Ending violence against women with numbers and stories | Mary Ellsberg | TEDxFoggyBottom

Ending violence against women with numbers and stories | Mary Ellsberg | TEDxFoggyBottom

I’m going to tell you something really shocking today around the world at least one woman in three will be beaten or raped by an intimate partner in her lifetime that’s almost 700 million women sounds incredible doesn’t it you might even think that somebody made that figure up but they didn’t and I know that because I helped collect those numbers and I’m going to tell you the story of where they came from I grew up in an activist household and by the time I got to college I was really fed up with studying felt like college was getting in the way of my education and what I really wanted was to be out in the world making a difference so in 1979 when the Santa Anas sandanista revolution overthrew a brutal dictatorship in Nicaragua I dropped out of college in my senior year to be a part of it and I never looked back I stayed there for almost 20 years more working first as a community health activist and then as a women’s rights activist it was an amazing time we eradicated polio we eradicated illiteracy we felt that we were making history but after 10 years of contra war US trade embargo and thousands of young people who died defending their beliefs the Sandinistas were voted out of power in 1990 by that time Nicaragua was my home and I stayed on I hadn’t thought very much about domestic violence before that the Revolution had proclaimed equality between men and women and women had made huge advances in education in employment and political participation this is one of my favorite photos from the Sandinista period it’s kind of the Nicaraguan version of Super Mom caring for her family and defending the fatherland at the same time but behind closed doors something very different was going on and I came to understand this when I visited a shelter for battered women in Managua hearing the stories of these women made me realize that domestic violence had to be a lot more common than I realized I started working with a network of women activists who were campaigning to end violence against women they had drafted a law to criminalize domestic violence and provide protection for survivors of violence but when we presented it to the political parties to get their support they pretty much laughed in our faces they told us that nobody would pay attention to this law that it would never pass unless we got some hard numbers to show that domestic violence was really a problem in Nicaragua well talking to the politicians got me thinking about going back to school which had not even crossed my mind until then in fact I really barely graduated from college the first time around the only reason I did get my degree in the end was that I promised my mother that I wouldn’t get married or have children until I finished college thank you mom I know she was okay with the Revolution thing but it totally flipped her out to think that I wasn’t going to finish college so although being an epidemiologist was the last thing on my life plan I think my rebellious genes won out then and I thought okay they want numbers we’ll give them numbers and I went back to school and made studying domestic violence the subject of my doctoral dissertation so in leon nicaragua we carried out a survey and interviewed 500 women about their experiences with violence and when we started out we really have no idea whether women would even talk to us about something the sensitive but we found out that women were actually eager in and even grateful to be able to tell their stories to somebody who listened to them with empathy without judging them many of them had never told anybody about the violence they were experiencing and so it was a really emotional experience we also knew it could be dangerous for women to talk to us so we came up with different ways of keeping that a complete secret so for example if a husband came into the room while we were interviewing a woman and wanted to know what we were talking about we would switch to a dummy questionnaire and we started asking her about you know immunizations and breastfeeding and other stuff until he got bored and left and then we always made sure to give her referrals to medical care counseling legal support if she needed it and information about her rights the findings from the study were truly shocking we found out that 52 percent or one out of every two women had experienced physical or sexual violence from a partner in her lifetime and one out of every four women had experienced violence in the last 12 months this was vastly more than we had expected in fact only 3,000 women had reported violence to the police in the year before this study whereas according to our statistics to our calculations it was really more like 250,000 women who had experienced violence we presented our findings everywhere we published in peer-reviewed scientific journals but we also went all over the country talking to mayor’s to health promoters to community activists to tell them what was going on with domestic violence in the country and it caused a huge wave of indignation throughout the country in addition to the numbers we told the story of a woman we called Ana Christina whose story came the title of our of our study hana christina was married at age 15 to a man who brutalized her and her two daughters for years she told us how when he would come home drunk and abusive she’d have to escape over the wall in the backyard and sleep in the neighbor’s patio to avoid the violence he would tell her and she was completely worthless and nobody would ever care about her and she believed him she told her mother what was going on and her mother said this is what happens to every woman and that she should just stay with it and keep her family together for the sake of the children a few times she got up the courage to go to the police and they sent her right home and told her to learn how to be a better wife and every time she tried to leave he would win her back with apologies with flowers with chocolates and she would give in until one day her grandmother urged her to leave she sat her down and she said to her child what are you gonna do with candies and he’ll and her grandmother’s support gave her the courage to leave her relationship and to leave the violence so after telling this story I don’t want candies inhale became a rallying cry for the women’s movement in Nicaragua so now that we had the hard numbers we were able to get the domestic violence law introduced into the National Assembly but we didn’t stop there we published our findings in full-page ads in the newspapers and we encouraged women to tear them out to sign them and send them in to us demanding that their representatives passed the domestic violence law just over two weeks we collected 16,000 signatures and we went over to the National Assembly and we stuffed them in the representatives mailboxes and we reminded them that women made up half the electorate and they were going to notice who voted for the law when the elections came around next time so it wasn’t a total surprise that a few weeks later the domestic violence law passed unanimously in Nicaragua of course the story didn’t end there in fact it was just the beginning but having a strong law saying that domestic violence was a crime was a really powerful statement that things were beginning to change in Nicaragua and we weren’t the only ones doing this kind of research there were researchers and activists all over the world who were doing similar studies around this time to look at the prevalence of domestic violence and other forms of violence against women and together with the World Health Organization we carried out a landmark multi-country study on domestic violence and women’s health which showed the true magnitude of the problem throughout the world and that is why we are able to say with scientific precision that one out of every three women will experience physical or sexual abuse by a partner in her lifetime and that’s not just in Nicaragua or in Africa that’s here that’s in our communities and maybe in our homes as a result of these numbers and the hard work of the women’s movement violence against women is now at the very top of the International Development Human Rights and public health agenda so I’ve been really lucky in my life to be surrounded by many heroes and courageous people starting with my father Daniel Ellsberg who risk 115 years of jail when he copied the Pentagon Papers and released them to the New York Times at the time Henry Kissinger called him the most the most dangerous man in America so you can see where my rebellious genes come from what I learned from my father is that courage is contagious he was inspired to do what he did because he met some young draft resisters who were on their way to jail to protest the Vietnam War and I have seen so many times in my work that one woman standing up and saying no to violence in her life can have a ripple effect that can transform communities when we presented our results one of the ways we did it was through this popular fotonovela that community women could read and discuss together and one day a friend of mine was at a police station and she saw a woman sitting there looking nervous reading back and forth over through this this this pamphlet and she asked her what she was doing and the woman said I’ve been to this police station too so many times to report my husband for all the beatings and I always lose courage and I always go home afterwards but this time I think I’m gonna go through with it I brought on a Christina with me to give me courage because I think if she could do it if she could overcome the violence then maybe I can – when we were talking to women and asking them to tell us their stories about violence one of the women spoke to us and said she really didn’t understand why she should do this it would be really painful to recall these experiences and she really couldn’t see what what good it would do and one of our interviewers who was herself a survivor of violence said to her well you’re probably right it’s probably too late for you and me but think about our daughters and our granddaughters if you share your story maybe maybe things will be better for them and they won’t have to suffer the way we did so this year we’re going back to Nicaragua to speak to the daughters and the granddaughters of the women that we interviewed 20 years ago to see what’s changed since then and we’re particularly interested in understanding what kinds of programs and policies have been most effective in preventing violence against women so one thing I’ve learned in all these years as a researcher is that numbers do matter and they can make a difference but the faces behind the numbers are just as important and the next time you hear a really shocking statistic about violence against women or trafficking or child marriage I invite you to remember the thousands of ana Kristina’s who shared their pain so that we could know the truth of what was happening behind closed doors and I invite us all to think if they could conquer their fear and their shame to tell their stories what can we do in our own lives to end violence against women


