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CFCA stories

CFCA mothers groups address domestic violence

February 24, 2012

CFCA mothers groups in India
Mothers groups in India act as a support system for mothers of
children sponsored through CFCA. This story features a woman
(not pictured) affected by domestic violence. With support from a
mothers group, she and her daughter were able to break out of the
abuse cycle.

Poverty causes tremendous pressures on families who may be ill equipped to deal with them because of isolation, a lack of education and other challenges.

An inability to cope with these pressures can sometimes contribute to domestic violence.

While domestic violence occurs across cultures and socioeconomic statuses, women in male-dominated cultures, especially, may not be empowered to confront the issue and lack a strong social support system.

In Hyderabad, India, the Hope for a Family program encourages women to build a support system through mothers groups.

"Social groups are critical in helping women recover from the trauma of domestic violence," said Susan Miller, chief executive officer of Rose Brooks Center, which provides domestic violence services and programs for families in the U.S. "Social groups rebuild that lost sense of self and create a supportive, open forum in which to heal."

Mothers groups, facilitated by CFCA social workers, help women to overcome problems of domestic violence by providing a safe forum for women to seek solutions.

Finding a way out

Latha (not her real name),* the widowed mother of CFCA sponsored child Shanti (not her real name),* said she experienced domestic violence from her in-laws and her immediate family members.

Latha married at age 9. Ten years later, her husband died. Latha was pregnant. Seeking support, she immediately moved in with her in-laws.

"In India, when a woman marries, she marries into her husband's family," said Janet Tinsley, CFCA project director for India. "India is a very patriarchal culture, and women often find themselves in situations where they do not have an equal voice."

Map of Hyderabad, India

Bigger picture

To see the impact of domestic violence
on a larger scale, including areas where
CFCA does not work, the following
statistics were pulled from a study in
India, conducted by UNICEF:

  • Forty-five percent of men in India
    acknowledge physically abusing
    their wives.
  • Children of women who were physically
    abused by their spouses were six times
    more likely than other children to die
    before age 5.
  • Fifty-seven percent of adolescents
    between the ages of 15 and 19 think
    that a husband is justified in hitting or
    beating his wife in certain circumstances.

After her daughter, Shanti, was born, Latha said that her husband's family harassed her because they believed she was not contributing financially. She moved in with her brother's family, but Latha said they, too, harassed her and repeatedly told her she was a burden.

Latha moved one last time to her grandparents' house when Shanti was still very young. She tried to make ends meet by working hard labor in the fields.

"The work was very tough, and I didn't have enough strength to do it," Latha said. "But it becomes compulsory to work to feed myself and my child."

When her health deteriorated from the field work, she tried her luck at opening an ironing shop. She couldn't afford to buy a good quality iron, and the lack of adequate supplies hurt her business.

Women helping each other

When Shanti became sponsored through the CFCA Hope for a Family program, Latha began attending mothers group meetings.

After several meetings, Latha took a loan from the group to buy a good iron. Business improved and she could afford to feed herself and Shanti. She now makes an average of 3,500 rupees ($70) a month.

Sukshmana Thakur, a CFCA social worker in Hyderabad, believes that domestic violence in the CFCA families she serves has decreased because mothers seek support from their groups or offer help to other women experiencing domestic violence.

As a result, a husband becomes more reluctant to lash out against his wife because the mothers group has empowered her and provided a support system.

Women in CFCA mothers groups in Hyderabad meet regularly with a social worker present. This helps the social workers build trust with the mothers so the mothers feel safe sharing problems about domestic disputes.

Domestic violence is not limited to physical abuse. According to the National Network to End Domestic Violence, the term "domestic violence" also encompasses sexual abuse, emotional abuse and financial abuse, which includes hiding family assets, running up debt and not letting another person use his or her own money.

Thakur said it is harder to detect signs of emotional abuse.

"We identify [the mothers experiencing domestic violence] by observing their uneasy behaviors and through reading their facial expressions," Thakur said.

Hope for a family

Shanti, now 14, has been sponsored for eight years. With the steadfast help of her mother and a CFCA scholarship, Shanti has flourished in school. Latha worked to ensure that her daughter did not end up in the same situation she experienced.

"Her dream is to become a doctor," Latha said, and with CFCA's support "my child will definitely become a doctor."

Though once held back because she was a widowed mother living in an abusive situation, Latha fought against tremendous odds and overcame her previous circumstances.

"CFCA has given me a new life to live with dignity," she said. "It has not only helped me financially, but it has given me confidence and new hope for a better future."

*Editor's note: The names of the mother and daughter featured in the above story were changed for their protection and privacy.

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