As the stage lit up a figure walked sullenly out of the darkness. Her face full of anguish revealed the years of pain and suffering that she had had to endure in the hands of an abusive partner. This story could have taken place anywhere, but instead it happened in Vietnam, a country where gender-based violence is deeply rooted and still prevalent and where the man is expected to keep a tight grip on the woman. While I was aware of general inequality between both sexes, it only dawned on me that night in the theater, as I was watching a play depicting real stories of domestic violence, its devastating impact on  Vietnamese society.

The women on stage were all non-professional actresses who had agreed to take part in a project whose aim was to share their experiences of abuse and to turn them into play. Observing the raw emotions that the women expressed on stage, I couldn't help but feel moved by their courage to lay bare their pain. We, the audience, were witnesses to their daily confrontations with men, who couldn't respect them, and often under the influence of alcohol, only perceived them as nothing more than punching bags.

The first part of the play consisted in a type of interpretative dance where a group of women moved around the stage, their bodies swaying to and fro as if in a trance. At one point, one woman threw her arms up in the arm and began to wail, conveying her extreme desperation. Then, one after the other, the rest of the women started replicating her movements, thus filling the entire room with cries of despair and sorrow. Almost instantly, their husbands rushed out onto the stage, holding sticks or bottles and chased after them like wild animals.

In the next scene we witnessed the men dragging the women into their houses and pretending to beat them. The experience was very intense, and for a moment I shut my eyes, too upset to watch. The ending of the first part concluded with one of the men pacing about the stage, guilt-ridden. He tried to seek forgiveness from the group of women. At first, they rejected his pleas, but then, eventually, one of them extended out her hand, thus inviting him back into the group. At the conclusion of the first part, a discussion between the audience and the director of the play about its content ensued.

I found some of the responses quite interesting: Some condemned the men's behavior and demanded that they be convicted for their actions; others disagreed with the women's decision to forgive the man, stating that by not punishing him for what he had done, they had given him free rein to continue to abuse his partner. One response, surprisingly enough, came from a woman who claimed that a Vietnamese woman doesn't need to overtly express her anger towards abusive behavior. By distancing herself from her husband, she  automatically forced him to feel isolated and ignored, thus punishing him indirectly for his actions.

Coming from a culture where women are encouraged to speak out against discrimination or abuse, I could not fully comprehend this stance. In my view, regardless of one's culture or ethnic background, the right to be treated with respect, dignity, and as an equal is universal. How can we allow a human being to "grin and bare it" when she has to endure beatings on a daily basis? Relying on cultural differences as a means of excusing abuse behavior towards a member of the opposite sex can only divide rather than unite people of various cultural, religious, and ethnic backgrounds.

The second part of the play focused on specific instances of abuse which the women had experienced in real life. One scene that particularly stood out to me depicted a woman being severely beaten by her husband for not wanting to hand over her earnings to him. Each time he demanded that she give him the amount of money earned after a day's work, she refused until he took her behind the stage and abused her. When the woman reappeared, her face was covered in "blood" and she was whimpering. Her daughter witnessed everything and tried to comfort her. The play ended on a very disturbing note: The daughter was alone on the stage and was beating and insulting her dolls, thus re-enacting her father's behavior.

Nothing is more horrifying than to see a child imitating such heinous actions. Sadly, their child was brought up to believe that physical violence is the norm and should be perpetuated. I left the theater feeling numb, helpless, wondering how human beings could behave that way. It became clear to me that I wanted to do something to stop this type of gender-based violence. I wanted to be part of an organization that supported women, empowered them, and gave them a sense of hope that they are just as worthy as men are. By the same token, I felt that men also need to be included in order to create a dialog between men and women and to teach both sides about mutual respect and trust. Moreover, both sides need a space where they can openly share their feelings and truly express what their needs and expectations of the other are. Once men acknowledge women's important contributions to society, they will hopefully make more of an effort to treat them as equals. Once women perceive men as positive role models who care and respect them, they can begin to trust them more.

Region Asia Pacific

Take action! This post was submitted in response to Ending Gender-Based Violence 2012.


Dear Lea,

This play sounds like a very powerful experience by making visible the pain and suffering that so many women endure through domestic violence. Bringing the subject out in the open instead of keeping it behind closed doors is such an important step to really being able to make change at a cultural level.

You raise a good question about tolerating gender violence because it is cultural versus not tolerating gender violence at all. You also point out how gender violence may perhaps be its own culture and one that does not have to be accepted when it causes so much suffering and devalues women. I applaud your willingness to raise these issues and to offer a way to think about them that speaks to the need to end gender violence.

I also applaud your recognition that men need to be part of the dialogue as much as women. If men who enact violence against women don't understand how or why they are influenced to do so, it will be hard to get them to change, and that dreaded reenactment through the generations will persist. Violence against women should be seen not just as a woman's issue, but as a human rights' issue. Thank you for bringing this perspective to light!

Thank you for sharing this incredible and moving experience. I feel very inspired by reading your piece.

Leslie Stoupas

Dear Leslie,

Thank you very much for your very perceptive and thoughtful comments. I was quite touched by what you wrote and really appreciate your having taken the time to read my article. I feel honored that you were inspired by my piece. I also very much enjoyed reading your comments and wanted to thank you for sharing your thoughts with me. All of your points are spot on and reflect exactly how I felt after I saw the play. Again, I really do appreciate what you wrote and would like to thank you for your amazing post!

Hello Lea,

This is very powerful. I agree that men have to brought int o the conversation. I would go further to say that it si the men who first need to become aware that their behaviour is unacceptable.

It was heartbreaking to hear about the child repeating the abuse. Another thing that came to mind is that she may grow up to be abused and her only comfort will be her own daughter and the cycle continues for generations.

This is very heartbreaking because this still happen in societies where society have overwhelming agreed that domestic abuse is outrageous and unlawful act which is punishable by law. How are going to help these communities/countries where they don't even begin to see this as a problem?

Kadeen DennieListenerPulsewire

Dear Kadeen, Thank you very much for having read my article and for your lovely comments. I really appreciate it. I completely agree with you that men definitely need to understand that that kind of behavior cannot be tolerated and they must learn to treat women with more respect. It is indeed devastating for a child to witness abuse as she will most likely experience it herself and may, as a result, inflict it onto her own children. Sadly, many communities are still very much tied to their traditions, which is why working at a grassroot level is vital in order to educate people to see this kind of behavior as a problem. Women need to feel that they have more options and that they have shouldn't accept abuse and humiliation because that's "the way it is and we can't change anything". Once they feel empowered, they will more likely encourage others to change their mind set and to demand more equal rights. Fortunately, sites like these and NGOs that are dedicated to fighting for women's rights are giving women a voice. Even though it's a slow process, we have to start somewhere! Thanks again for your support!

thanks Lea for writing such a piece.The most important thing for me is to get the information in order to know how to fight against something .In my environment i did not experience that problem and i could not imagine that women are living in such hard conditions in Vietnam.Thank you for bringing this perspective to light! That will allow women to bring a solution to this problem. take care

Mayele , Maman shujaa and World Pulse volunteer

Thank you, Mayele, for your thoughtful comments and for showing concern about the situation. Yes, I, too, did not know about this before coming to Vietnam. It is hard to believe that women are experiencing such suffering. I also hope that those kinds of initiatives will help women feel empowered and will encourage them to speak out against domestic violence. Thank you again for your comment!