The Women's Quilt; a Project: Commemorating the lives of 598 Women killed between 2009 and 2015 by their partners in England and Wales
Charito Cruz was 37 years old when her (then) partner Niazi battered the life out of her by smashing her over the head more than fifty times with a hammer. Having been alerted by concerned neighbours their landlord entered their flat to find Niazi sitting beside her dead body whilst watching television with their two-year-old daughter. Following his arrest and trial Niazi (despite attempting to plead temporary insanity on grounds of depression) was sentenced to life in Prison with a minimum of 12 years. Charito is also the person who I chose to create a patch for to participate in the project which has now come to be known as ‘The Women’s Quilt.’
About 5 weeks ago, a young fellow Labour Party member on Twitter named Laura put up a post about sewing a patch for the project. I was intrigued by the idea of this ‘quilt’ and decided to investigate and find out what it was all about. Upon locating the group on social media and loading up the group’s Twitter page I was immediately met with the statement “598 women were killed by a current/former partner in the UK between '09 &'15. That's approximately 2 a week. We are creating a quilt - 1 women = 1 patch”
Despite being ran off my feet with two small children and with many other projects occupying my time I felt that I had to get involved and over a few days that feeling that I must ‘do my little bit’ would not leave me alone. In the end, I relented and told Laura I would join the group wondering where I would find the time as I know what a lengthy task sewing can be. Emotionally, there were two factors which came into play here: firstly, the powerful and simple statement that the group had made on their Facebook wall, that message alone appeared to have gotten under my skin and secondly like the 598 women who had died I too have been a victim of Domestic Violence. So, this was a cause whose victim’s I could not help but find some affinity with.
Now to begin to tell you Charito’s story. Charito was an immigrant who had emigrated to the UK from the Philippines, I don’t know her exact motivations for coming to live in the UK but I should imagine they were much the same as those of many people who come here from abroad: economic prosperity and the chance of a better life – a brighter future. She had met Niazi and been in a relationship with him for 3 years prior to her death and had a daughter with him. Friends of hers described her (in an article featured in The Surrey Comet) as a “hardworking woman” and a “devoted mother.” A private person she kept herself to herself and was even described by one person who knew her as “very secretive.”
Sadly, it is not unusual for women in domestic violence relationships to be withdrawn and such behaviour if we consider the perils that they face in their day to day life should come as no surprise. One factor that would make a woman (especially a mother) extremely anxious of the abuse that they are suffering being discovered is (is aside from the ramifications if the abuser knows that they have been found out) that if the authorities find out they could be judged as if the situation is their own fault. Additionally, many abusers if they became aware that their abusive deeds have been uncovered would not hesitate to use the children as a bargaining chip. Eventually, despite what must have been considerable fear Charito did manage to take steps to put an end to the abuse, she made contact with an organisation who sought to help her make her escape. What makes Charito’s case particularly tragic, is that had she lived another 3 days then she would have been able to meet the advisor who was looking to place her in a refuge
For me Charito’s plight highlights just how terrible a fate the victims of domestic violence often face when seeking to liberate themselves from their abuser (and let’s not underestimate the term liberate here as domestic abuse is practically both physical and mental slavery and psychological warfare) and just how perilous it can be for them to try and put any form of escape plan into action. When we bear in mind that victims can be subjected to both extreme physical and horrific mental abuse then it becomes easier to understand why for many it is such a difficult situation to extricate themselves from. Once you understand the dangers and risks for a woman if she does try to leave - and additionally the mental processes which are involved - you can see why it is not so simple.
For me personally it took the threat that my children at the (then) age of two would removed from me by their father (some sensible person decided to give fathers equal Parental Responsibilty when named on the birth certificate from December 2003 imagining that no man would ever use this as a weapon) to make me jump to action. He informed me that he would take the children out of Nursery and take them up to London and that I would have to fight to get them back whilst he would make up malicious lies about me. I can honestly say that (when I initially read his vicious messages over WatsApp) I have never had my blood run so cold, nor felt so terrified as that moment and then I snapped and felt nothing but rage, pure rage. Any love (and I use the term love loosely here as I realise this was not a healthy relationship) any modicum of warmth that I had felt for him dissolved in that moment. I had been stupid/blind/deluded/worn-down (delete as appropriate) enough to put up with his own vile behaviour towards me, but to threaten to take my children!!! I have never been spurred into action so quickly. Fortunately for me my expartner was careless enough to (in his rage) convey a lot of his threats over WatsApp (to this day I still have that log). Before you could say “threats, harassment and restraining order” I had reported all former incidents of Domestic Violence to the Police.
