Venezuela: Anti-Domestic Violence Campaign Targets Men

(IPS) – If the coffee is cold, he goes ballistic, smashes the cup on the floor and lashes out at his partner. If she doesn’t come running when he calls, or their daughter cries, he shouts impatiently and hits her. These are some of the scenes in unprecedented TV spots now appearing in Venezuela.

Sports newspapers, racing magazines, movie theatres, community radio stations and TV stations are publishing or screening brief ads as part of the new campaign "Count to Three: You, she, your family. Bring out what’s best in you. Stop the violence."

"Previous campaigns have been aimed at women, encouraging them to report domestic violence, but this one is directed at male aggressors, inviting them to reflect about violence against women and girls, without piling on the blame," Leoncio Barrios, a professor of social psychology at the Central University of Venezuela, told IPS.

Changing the message has been discussed for years. "The question used to be, ‘Why does she put up with it?’ instead of ‘Why does he hit her?’ Now we want to get men on our side, so that they stop hitting and insulting women," said Ofelia Álvarez, head of Fundamujer, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) that works for the prevention of domestic violence.

Count to Three will reinforce work aimed at violent men, "who often have trouble admitting their faults and frequently lash out at their partners as a result," Luisa Limada, an activist at the Women’s House in Rio Caribe, a fishing village in Venezuela’s northeastern Paria peninsula, told IPS.

The new campaign is the result of synergy between NGOs, the state Institute for Women, United Nations agencies in Venezuela and Fondo Común, a private bank.

The bank is the main source of the 300,000 dollars spent on the campaign, "but it is only fair to recognise that it is being supported by invaluable voluntary contributions," Víctor Gill, the bank’s president, told IPS.

He pointed out that the campaign will use advertising space on public and private television and radio stations, set aside by law for the Information Ministry.

The campaign is designed to run from Sept. 21, International Day of Peace, to Nov. 25, International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.

Worldwide, "one out of three women has been beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise physically abused during her lifetime. Usually the offender is a member of her own family," said David McLachlan-Karr, coordinator of the U.N. system in Venezuela, quoting from an October 2006 U.N. report.

In 2005, NGOs received 36,777 complaints from women who had suffered domestic violence, in this country of 27 million people. And for every case that comes to light, nine go unreported, the NGOs said.

Television screenwriter Leonardo Padrón, at the launch of the campaign at a Caracas theatre on Sept. 21, said that when the law on violence against women and the family was approved in 1999, he had the central character in his soap opera "El país de las mujeres" (The Country of Women) receive a copy of the law in booklet form as a gift from an admirer.

In the scene, the woman, a policeman’s wife who is a victim of domestic abuse, goes down to the police station to file a complaint against her husband, only to find him at the reception desk. She makes him type entire paragraphs of the text of the law, as part of her statement.

"Months later I got a letter of thanks from the Institute for Women. After that episode was aired, women’s complaints reporting domestic violence had tripled," he said.

In contrast, two years ago several television screenwriters were asked to a meeting by then Health Minister Francisco Armada, to ask them to include public health issues in their storylines, which they gladly agreed to do.

"Since I’m not an expert on the issue, I asked the ministry to send me information, statistics and materials to include in scenes and dialogues. But the officials in charge never sent what they’d promised, and I was left dangling," Padrón said.

On the basis of these experiences, Padrón called for "originality and perseverance," and for better use to be made of resources like soap operas, because they are "products that are watched by the majority of people in Latin America."

But issues should be "merely suggested, without being too obviously overdone or forced," he added.

Morelia Jiménez, an expert on gender issues with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), told IPS that Count to Three is "the first campaign against domestic violence to be entirely designed and produced in Venezuela," and that it seeks to influence advertisers and screenwriters for film and television.

"We also want the U.N. system to adopt it as a cornerstone of its next regional campaign, in the 16 days of action for a world free of violence against women, planned for Nov. 25 to Dec. 10," Jiménez said.

Before the start of the Count to Three campaign, a survey was done of 1,200 men aged between 13 and 55 from all socioeconomic backgrounds, to explore their beliefs, perceptions and attitudes towards violence against women. This will be repeated after the campaign in order to gauge its repercussions.