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Gender-based violence and domestic violence: insights on tell-tales signs

Gender-based violence and domestic violence: insights on tell-tales signs
Gender-based violence and domestic violence: insights on tell-tales signs

We still have men that beat-up women in the “name of love”

By: Josina Machel and Gail Masondo

Gender-based violence and domestic violence knows no race, class, colour, ethnicity, or religion. It does not recognize 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 in the continent. A lot of the research available is estimates, and in some countries like 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,” says Josina Machel, founder of Kuhluka Movement, a non-profit civil society organisation that aims to combat the violation of women’s rights through advocacy, education and mitigation.

“Our governments and ministries of women need to begin to take gender-based violence and domestic violence more seriously, and invest in ensuring that we have the right figures, we know the magnitude of the problem and have the right structures to address the issues.”

According to Machel, the UN’s 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence global campaign  provides survivors of violence 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 is 349 more days in the year in which women continue to be abused, beaten up 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 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 the traditional perceptions that what happens in the home or in the bedroom between partners must stay there. There is also the challenge that women face, as 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 across Africa.”

Machel believes that more women should begin to speak out about abuse. Research by the UN Development Programme (UNDP) 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.

“A lot of 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,” says Machel.

Reflecting on her experience with domestic violence where her then partner beat her up to blindness, she highlights that, “it’s sad that statistics show that 1 in every 3 women undergoes domestic violence in their lifetime, that figure is high, and what’s even sadder is the fact that one never knows whether the person they are with, will abuse them. While there are tale-tell 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.”

Cautioning women on tell-tale signs of violence, behavioural specialist, psychologist and author Gail Masondo says that women must look out for certain traits in their partners and where help is needed must seek help to address the problems.

“When a man is possessive and controlling, wanting to control what you wear, how you do your hair, why you are talking to “that” man or greeting someone, those are things to watch out for,” she cautions.

Masondo says the following things must be observed, especially when women start new relationships:

Is he polite?

Does he enjoy being in a family structure, or 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, and no one else.

Is he possessive, how does he speak, 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 the waiter or security?

What are his manners when around people?

“The responses to these can help raise red flags, because a lot of the times, problems start with emotional violence before becoming physical,” she explains. “Be careful of men who want to isolate you from everyone else, and want to make you live in this bubble of ‘you and I against the world’, that’s a big red flag on its own.”

Reflecting on her upbringing, Masondo noted that she grew up in an abusive home, with an alcoholic father.  She, together with her mother and brother, suffered physical abuse in the hands of her father.  Alcohol played the biggest role in her 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 impact of this kind of behaviour and look at the effects of the scarring that it creates in the long term,” explains Masondo. “It is sad that we continue to hear stories of women who have experienced different forms of violence and abuse, and their version of abuse remains, “but he loves me”. Yet that’s not love, because love builds and does not tear down.”

Masondo explains that there is also the perception that emotional abuse, light forms of violence such as pulling a woman by her hair, obsession and obsessive behaviour and a sense of ownership of a woman by her partner is ok – but those are behavioural traits that eventually lead to drastic forms of violence.

She highlights that 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 show them to anyone until it’s too late.

“We need to bring back the role elders, aunties and uncles play in looking at a person and giving their insights on first impressions, and identifying role models who will give honest feedback on what they think of this new person you want in your life,” notes Masondo.  “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 outside of their marriage, because it can get a little cloudy in there, and someone else is able to help put things into perspective. Such a person can be a friend, an aunt, family member, church member or counsellor; such a relationship can be very helpful.”

Masondo and Machel recognise that the period of 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence provides a springboard to engage, and speak out about abuse. However, they caution, that the remaining 349 days of the year, should also be used for continuous engagement and 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, their family backgrounds must speak out against abuse, and not remain silent in toxic and dangerous relationship in which they may lose their lives.

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