  1. Brilliant weaving of the personal and the professional, the quantitative and the qualitative, and the data with advocacy.

  2. less than 40 seconds in and this woman is already contradicting herself…
    'at least 1/3'
    'almsot 700M'
    – 700M is 1/5. Youve apparently been researching this for a while, but you make two claims within 10 seconds that are off by half a billion people?
    never mind that you ignore the other 1.3 BILLION victims – men.

    'i visited a dv shelter and realised that dv had to be far more common than i realised'
    You wont find a dv shelter for men. There are only about a dozen or so such shelters… on earth.

  3. 80percent of suicides are men  women leading doing verbal or emotional abuse in fact in the media it portrayed as possitive even physcal violence.all their doing keeping weel of hate moving. posting hatred troward men or boy. who didn`t do any thing yet taking it out them so now they hate women take on them. we to stop this even if it means not justice or revenge that goes for abused men . i have somthing much better t either of them resulion conseliation. & instead isolating from opsite sex who,s been causing themso much suffer get some better examples remember who didn`t do any thing

  4. good idea talk stuff childrens health education talking care of family. all the stuff men no nothing about. just like hard work earning stuff protecting the family is stuff women no nothing about. oh no here come the out rage im in trouble. well fuck you then people only get offended when they,er told to get offended. but i now about impowering women i seen lots feminst movies & books i know what they plan to do. & we boys need to defend our selfs. men for womens wrights are just being used once those mantises get what they want they no use for you just dispose of you.

