which seven lost their lives.