Following this frightened and still concerned about any further threat of the children’s removal (and with my expartner telling me that he still had a set of keys to my house which he was refusing to return) I visited the Police Station once more to ask if I could get any help with changing the locks. It just so happened that whilst I was talking to the Police lady on the front desk a man interrupted me and told me he was a solicitor. He then gave me a card for the firm he worked for in Ashford and told me that I was entitled to an Emergency Domestic Violence Injunction and a Prohibited Steps Order, the two of which together stop the removal of the children. I will also mention at this point that the Police when I went to see them (knowing the threats that I was being faced with) had given me no advice on this procedure what so ever. All I can say is that that day my guardian angel was clearly watching over me because had the timing have been any different I would never have known. That day and in that moment, that moment precisely I can pinpoint as the start of the rest of our lives. One fortnight later and not only had the orders been granted in court but the Injunction was extended for a year. I can honestly say that this was one of the most crucial and pivotal decisions of my life.
What many people fail to understand (when it comes to Domestic Violence) is two things, the first being that most victims of DV are suffering from a form of Stockholm Syndrome. Stockholm Syndrome is literally where a person forms a relationship with their kidnapper in order to survive. Once a woman has been in an abusive relationship for a period an abuse pattern will already be well established - a cycle if you will. The victim knows the situation is not right but finds it hard to mentally leave the situation due to a deliberate and ingrained pattern of abuse which goes something like this:
Actual physical or mental abuse which is overt – shock in response to the abuse – absolute sorrow/grief on the part of the victim – followed by numbness and apologies and exceptional kindness (largely feigned) on the part of the abuser – then the cycle starts to build up until it repeats all over again.
Also within the abuser’s mind there is a perverse pattern at play which accompanies this which consists mainly of valuing and devaluing the victim, the devaluation taking place to justify the unspeakable way in which they treat the victim. As this cycle plays out the victim is left so disturbed and traumatised that frankly they do not know if they are on their arse or their elbow. So, I can imagine how the situation must have been for Charito and whilst my partner was not physically as abusive as Niazi, psychologically he was capable of extreme manipulation. What stands out particularly in Charito’s tragic tale, is that despite her best efforts to remove herself and her child from the situation she was not able to do this. I know that I am one of the lucky ones in that I could get away from my abuser and rebuild our lives.
Spending time on The Women’s Quilt Facebook group and viewing the posts that have gone up on the groups wall I have seen so many women from across the UK come together and tell their women’s stories. Not just how they came to a brutal end but also and very importantly trying to touch upon who these women were as people. Roxanne Ellis who founded the group has stated that her intention in the commissioning of the quilt was to place emphasis on who these women were as human beings and individuals and not just statistics, the aim being that in creating a square for each woman we are giving a voice to that woman as a person.
Another issue which the group have been keen to emphasise is that there is a balance that needs to be redressed in who the media treat as the victim in these stories. Often a newspaper article will be based around the idea that the death is a tragedy for the whole family (which it is) but also runs with a narrative of how decent or “what a nice man the perpetrator/murderer was before he killed his partner. Many members of the group feel that this is a mistake on the part of the press as these type of men who abuse often come across as kind and charming to those that they know and can hoodwink those around them into thinking they are normal which is why the abuse goes unchecked and no doubt why these ladies met with the fate that they did. The press can also be viewed as exacerbating the issues around Femicide by portraying the death as a ‘one time event’ where the man went mad (and the female partner drove him there) when more often than not abuse would have been prolonged and systematic. What is needed we feel is more focus on who the victims were and what a terrible injustice it is that their lives have been taken as the loss of any woman’s life at the hands of her partner should be met with outrage.
One thing that particularly struck me about the project was the sheer feeling of love that emanated from this group of ladies in their efforts (and do not underestimate that it is love that can be witnessed here). If you haven’t viewed anything particularly moving lately then I suggest you head on over to the Facebook group page and have a look because I think it would take a heart of stone not to feel anything. The Group on Facebook consists of ladies (and some men also) who have all come together in their hundreds to physically make something to commemorate their chosen woman. These people have taken their time and many of them have put painstaking effort into their work whilst feeling a huge amount of responsibility towards those they are commemorating in the process. Every type of fabric appears to have been used, every style touched upon. I have seen patches that range from traditional Cath Kidston like creations to several that like my own are sewn in satin, there are buttons and rhinestone patches also and even printmaking appears to have featured on one. The message which the group admins convey is that you don’t have to be a pro, you can paint, stick or sew as long as you are taking part in the process.
Another feeling that resonated throughout the group is that none of us truly felt that we were doing our chosen women’s memories justice. It is incredibly touching to see so many so deeply concerned about whether their effort is enough when making something for a stranger, a person they have never even met.
There were many messages and pictures of patches posted on the group wall but amongst the myriad of fabric and messages one post stood out to me as the most poignant and that was both the post and patch made for Lily May Ryman. Personally, I can’t imagine the bravery and the scars it must open to make a patch and display it to commemorate your own mother; not that I suppose those scars were anywhere near healing. This post admittedly did have me in tears.