  5. The rape hysteria is perpetuated by feminist organisations often in the guise of charities.
    Violence against women is a scam. The lawyers love the new laws because it gives them money. Politicians make new laws because women, when voting, consider women's issues. Women stick together and vote for the politician that will look after their gender as a preference or bias. Men think the new laws won’t affect them … until they are in prison due to false allegations or separated from their children due to false allegations.
    There is much more violence against men than there is against women. Men suffer much more in numbers and much more in severity. Men also die due to violence much more than women. If you want to avoid violence in life, be born a woman.
    The number of men who die each year due to workplace accidents is far greater than the number of women who die each year due to violence. The number of women who die at work is so low it is statistically insignificant. Men's suicide rates are 2.5 times that of women because women have support services and men do not. Far more men die due to suicide than women die of violence.
    If you want to avoid premature death, be born a woman.
    The number of men that are killed by a female spouse or partner is very statistically significant. It is about 60% of the number of women killed by a male spouse or partner. When females kill a spouse or partner it is most often done when the man is asleep or unaware the his killer is behind him. The violence perpetrated by women is premeditated and not usually because they are protecting themselves. When males kill a spouse it is not generally premeditated; it happens when they lose their temper and/or they are drunk and is usually unintentional.

  6. Men have always been protective of women and children. Men even tolerate women striking them without retaliating, but with all these exaggerations and lies, the times they are a changing.
    This kind of feminist male shaming is only hurting a noble cause. The focus should be ending violence towards children, women and men. Female narcissism pushes people away.
    Men suffer far more from violence and premature death than women. Women live longer, healthier and get much more government support.
    The following links, in the reply, show that women commit domestic violence in comparable numbers to men.

  7. The following YouTube presentations are by PhD academics who tell the truth about DV.
    Search for:

  8. it's good to teach people to defend themselves and preach against violence but . what she has in mind turns men into victims and women into abusers. it's a pride of strength for them to beat up a jerk . but you find your self beaten by a girl like Carmen . don't feel ashamed of course she beat you you couldn't fight back . but have ways of taking power away from women. first thing they'll go for is the crutch use your own leg to intercept while taking jump back don't leave your face open . if you end up on the ground not all over use legs again to push away but more importantly protect your gut before gets hits.

  9. The very first statistic Elsberg quotes is grossly misleading. What she is doing is lumping all women who have had physical altercations with a so called "intimate partner" (regardless of whether or not that happens to be another woman) as being "beaten or raped". As women initiate domestic violence just as often as men, if we look at the stats in an unbiased manner, we must also conclude that 1 in 3 men will be "beaten or raped" by a so called "partner". Of course, Feminazis will not tolerate reason, logic, or fairness. The fact that vastly greater numbers of men & boys are victims of far more severe violence in general, primarly at the hands of other men, is of course of no concern to misandrist filth like Elsberg.

  10. The video Police Training for Domestic Violence with Donald Dutton is an excellent presentation that makes use of the academic peer reviewed data which can be found by searching for domesticviolenceresearch
    Dr. Donald Dutton is a Canadian Association for Equality (CAFE) Advisory Fellow. He is Professor of Psychology at the University of British Columbia. He co-founded a court mandated treatment program for men convicted of wife assault in 1979, the data from which was incorporated into his research on domestic violence. He has published over 100 papers and five books, including the Domestic Assault of Women (1995), The Batterer: A Psychological Profile (1995), The Abusive Personality (2006), Rethinking Domestic Violence (2006) and The Psychology of Genocide (2007)). He has given talks to the World Bank, the U.S. Army and Department of Defense, the University of Washington Law School and the Senate of Canada. He serves as an expert witness in civil trials involving intimate partner abuse and in criminal trials involving family violence.

  11. Why should we want to end violence against women? Violence against women is a good thing. Without it, women will never know their place. They will turn into irresponsible, drug addicted whores. Look at the streets of any major city in the West. They are crawling with these skanks. Why do they not have this problem in the Middle East or Asia? Because there, they know to keep women under control where they belong.

  12. As long as violence against men isn't addressed and taken care of, violence against women will continue to be ignored. Teach your daughters to stop initiating violence.

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