The police commissioner, in April 2020, estimated that domestic violence reports would double this year (232 in 2019 to 558 in 2020). This is consistent with what the UN calls the ‘shadow pandemic’—a global increase in domestic violence amid the Covid-19 health crisis.
‘How do you reach out for help when the abuser is at home 24/7, watching your every move?’
The plight of our young women is evidenced in the articulate June 26 Facebook post of Reshma Kamchan, our latest spousal murder victim.
How do they find a man who can share their vision and understand their feelings? How to fend off an intimate partner who is threatened by your progress? When will our young men understand that disrespect does not breed respect?
Both persons in that relationship were in their 20s. Do not look away. This is not a rural problem, this is not a problem for a specific religious group or socio-economic one. It is pervasive with one in three women experiencing abuse in their lifetime (Pemberton and Joseph, 2018).
We saw this male behaviour captured in the iconic photographs of the R Kelly and Gayle King interview and of now Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh during the Senate confirmation hearings. Men rage when women challenge them. How dare these women do so?
Women still do between two to ten times more domestic work than men (Peacock and Barker, 2014) even though between 40% and 50% of them work outside the home (Roopnarine and Ramrattan, 2011).
More than half of our tertiary level graduates are women, yet the average income for men exceeded women for all listed occupational groups (ibid, pg4).
While some activists have called for more legislation and more police vigilance, the issue is a deeper and systemic one that requires more concerted action with our young men. Research tells us that the majority of men who perpetrate partner violence will do so for the first time before they are 18 years old and that they will do so more than once (Fulu et al, 2013). Our intervention has to be earlier.
We react in horror at the news of murders, but the bulk of the violence problem is often less severe—pushing/ shoving, sexual coercion and intimidating actions—but more sustained. Defining it in terms of physical assault or injuries sustained is problematic since the emotional and psychological abuse is equal to or more damaging and more long lasting.
It is an ongoing war designed to break the woman’s will. Therefore the solution has to lie in a sustained long-term approach.
Boys who witness physical abuse in their homes are three times more likely to abuse their partner than others who had not witnessed such. A greater incidence of physical punishment in teen years lead to a greater risk of partner abuse.
Having abusive friends, who verbally legitimise female victimisation, increases the likelihood of both physical and psychological abuse in intimate relationships (Reitzel-Jaffe and Wolfe, 2001). Peer pressure encourages young men to prove their manhood through violence and intimate partners are collateral damage.
There is substantial overlap between physical and sexual violence. If we do not heal our young men, the cycle of damaged families and criminality will persist.
This may appear to be an ‘unsexy’ approach to crime prevention since there is no photo ops with armed men. Indeed, the brute force policing is precisely what does not work. Yet the patient task of healing is the work needed to help stop crime in its tracks.
We have to reconstruct the gender norms that condone men’s aggressive behaviour towards women and the habit of blaming victims. We have to hold the perpetrators accountable. The scale of the problem is enormous, and it delivers a devastating impact. Ask any teacher in our schools.
While the violence or abuse between men and women may at times be mutual, in most cases the women are acting in self-defence and are often the recipients of the injuries. The ability of men to inflict injuries on their female partners changes the dynamic and meaning of the acts of violence.
But the page can be turned. Attitudes can be changed. We need to teach young men that relationships based on equality and mutual respect are more rewarding than those based on fear and domination.
We need to address the social and structural determinants of gender inequalities and violence, while promoting positive constructions of masculinity. We have to de-link the use of alcohol from notions of manliness since alcohol abuse is closely correlated to partner abuse.
Our male politicians and religious leaders need to speak up and demonstrate thoughtful behaviour towards our women. We need to challenge them when they are condescending and they disrespectfully turn a blind eye.
Jesus confronted the hypocritical Pharisees when they brought only the woman caught in adultery. Where was the man? Can you commit adultery by yourself?
The accusers were themselves sinners. Unequal treatment must not be countenanced. We are all made in the likeness of God and possess equal worth.
The story of Tamar, who was raped in 2 Samuel, is a classic case of the ideology of male supremacy and entitlement, powered by peer influence—that entitles one to act with impudence. This example is particularly insightful since it shows how these acts ricochet and cause ever-increasing pain and distress.
It is not an ‘either/or’ situation with laws and justice in the context of gender-based violence. We also need stronger laws.
To treat women right is not being anti-male. There is need for a national conversation about roles and responsibilities, using the themes of fatherhood and caregiving.
We can change things if we try.