I will not tell any man why he should not hit a woman. I would rather talk to you, my fellow woman. It starts with you, you see. How much you respect yourself will determine how much respect you will get. If you feel that being someone’s punching bag sits well with you, regardless of the aches, the broken bones and the indignity that you have to carry around the next day and for a few more days to come, then perhaps it is your right to endure ‘mambo ya nyumbani’. If not, then for the love of life and for the sake of women everywhere, make a stand and do something to protect yourself and your children. It is true society as a whole is paying greater attention to the crime of wife-beating but whatever laws are passed will be of little use be put in use in the protection of women, unless those women are themselves determined to use them.
The 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence is an international campaign that was started in 1991 to call for the elimination of violence against women. It runs from the 25th of November to the 10th December of every year. The main objectives of the campaign are:
Ø Raising awareness about gender-based violence as a human rights issue at the local, national, regional and international levels.
Ø Strengthening local networks around violence against women.
Ø Creating a method to share and develop new effective strategies.
Ø Showing the solidarity of women around the world by organizing schemes against violence against women
Ø Creating tools to pressure governments to implement promises made to eliminate violence against women.
What does this make you think of? The women politicians violently attacked in electoral campaigns? The woman politician stabbed to death? Yes, these are the high profile incidents that carry in the media and for this reason the ones more likely to be followed by an effort, no matter how small at the apprehension and punishment of the villains. Even then, the perpetrators are likely to go free, just as they would on the numerous lower profile reported cases of violence against women.
What riles me in particular though, are the numerous cases of gender violence that are not acted on by law enforcement or commented upon because they are not reported and especially because the victims of these attacks seem themselves to be colluding in their continued commission. So it is that unless these incidents turn particularly tragic no one pays them any attention.
Every single night in my neighbourhood, the peace of the darkness is disturbed by the loud screams of a woman being punished by her spouse for one mistake or the other. No one bothers to get up and go help her; most people do not even stir, not anymore. Such screams have become a part of the night, as much as the barking of the neighbourhood dogs, the crickets or the occasional cawing of the crows. It is a nightly occurrence; just another woman being disciplined by her husband, you see. In the morning, those who decide to trespass societal norms and ask after the woman in question, is she well and does she know that the law stands in her defence, will be met with a battered but resolute smile that insists “Hiyo ni mambo kawaida ya nyumbani tu.” (Those are just normal domestic issues.)
It is persuasive to suppose that it is alright, nothing to make too big a deal about and what right does an outsider when the victims themselves seem untroubled. But it is most emphatically not alright. It is the continued commission of such crimes, and the impunity bred by never being held to account that allows women to beaten and abused so much that they are compelled to the permanent occupation of the bottom position in society, a position from which their ability to contribute to society beyond the prescribed roles is severely limited. And this attitude then spreads across some more with women discriminated against in leadership roles, or in education or looked down on as managers. It is this attitude that leads society to look the other way as men continue to escape punishment for the sexual abuse of women and children, including the perception among many women and girls that this is their lot, this is what they should expect as women.
Real men do not hit women. This is not because women are defenceless for I know myself a few women who can fight for all they are worth. Real men don’t hit women because they do not see in women a sub-humanity undeserving of treatment equal to that which one would desire for oneself. Women like men have emotions, intelligence, and dignity and are important to the progress of the family and of society at large.
The real man is aware that in his treatment of the woman ,even as she may be physically weaker than himself, he is making a statement to society on his personal dignity and to his family on the respect for one another. He is also acutely aware that the family must exist for the common good, and that the crushed spirit of the mother is the destruction of the entire family.
Beating your wife, even in those cultures where the singularity of the matrimonial union is not emphasised, amounts to violence against yourself. For most humans, the nurturing contact is female and it is from this female that life itself is born and cared for especially when it is at its most vulnerable. The way of nature is that the female nurtures and guides and protects. Part of this nurturing role is in guiding society and spouses to an appreciation that violence against women is immoral and impermissible.
In so doing women, especially those threatened with violence help shatter the myth of normality surrounding gender violence and crucially also protect future generations from domestic violence. Such violence is not only illegal and immoral, it is also not normal. But unless its victims demand the breaking of the cycle, whole generations of boys are being transformed into men who believe violence against women as an acceptable way to conduct family life.
© Juliet Maruru 2009 www.jmaruru.wordpress.com