The other 349 days...
We still need to do a lot more to deal with gender-based and domestic violence. We should not tolerate men who still beat up women in the ‘name of love’, writes
Gender-based violence and domestic violence know no race, class, colour, ethnicity or religion. Violence does not recognise the size of your bank account or your family background, and affects women from all walks of life.
In fact, research by the World Health Organisation (WHO) shows that 35% of women worldwide have experienced some sort of gender-based violence. Almost one-third of women who have been in a relationship have experienced physical or sexual violence by their intimate partner – also known as domestic violence. This means that one in every three women in a relationship is a victim of violence at home.
These figures are astounding and yet, Africa still lags behind in providing exact numbers and research on domestic violence on the continent. A lot of the research available is based on estimates and, in some countries, such as Mozambique, there is no research at all. This poses a challenge on how you address the problem where there isn’t sufficient information to show the magnitude of the issue.
Our governments and ministries of women need to begin to take gender-based violence and domestic violence more seriously and ensure that we have the right figures, know the magnitude of the problem and have the right structures to address the issues.
The UN’s global 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence campaign provides survivors of violence with the opportunity to open up and speak about their experiences, and create awareness of the magnitude of the problem. However, a lot more needs to be done, because there are 349 more days in the year in which women continue to be abused and exposed to all kinds of violence. We still have men who beat up women in the “name of love”, and across communities there are those who still perpetrate violence as a form of “showing love”.
These are the forms of cultural norms that the Kuhluka Movement seeks to address – working together with men across communities, custodians of culture, community leaders and interest groups – and begin to interrogate such harmful practices and traditions, and question traditional practices and behaviours, that foster an environment that tolerates violence towards women.
The challenge we have is that not all women are speaking out because of traditional perceptions that what happens in the home or in the bedroom between partners should stay there. There are also other challenges that women face: a lot of the time they are torn between leaving partners and staying for the kids, they are scared of losing financial benefits and, in addition, there is a lack of or minimal support by governments and ministries of women across a number of communities in Africa.
I believe that more women should begin to speak out about abuse. Research by the UN Development Programme shows that women have traditionally not spoken out against domestic violence because of shame (in front of neighbours), fear of a spouse, threat of family breakdown and financial dependence.
Many women can attest to this and it should not be so – our governments and ministries of women should have allocations and budgets to support women in abusive relationships and ensure that these women have a safe place to go, that they receive the right support and, when experiencing abuse, can turn to a safe place where they can heal, pick themselves up and begin to move on again.
It’s sad that statistics show that one in every three women experiences domestic violence in their lifetime. What’s even sadder is that you never know whether the person you are with will abuse you. While there are telltale signs in some cases, with others, violence just erupts and, before you know it, you have lost an eye or a limb or even your life.
The period of 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence provides a springboard to engage and speak out about abuse. The remaining 349 days of Have you been a victim of domestic violence or abuse by your partner? What do you think needs to be done to combat this? SMS us on 35697 using the keyword ABUSE and tell us what you think. Please include your name and province. SMSes cost R1.50 the year should be used for continuous engagement. More needs to be done to create support structures for women to speak out without having to think about the shame that may come with speaking out. Women, regardless of their financial status or their family backgrounds, must speak out against abuse and not remain silent in toxic and dangerous relationships in which they may lose their lives. Machel was a victim of abuse, which left her blind in one eye. She is the founder of the Kuhluka Movement, a not-for-profit civil society organisation that aims to combat the violation of women’s rights through advocacy, education and mitigation
There are telltale signs of violence and certain traits that women can look out for in their partners. There are things to watch out for to find out if a man is possessive and controlling. For example, if he wants to control what you wear or how you do your hair, or if he wants to know why you are talking to “that” man.
When a woman starts a new relationship, she should watch out for the following signs: Is he polite to those around him? Does he enjoy being at family events or among friends? A lot of abusers do not want to be around other people – they only want to be with you all the time.
Is he possessive? How does he speak to you and others? Is he impatient and aggressive?
Does he belittle you in public? Does he make fun of you, your clothes and your appearance?
Is he arrogant? How does he treat a waiter or a security guard?
These signs can help a woman identify a potential abuser. A lot of the time, problems start with emotional violence before they become physical. Be wary of men who want to isolate you from everyone else.
I grew up in an abusive home with an alcoholic father. Together with my mother and brother, I suffered physical abuse at the hands of my father. Alcohol played the biggest role in my father’s behaviour.
When he drank, the house became a home of terror, and so when I started my studies, I wanted to understand the effect of this kind of behaviour and look at the effects of the scarring that it creates in the long term.
It is sad that we continue to hear stories of women who have experienced different forms of abuse at the hands of the men in their lives, and it’s worse still when they ignore the abuse because “he loves me”. Let’s be clear: this is not love – love builds you up, it does not tear you down.
There is also the perception that emotional abuse, light forms of violence such as pulling a woman’s hair, and obsessive behaviour and a sense of ownership of a woman by her partner is okay, but these are behavioural traits that eventually lead to worse forms of violence.
The challenge that we have nowadays is that we are losing our appreciation of elders and their valuable advice, and so young people are marrying the wrong people because they meet these men and don’t introduce them to their families and friends until it’s too late.
We need to bring back the role that elders play in really seeing who a person is, and identify role models who will give honest feedback on what they think of this new person a woman wants in her life.
While I am not a cheerleader of sharing one’s personal life with girlfriends and shaming men in public, it’s important that women have at least one person they can share their problems with outside of their marriage because it can get a little cloudy in there, and someone else may be able to help put things into perspective. Masondo is a behavioural specialist,
psychologist and author
SPEAKING OUT Josina Machel, daughter of Graca Machel, was brutally assaulted by her boyfriend and subsequently lost an eye