It’s hard not to stare. Xia Hongyu, a petite young woman from rural Hubei province, wears a gauze eye patch on her right eye that awkwardly covers nearly half of her face. It is affixed with medical tape that crosses her nose. Hongyu often presses it down to reinforce the weak adhesive.
her remaining eye is beautifully round and her pretty face a perfect oval, both aesthetic ideals in China.
Hongyu is used to the stares and said she wouldn’t mind it so much if the story behind the patch weren’t a gruesome nightmare come to life. She is a victim of domestic abuse.
A bright 23-year-old, Hongyu used to live a normal rural life. She grew up in poor agricultural family and finished only elementary school. But her elegance sets her apart – her remaining eye is beautifully round and her pretty face a perfect oval, both aesthetic ideals in China.
Married two years ago, Hongyu quickly discovered that her new husband was abnormally controlling and hit her regularly. Often she was not allowed out of the house. On a particularly bad day, her husband charged at her and stabbed her in the right eye with a screwdriver, rendering her blind and disabled.
Saturday, November 25 was International Day to Eradicate Violence against Women. All over the world, including in China and the United States, organizations gathered to discuss and raise awareness about violence against women like Hongyu.
Violence against women and girls constitutes the single most prevalent and universal violation of human rights in the world, according to the United Nations. In China, where men are traditionally valued over women, the government has historically turned a blind eye to gender equality and abuse, especially in rural areas.
But over the past 15 years, China has made gradual progress in recognizing the significance of ending domestic violence, valuing human rights and speaking out against injustices. The Marriage Law, adopted in 2001, stipulates penalties for perpetrators of domestic violence. But too often, penalties and decisions are not carried out.
Hongyu experienced exactly that. In court, she was awarded fifty-six thousand Yuan (approximately seven thousand dollars) in damages. Yet, because of local corruption and lack of enforcement, she has yet to receive a cent. As each month passes, the likelihood that she will receive the money diminishes.
Endemic violence again women impedes women’s opportunities to achieve legal, social, political and economic equality in any society. As China’s economy explodes, it is critical to closely monitor how social issues such as domestic violence are addressed and prevented.
When asked what she needed the most, Hongyu weeps. She opens her hand and shows me a small plastic dist with an iris and pupil painted on it. This rudimentary replacement is meant to serve the same purpose as a glass eye. But it does not fit properly and causes infections, she says. Wearing it causes far too much pain.
Eventually, Hongyu hopes to save enough money to obtain a proper eye replacement so that she may shed her eye patch and begin living her life again. She has heard about implants and rehabilitative surgery. But widespread discrimination against disabled individuals such as herself in China limits her to odd jobs or jobless altogether. With no one willing to employ her, Hongyu can barely afford to eat. Financing surgery seems impossible.
For now, Hongyu views the world through one eye. Yet her tears flow from both.
To find out how to help Hongyu and other victims of abuse in China, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jo L. Kent is a current Fulbright Fellow to China. Her column appears monthly.