Domestic violence in Africa

Posted on January 2, 2016 01:00 am

Scientific studies have undoubtedly proved that male chauvinism and strong patriarchal sentiment are a primary cause of violence against women.For ages, it has been clear that men have failed in abilities to better manage their anger and it’s clear why they resort to violence. This obviously relates to the African cultural conditions that puts men superior to women. If men knew better ways to express their emotions, they would not have to hurt their partners. The number of cases of violence against women has continued to rise in Africa, but this is admittedly due to the systemic failure to raise victims’ awareness and encourage them to report incidents of abuse. Most victims in Africa are abused by men who are close to them.It is a region where many men have resorted to violence because they see their female partners as property and think that they are the only decision maker in the marriage, their wives are subordinates.Some men undermine their partners not only by carrying out physical and sexual violence against them, but also through psychological abuse intended to destroy the victim’s self-confidence.Experts have long argued that any efforts to eliminate violence against women should involve men.What often comes to my mind whenever I read or hear gender based problems such as domestic violence and sexual harassment, of which the majority of the victims are women, I get irritated such violence shouldn’t be happening in the first place.Domestic violence is a common problem with widespread misconceptions across Africa that places female victims in terrible situations. In my life, I have come across some cases of domestic violence first hand.

In one case six years ago in Footscray in west of Melbourne, Australia, I tried to help a desperate victim of sexual violence, a gorgeous blonde who had suffered at the hands of her boyfriend. As I could not handle the problem alone, I spoke to victim’s brother who I thought would be on her side, but was very disappointed when he said it was his sister’s domestic matter so we had better not bother. Soon after, I met victim’s cousin who blamed the lady for triggering the violence although that wasn’t the case.It was drug abusing boyfriend fault.So my efforts to seek support for the victim was zero work and option was her to ring the coppers.It broke my heart when I saw the victim of sexual harassment suffer trauma, stigma from relatives and finding it difficult to secure justice even from the authorities as her abuser was released from jail six months after.She was forced to relocate to Canada to avoid being harmed by the felon who threatened her with death after his jailbird life ended.In Africa, a continent am now very familiar with, there is a negative atmosphere and a widespread misconception of sexual harassment that both the victim and the assisting individual must face. The African society underestimate the seriousness of the problem. There is a strong tendency to blame the female victim. There is even a denial that such a problem exists. Such experiences makes it clear that seeking help is a problem not only for victims of domestic violence and sexual harassment, but also for those who want to rescue them. It is extremely difficult to handle such delicate challenges in Africa, a continent know for its strong patriarchal culture.It becomes more complicated when it comes to a special type of sexual harassment and the surrounding situation in which it occurs, namely rape in a conflict situation like its happening in Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo and Sudan.

In early 2015, I met a former sex slave who was among thousands of sex slaves in Democratic Republic of Congo in the 1997-98 war that ousted military dissector Joseph Mobutu. The lady whom we shared the same seating row on the flight, was in her sixties,looked frail but was still able to clearly recall the dark times of her life.She revealed to me that since moving to Kinshasa after relocating from Goma province, she has rebuilt her life but she never forgets her raping ordeals in the hands of rebels. She was captured when she was only 42 years-old at Matanda and taken to Katele where she was raped by an average of three different men per day.For three years, she and others were locked up in a kind of brothel and were forced to provide sexual services to rebels.It was painful listening to her explain to me how her womb was damaged as a result of repeated rape, which meant she was unable to have children.Luckily for her, she had three kids before war broke out in 1997 when the rebels of Laurent Kabila took arms with help of Uganda and Rwanda to oust Joseph Mobutu.As is the case of many rape victims, she bore the trauma and the negative stigma on her own, with no support. In today’s Democratic Republic of Congo, sexual harassment in conflict prone zones still occurs, such as those reported about women who are sexually harassed and raped.In African countries, sexual harassment including rape is often reduced to no more than a mere problem of behaviour with no actions at all for the perpetrators. Domestic violence is viewed as merely as a husband-wife or boyfriend-girlfriend dispute or a way a husband or boyfriend “teaches” his wife meaning others should not interfere as it is a private matter.

The impacts on African women of this discrimination leads to lower school participation rates for girls, lower wages for female employees, women being deemed unsuitable for leadership positions and women forbidden from going out without consent of their husbands or boyfriends.Women from all countries in Africa may at some point face one or more of these forms of discrimination, the substance of which is that women are being denied their basic rights because of their sex. In a continent where problems such as domestic violence and rape are underestimated and are not brought to justice, it is more difficult to see domestic violence in Africa reaching manageable levels anytime soon.Not in our generation.In Africa, when it comes to women’s problems, they are often considered less important. However, they need to be addressed properly. Changing attitudes toward African women is just as important as implementing the laws that protect them in the western World. Authorities implementing such laws should be gender sensitive and show empathy to the victims so the laws work as intended. I strongly advocate for gender awareness campaigns in the continent and they should also be carried out continuously and strategically. By doing so, African countries will create a safer and a brighter future for its daughters and free them from all forms of violence and discrimination.

Contador Harrison