Jan 18, 2016, 9:42 AM
The story above is just one form of violence that women experience in their careers or upward mobility. Thus, as The Gambia observes the 16 Days of Activism against Gender Based Violence which began on 25th November 2013, I wish to put the search light on domestic violence, sometimes referred to as Intimate Partner Violence, that violence which takes place in the private sphere but has devastating and long lasting consequences for the victim, the children and the stability of the society. It is less talked about because it is seen as a private, family matter and society condones it as permissible. It is devastating because it is perpetrated by husbands, boyfriends and close relatives within the household, home or compound, a place which is supposed to provide safety, security and sanctuary for a woman or a child.Unfortunately, it is within this setting that the woman and the child endure the most tortuous pain and excruciating violence; a pronounced antithesis of healthy family life or a loving and caring relationship. Why does such a foundation, ostensibly built on love, understanding, mutual support and commitment allows brutality, physical abuse, battery or forbidden or unwelcome sexual relations against its member?
Many myths abound about men’s inability to control violent impulses and about women’s responsibility for provoking men to violence. Our society, whose rules and orders are made and interpreted by men, decreed that a woman should be ‘docile, prudent, decorous and pleasing’ to the man in the house, and should she fail in her duties, whatever that means, he could find his pleasure elsewhere. However, often the most immediate manifestation of the man’s lack of satisfaction with the woman of his house is the bashing, the battery, the knocking down, the pulling up, the shouting down, the slapping, grabbing, punching, choking, sitting on, standing on, kicking, pulling and pushing by the hair or body, pinching, spitting and assaulting with whatever weapon is at hand! Women and girls constantly endure open threats such as ‘if you don’t shut up, I will beat the hell out of you’ and unstated threats such as commands to ‘cut it out!’ And the person addressed knows from past experiences what will happen if she fails. Mind games-using body language, mood or expressions- are employed by the husband and boyfriend to intimidate wives and girlfriends and he would deny doing anything abusive. In the name of protection but precipitated by jealousy, the behaviour of the wife or girlfriend is controlled. The man wants to control what the wife or girlfriend does, who she sees, who she talks to, what clothes or make-up she wears, what she thinks, how she should behave and who her friends should be. Sometimes the man controls the finances by keeping all the money or hands over to her responsibility for money matters but audits her every minute, including how the ‘fish money’ is spent. At times the violence is psychological. The husband or boyfriend makes the wife or girlfriend to feel rotten about herself, treats her like a slave, takes her for granted and punishes her by sulking or by withdrawing or refusing affection or communication.
Society’s attitude towards violence in the home is at best indifferent and ambiguous and at worst double standard and hypocritical. I have heard people argue that violence in the family is a private matter and no one, including the authorities, should intervene. I find it difficult to know where the line between ‘private’ and ‘public’ matter is drawn when it is about violence, humiliation and torture against a person. Monica Barnes, a judge from Trinidad, in an article entitled ‘Violence in the Family’ asked a very relevant rhetorical question: “What is the difference in criminality between an unidentified assailant armed with a club who batters women on lonely roads at night, and a known assailant armed with a club who batters a woman within the constricting confines of her home with such regularity that she knows when she is to be bashed even before he enters the home? In the former case the police would be full alert. There would be neighbourhood watches and women would be warned to stay indoors. In the latter case the police often show a marked reluctance to interfere, neighbours withdraw into themselves and draw their curtains and the victim, though afraid to go outside, is even in greater terror by staying indoors”.
A very fundamental question that many people claim beats their imagination is “why do women who experience domestic violence continue to live with their abusers and in the abusive situation?” It is a fact that many women endure the violence and the abuse for a long time before they have the courage to report the violence or leave the abusive situation. Countless others are never able to leave. Researches on domestic violence enumerate many reasons why women in abusive and violence relationships feel trapped, seldom seek ‘freedom’ or report the abuse. These reasons include: fear that reporting or leaving will lead to an escalation of the violence; fear that their children would not get the needed protection, security and love if they; feels responsible for keeping the family together, being pressured by family members to stay and endure the abuse for the sake of her children’s future, etc. In many instances, these women are also cut off from other support networks (such as family and friends) that could help them to leave or are unsure of what the future will hold for them if they decide to leave. Above all, many women would stay because they think that the abuser will change. While sometimes women do not have choices but to stay in abusive and violent relationships, they never choose to be beaten or harmed.
Violence against women and girls in the family and home is a criminal activity and that fact should be well publicised. Men who are violent to their wives, partners and girlfriends should know that they are criminals and they should be named, shamed and prosecuted so that the whole world knows the inhuman and inhumane treatment they are meting out to the group of society that ‘holds half the sky’. No one should shield them. A wife or girlfriend batterer should know that he is indulging in criminal conduct. And since organisations and institutions do not employ criminals, they should not also employ wife and girlfriend beaters since they too have known criminal tendencies. The police officer who beats his wife or partner must be seen as a criminal in the same manner as he sees the pickpocket or burglar. The religious preacher who beats his wife must be seen as a criminal in the same way that he sees the adulterer who refuses to repent. The tax collector who beats his wife must be seen as a criminal in the same manner as he sees the businessman who short-changes the GRA, refuses to pay his taxes or puts in false returns.
Perhaps one of the greatest impact of the Women’s Rights Organisations in The Gambia is that women are not only more aware of their rights but are also openly and courageously articulating that awareness - whether to critically interrogate the foundations of patriarchy and ‘culture’ that engender their discrimination, marginalisation and exclusion from polity and leadership or make demands on society or to express their frustration with the chasm between rhetoric about their rights and the slow pace of action, or to hold the mirrors to the face of their men. I know for sure that these organisations have no intention of taking the woman or lady out of the home but rather to heighten her awareness of other options, of the unacceptability of the violence and abuse she daily endures. The home remains the center of the woman but it should not be her prison, her circumference or the hub that defines her as a human being and what she can and wants to be.
To borrow from the Statement of Navi Pillay during the commemoration of the 2010 International Day on the Elimination of Violence Against Women, when each one of us hear the woman next door screaming, we should intervene, instead of turning to the wall and saying “It’s their business, let them sort it out.” When a little boy hits his sister, we should make it unequivocally clear that violence against girls is not acceptable on any account, ever. When the perpetrator is a friend, or a neighbour or a family member, we can stop turning a blind eye and pretending we are not aware of what is going on. When we empower our sisters and mothers, they will be able to speak and stand for themselves and won’t shield the perpetrator. When we educate our men and boys and entreat them to join the fight against gender based violence, they will be able to speak up for their sisters and confront other men and boys who think, albeit erroneously, that their manhood is defined by how macho and violent they are. And when we all work together- the Government, international organisations, local Civil Society Organisations, private sector, women groups- we would be able to prevent violence from occurring in the first instance, support the enforcement of the laws, protect and support the victims (and survivors) and change the societal gender norms, attitudes and values that engender the violence.
No member of any society can afford to marginalize, discriminate and batter half of its members and then feel good about that society. No society can develop or progress when half of its population is mistreated. No society and no organisation can afford the huge cost, direct and indirect, that comes with the violence women and girls are forced to endure in the private sphere. Everyone gains when women’s rights are respected, protected and fulfilled. Society progresses and families become happy and buoyant. I pledge to speak up against domestic violence and make it repugnant and unacceptable in the minds of my fellow men. Will you?
By: Njundu Drammeh