SEVEN WOMEN – COURAGE! FIGHT! FREEDOM! JUSTICE!
How a woman, alone, fought the domestic violence. By Charlotte Goodwin
Seven Women is a documentary play following the eye-opening personal journeys of seven inspirational women from around the world. It is a collaboration by seven renowned female playwrights who each interviewed and constructed their section of the play around the inspiring life-stories they were told. Each of the women on whom the play focuses, all from the Vital Voices Global Leadership Network, has had to overcome incredible odds in their struggle for the recognition of the human and political rights of women in their home countries. The relatable and diverse range of women’s stories mean that we, the audience, are taken on an educational journey around the globe, and are forced to battle sexism alongside these women.
One of the women who served as an inspiration for Seven and on whom the play is based is Marina Pisklakova-Parker, from Russia, who, in 1993, founded the country’s first hotline for victims of domestic violence. Domestic violence has been a major problem for Russian women for a great many years. Statistics show that, even today, one in four families in the Russian Federation experience violence and, according to Amnesty International, each day 36,000 women are beaten by their husbands or partners in Russia alone. These shocking statistics are only the tip of the iceberg, as it is commonly believed that the situation is much worse that this would suggest, due to unsympathetic law agencies and police, many of whom consider domestic violence unworthy of intervention, and instead, a private home matter.
Marina faced tremendous odds when establishing the domestic violence hotline, which provided the only refuge for the thousands of women who were terrified within their own homes. At this time men who beat or raped their wives or partners were unlikely to face prosecution, and often the women’s best option was to stay silent, with domestic violence and other forms of abuse not considered ‘crimes’, and the authorities often presenting yet more of a threat to the maltreated women. The economic reforms that followed the end of the Soviet era in Russia exacerbated the country’s problems with domestic violence, with the family dynamic changing. There were no shelters for the vulnerable, no laws prohibiting abuse of any kind, and no counselling or help for victims. With the establishment of her hotline, however, Marina provided a glimmer of hope for the countless women living in fear within the confines of their own homes.
Marina’s hotline was a lifeline for many women. From the first day of operation, the phone rang off the hook, with innumerable desperate cries for help from Russian women who had had nowhere to turn. Almost single-handedly Marina waged the war against domestic violence in Russia, expanding her hotline into a network of counselling centres across the country, which serve over 100,000 women each year. In 1999 she teamed up with Vital Voices and gained training in management and leadership, as well as granting her access to the resources necessary for the expansion of her help network. Marina has been invaluable to women in Russian, removing the dark blanket of deafening silence that fell heavy over the ex-Soviet country and healing the desperation that was underneath.
Marina’s extraordinary story was documented by Paula Cizmar, the award-winning American playwright. Reflected on the stage is the loneliness and isolation that Marina experienced when she began her difficult journey towards the recognition of women’s rights and the end of domestic violence in Russia. Seven and the Vital Voices campaign have both assisted in raising the profile of the Marina’s case, and in actively engaging the world population in the fight against inequality. Marina is an inspiration, a once suppressed voice that has risen despite the odds and that is encouraging an international collectiveness of women in the struggle for rights and against violence.
Seven is a play that challenges the audience to participate and act upon their feelings, rather than passively view the events portrayed with such emotion on the stage. Maria Ripenberg says “What’s frightening is that the seven women represent the fates of so many others around the world. Yet the hopeful aspect is that the women are strong, courageous, driven and irrepressibly stubborn” (Uppsala Review, Sweden). It is true that the universality of the experiences of the women, although shocking, is a strength of the play, helping it in its aim to create an international understanding between women and eventually to eliminate domestic violence and inequality.