Pretoria – Before anything else one will see a bruised and battered woman’s face.
Next one will see a make-up artist talking, explaining how this woman can best cover the bruises on her face with make-up.
These bruises are ones she received as a result of domestic violence.
What’s just been described is a video on a Moroccan state television channel showing a make-up artist teaching a woman to cover the evidence of her partner’s brutality. It must be stated that the woman was merely a model and not actually a victim of domestic violence, but it caused an outcry nonetheless, which could have been expected.
It stemmed from people thinking this video was an effort to normalise domestic violence and teaching women to cover up the bruises instead of reaching out for help.
The video caused controversy in that country, and thanks to the internet, it reached South African eyes – just as the country marked 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children.
However, emotions aside, is there a case for what these women were doing?
Should women show the bruises and face the inevitable judgments, stares and questions, all in the name of taking a stand against domestic violence?
Or is there glory in showing these bruises, flaws and all?
Janine Hicks, chairwoman of Agenda Feminist Media, seems to think there’s no room for anyone to make judgments. “I cast absolutely no judgment on what a woman needs to do (in such a situation) and neither should anyone else. A woman should do what she needs to do to survive or cope.”.
However, the hope would be for women to seek help when in such a position.
Hicks said she didn't know the context in which the video was done, but at the very least its value was that it caused conversation.
It shone the spotlight on a topic that hardly gets spoken about.
“It may have even been showing what happens behind closed doors in many homes,” Hicks said.
This statement is echoed by the Institute for Security Studies that when analysing the annual police statistics, researchers found that intimate partner violence was significantly under-reported.
“Between April 2008 and March 2009, 12 093 women in Gauteng, or 0.3% of the adult female population, reported an assault by an intimate partner to the police,” the institute showed in a domestic violence policy brief. According to this brief, intimate partner violence is the most common form of violence experienced by South African women. Such violence was reported by about one in eight women in South Africa.
But domestic violence research and statistics remain a dark area due to it being so under-reported.
Hicks said women, very often, stayed in abusive relationships for various reasons including societal and family pressure, socio-economic issues and dependence on the male partner. “Another reason is that there’s a stigma attached to domestic violence. Many women don’t want to talk about it or even report it. They feel guilty or even ashamed. Which brings us back to the topic of covering the evidence of the abuse because of these reasons,” Hicks said.
She said often women took on the blame themselves, saying that they made their partners jealous or that they burnt the food or even that they got home after he did and therefore deserved to be abused.
Hicks said there were pros and cons to either decision regarding covering or showing the bruises.
“What if a woman shows the bruises and, yes, people stare but it causes someone to pay attention and helps her get the help she needs? Or what if it makes people look at her as a victim, or even worse it angers him even more,” she asked.
However, the decision to go make-up free would usually be made by a woman who was ready to confront the issue, Hicks said.
Her best advice was to find a safe place to vent and seek help.
Rozanne Ashworth, a counsellor at Lifeline Pretoria, also said a woman would do what was needed to survive – for her life, in her relationship with her abuser, for her kids' sake or for acceptance in society.
“We don’t get to judge her decisions. We are not walking in her shoes. What we see as weakness by staying in an abusive relationship is often strength that we could not even begin to understand or comprehend,” Ashworth said.
She said covering bruises with make-up could be a survival mechanism. Also, if bruises are shown, that is the woman’s prerogative.
“None of the women I have counselled would readily show bruises as a means to feeling empowered or for a sense of glory.”
She said abused women have expressed over and over a sense of shame, vulnerability and weaknesses in being abused and battered, of being pathetic because they "allow" the beatings to take place – they have been in the wrong – in their eyes.
“The feeling of shame and humiliation would outweigh any feeling of glory.”
She said healing came from the abused person gaining a belief that they are actually worthy, beautiful and strong.
“They need to make choices for themselves – whether it be to leave or stay, to cover bruises with make-up or not. Healing comes from that inherent force within to survive, to get to live another day, in the very best way that they can.”