Archive | June, 2017

About football and stopping violence against women

14 Jun

My childhood

Violence was a huge part of my childhood and teenage years. If there was a day without yelling and screaming, or a week without what my grandfather used to call a “healthy beating”, it meant that I was either in my grandmother’s village doing what a true Roma intellectual such as myself was supposed to do – in other words, guarding the cows – in a coma, or in a communist camp. There was not much difference between the three.

When I first heard of Tourette’s syndrome, I thought “damn, we should have been called Tourette”. Valeriu Nicolae Tourette sounds just about right. At least we should have received an Oscar or something for Tourette’s. Swearing and verbal abuse were part of our most valued linguistic dictionary, and we exercised this skill in at least three languages (the advantage of some of my relatives being married to Hungarian- and German-speaking Romanians).

If Gogu wasn’t beating Ana or Lica, Ghica wasn’t beating aunt Silica, Karol wasn’t abusing Geta, or my mother wasn’t threatening to beat my father with an iron rod after he tried to beat her, then that was a very weird week. Chances were that a week without beatings was during the month when the entire male part of the family was working hard to make plum brandy and, accordingly, all of them were lost to humanity for that time. The only other beating-free week was the week of the great migration, when flocks of pigs were in flight. All of my family members being passionate about the esthetics of flying pigs, they would forget their traditional duty to beat their wives or children.

That was my childhood. As a young man, I had to stop a number of times my father trying to kill my mother considered to be nothing but “a filthy gypsy” by him and most of his family.

Ghettos today

The situation in the ghettos today is a lot worse. During the last decade, I have visited ghettos all around the world. I found out that many people with decision-making powers do not really understand either the extent, or the dangers, of domestic violence.

Over the last ten years, I have spent a lot of time working with children in one of the worst ghettos in Bucharest, Romania. I still spend most of my weekends working with these children. They see violence as a prerequisite for success and respect in the ghetto.

Reporting violence in the ghetto is complicated by the fact that women expect to be beaten; in some cases, the victim even considers it to be a “sign of love”. The drug dealers hate any police intervention and their persuasion methods are quite effective. In the rare case when somebody reports a violent incident, police intervention is quite unlikely. Firstly, the police officer probably does not consider that beating a wife or partner to be extraordinary as some do it themselves. Secondly, it is also likely that the police officer thinks that people that live in the ghettos are scum and don’t deserve the protection of the state.

Even in the unlikely case of police intervention, the situation of the abused woman is not likely to improve, quite the contrary in fact. The police officer will likely discover that the man of the house beats family members, including children, regularly and sometimes savagely. A high rate of alcoholism and drug addiction, combined with abject poverty and dismal living conditions for the children, would in most cases result in the police officer calling child protection services. The children may be taken from the family and put into state care. This may have disastrous results. On the one hand, many families depend on child welfare payments for survival; on the other hand, in the ghetto most people are aware of the very high incidence of sexual abuse within the state institutions for children. The police will probably give a fine, but in practical terms they can’t do anything for 72 hours in most European countries.

In the end, the woman will be left at home with a very angry husband, often surrounded by drug dealers whose business took a hit, at risk of losing her children, and having to find ways to pay the fine given to the abuser.

I have seen this happen more than once. I saw a woman beaten senseless by a drug dealer, because her daughter dared to call the police to stop a beating. I know of four other women who had to run away from home in order to escape being killed by their angry husbands after the police came by.

The children I work with expect to be beaten if they make a mistake. Their mothers expect me to beat them if they misbehave. Once, after being sent by their families to return the football shoes they had stolen from me, several kids thought that I wasn’t going to forgive them because I did not hit them. They were very puzzled when I told them that I would never hit them.

I was beaten as a child. I do not know even one woman or girl from my childhood that was not beaten. It is not only about ghettos and poor communities. Thousands of women, some of them famous, rich and powerful are killed every day in Europe. Tens of millions of women and girls are victims of domestic violence.

Football can make a difference

Football can be an unexpected but very powerful tool to make a difference.

The children in the ghettos know much more about football than anything else. Football players are their heroes. Men continue to be overwhelmingly the audience of the beautiful game. They also, unfortunately, continue to be by far the main perpetrators of domestic violence.

A call for action was initiated by a group of dedicated Members of European Parliament in order to support this initiative. 57 female members from all European Parties are at the core of it.

Three times fifteen seconds. That is all we need from UEFA. Fifteen seconds is also what we need from you. Please sign this petition – we might change the world a bit to the better.