Vol XXX   NO. 2      Thursday      22 March 2007
UK expert warns against ignoring cries for help

THE cries of abused women must never fall on deaf ears, says the founder of the world's first refuge for battered women.

For someone who was persecuted by her community leaders and called a marriage wrecker for refusing to turn away battered women from her own doorstep more than 30 years ago, Erin Pizzey said she knows and appreciates the hard work that organisations such as the Bahrain Young Ladies Association (BYLA) exert to protect families.

"I am honoured to be in Bahrain to take part in the opening of the Aisha Yateem Family Counselling Centre, which is a very historic moment," she said.

"All those who worked so hard must be appreciated because I truly believe the family is the primary socialising agency in a child's life. I also believe the family is the corner stone of any civilisation."

It was in Chiswick, London, UK, that Ms Pizzey opened the first refuge for battered women in the world in 1971.

"In those days, women were helpless, because unless they were able to show proof of multiple violent attacks such as personal photographs, they were told they did not have the right to leave their matrimonial home.

"Even if she did leave and show evidence, she was still helpless because no one would be willing to take her in.

Ms Pizzey said that the first woman who asked for her help was Kathy.

"Kathy showed me her bruises, which were the result of her husband hitting her with the leg of a chair," she said.

"That night, I took her in (my home) and within a few months women and children were lying on the floor at night. The conditions were dreadful but for those families it was better than risking their lives in the hands of the violent perpetrators.

"Most of these women were vulnerable and they suffered abuse and violence as children.

"I realised they need many months and in some cases years of counselling and care to enable them to move back into the community."

The job of shelters is to offer sanctuary to reassure mothers and their children that they are amongst kind and caring people," said Ms Pizzey.

"I know the devastating effects of witnessing domestic violence can have on children," she said.

"Boys who are abused tend to explode with rage and become violent themselves, while girls implode and tend to harm themselves, often becoming victims."

Based on her experiences at Chiswick, Ms Pizzey wrote the pioneering book on wife-battering, Scream Quietly or the Neighbours Will Hear, in 1974. That book was very successful in bringing the problem of battered women to the world's attention.

Shelters for battered women began springing up all over the world in the wake of her inspiring example. The world's attitude towards shelters also changed for the better thanks to the perseverance of many individuals and organisations like BYLA, said Ms Pizzey.

"Having founded the first refuge, I faced a great deal of persecution from local leaders who called me a marriage wrecker," she said.

"Authorities also tried to send me to jail for refusing to turn mothers and their children away. But today, there are more growing centres across the world. We need to create not only shelters for these women but also business opportunities so that once they leave the shelter, they have a way of providing for themselves.

"I am hopeful that the Aisha Yateem Family Counselling Centre is the forerunner in the region and may there be more to come."

Ms Pizzey is in Bahrain for the next week to run intense training workshops for staff at the centre.

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