So, to move onto why I created my patch in the way that I did. Although I feel that my patch is pretty I understand that to Western taste it may appear a little on the extravagant side but there is a reason for this. Charito was a Filipino lady and given the difficulty I had in turning up anything about her character initially I felt that the only way to go with this project was to try and incorporate something of her ethnicity. Here was this voiceless woman whom the press had paid little attention to as an individual other than the fact that she was from abroad. I so wanted to say something about her but I was drawing a blank. So, I decided to go with Filipino dress as a theme.
When I researched this style of dress what I found is that it was very exotic and extravagant with such materials as lace, satin and sequins being used in abundance. Embroidery was also a strong theme and many Filipino dresses feature the most intricate designs. The vivid colours that are used clearly serving to highlight the natural beauty of these ladies who are a mixture of mainly Spanish and Eastern Asian in lineage. The other thing that I wanted to try and incorporate was Charito’s name, Charito literally translates as ‘Charity’ and looking at the descriptions of Charito as a person I have no doubt that this was the type of person that she was – undoubtedly, she was too kind and too charitable. Cruz means Christ on the cross. I thought of trying to incorporate a cross on my patch but it did not work. Now before the naysayers arrive accusing me of positive stereotyping I must remind you that this is literally all I that I had to go on at the time. Now, was Charito a person who couldn’t stand traditional Filipino dress or food and had a penchant for fish and chips and enjoyed nothing more than an episode of EastEnders? I hear what you are no doubt thinking but I don’t know and I just won’t know not without disturbing her family which would have been completely out of line and possibly fruitless.
So now fast forward at least two weeks from when I first
became involved in the project and a Mammoth task has been underway as the good women of Nottingham have been sewing the quilt together. Many posts
have gone up on Facebook and Twitter with pictures of the quilt coming into shape. Two days
ago, the quilt arrived in London, where it was displayed in Westminster Hall at
the House of Commons on International Women’s Day which was a real Coup for
the organisers of the quilt and means that it should receive nationwide
media attention, fulfilling its purpose of highlighting Femicide and awareness
of Domestic Violence generally. The fact that it has made it to such a venue is
real testament to the size of this achievement.
The Women’s quilt really is an entirely exceptional project, started by a few ordinary and pioneering women (who appear to be a lovely and down to earth group) it’s completion, the determination on the part of the participants to bring it to completion and the success that the group have attained in pushing the project forward is a both a reflection and personification of the statement that Roxanne makes on Facebook “if there is one thing this project has shown, it’s that when us women get together we can move mountains.” I also think that the finished piece makes a statement in itself, a visual protest, and even though the quilt is inanimate the fact that it is a riot of colour means that you can practically hear it. Additionally, the sheer volume of it means that it cannot be ignored. In viewing the quilt one can witness just how much time and effort has gone into it which in turn sends a clear message - that all of us came together thinking that Femicide and Domestic Violence are not okay and that we are going to take our time to do something about it. Thousands of collective hours have been taken to convey that message to the UK and possibly the World.
Now having discussed the issues beforehand and the journey of the quilt I want to leave you with a few statistics. Currently domestic violence accounts for 8 percent of crime. There are 100,000 women in this country in high risk domestic abuse relationships. 140,000 children in households where high risk abuse is taking place. 70-90 percent of contact cases that go through the courts feature domestic violence yet only 1 per cent of contact cases are refused – me and my children feature in that 1 percent - thank God. Furthermore, every 30 seconds the Police receive a call due to a domestic violence incident. Lastly in the time it took to write and publish this article another woman died in the South East. On the day of the quilt going to parliament 19 year old Shana Grace was killed by her partner.
In juxtaposition to the current Domestic Abuse crisis which
the country is facing we have a situation where there is a real deficit in the
funding available to victims and a lack of willingness on the part of the
Government to improve the situation. The Guardian Editorial entitled ‘Domestic Violence Abuse; cuts cost lives’ states “[The impact of domestic law reform is]
jeopardised by cuts to local government funding that have resulted in the
slashing of domestic abuse services - 17 percent of specialist refuges have
closed since 2010 – and reductions in the police budget". In a society where cuts to services are constantly
being made we need to drive home a message, a message about what is fundamental
and what’s issues are vital. No woman should be losing their life to domestic
violence even one death - Charito’s death - is far too many. With 25 percent of
Women in a Domestic Violence relationship at any one time the problem is not
going to go away. We owe it to our sisters, mothers, friends aunts and cousins,
we owe it to women generally that we will put Domestic Violence on both the public and
political agenda and make sure it does not go away. In this day-and-age, it is
imperative that women can access Domestic Violence services and no woman should be dying
because she could not get the help to escape.
I am SarahJane Goodwin. I am a recent Literature Graduate turned Blogger. You can find me on here and on Twitter @MissSarah_Jay (Twitter feed and link to the right hand side of this blog) where I discuss both the smaller and the bigger issues and where I also talk a load of nonsense when it suits me. Discussion on here and on Twitter includes such themes as Single Parenting, Fashion Music and Art as well as Left Wing Politics. If you like what you see please leave a comment. You can also contact me either via Twitter Inbox or at firstname.lastname@example.org