On 25 October, the Zonta Club of Alytus, Lithuania, collaborated with the Alytus City Theatre and the Women’s Crisis Centre to host a screening of the film, Chayalla.
The film depicts a young French woman named Chayalla who is trying to break off her relationship with an abusive partner and win custody of her sons. Throughout the film, she is torn between securing a safe and healthy home for herself and her children and believing that she can “fix” her husband. The filmmakers have spent four years filming Chaylla’s life, where the desire for freedom and justice is closely intertwined with control and dependence on violence.
Before the film started, Club Vice President Ona Adelė Berškienė gave the opening remarks and recalled that her club was the first organization in Alytus to support domestic violence survivors. In 2001, the Alytus Women’s Crisis Centre was established, which later grew into an independent institution.
After the film, the club discussed with the audience if Chayalla was “guilty herself” for being in an abusive relationship. Many Lithuanian online forums agreed that she was at fault because she could have just walked away and left her husband. However, the club told the audience that judging and jumping to conclusions is easy. We do not always know the whole story as we rush to find simple answers to more nuanced questions like do women know that they are entering an abusive relationship? Why does it often take years for them to leave their abusers? Does violence even have a gender?
To help the audience understand better a victim’s state of mind, the club invited Rugilė Bukevičiūtė, a lawyer and project manager at the Women’s Information Centre, to speak. Rugilė has many years of experience with domestic violence and helping women leave violent relationships. The conversation was led by the Director of the Lithuanian Centre for Human Rights Jūratė Juškaitė. They also discussed physical, psychological, economic, sexual and other forms of domestic violence. The participants were advised on how to help someone experiencing violence and where to turn for help. The statistics are sad, as every third woman, every fifth man and every tenth child is subjected to domestic violence.