Changing attitudes about domestic violence

On a daily basis women all over the world are subject to domestic violence. Here social media volunteer at African Initiatives, Paula Merikoski, looks at some of the challenges faced in tackling this emotive issue and improving the situation for women.

According to some estimates, on average 1.2 million women in the UK were battered, threatened or sexually or emotionally abused at home last year. It is hard to estimate a real figure as cases of domestic violence are rarely reported to the police. The reality becomes even more horrifying when we look at societies where women are seen as property of their husbands by law or by traditions, such as in some areas in Africa. It is always hard for women to report the abuse to police, but it is even harder in less egalitarian societies. This is partly because reporting it might not help at all, and in some cases the women in question believe it is indeed the husband’s right. Often there is shame involved, which makes it harder for the scared woman to seek help. It is difficult for outsiders to intervene in domestic violence, but what can be done, is to ensure women all over know their self-worth and understand their rights to be protected from abuse.

Sexual abuse is one of the various forms of domestic violence. In many societies sex is a taboo and sexual violence often harms the woman’s reputation more than the abuser’s. Just like any form of domestic violence, sexual abuse happens everywhere but its context varies. In some parts of Africa, traditions related to practices of marriage affect the way the abuse is conceptualised: if a man has paid for his wife he must have the right to use her body as he sees fit. Probably the best way to approach this is to have discussions about to what extent can tradition justify violence and what benefits there are in giving women right to decide about their bodies.

Attitudes are changing everywhere and all the time but nothing happens without a push. Just 100 years ago in England rape was punishable only because it was seen as a violation of father’s or husband’s property. Rape in marriage was recognised fairly recently. We cannot say that attitudes have completely changed as still there are people who see domestic violence and sexual abuse as more or less the victim’s fault. The issue should not be silenced and we must continue to actively defend women living in fear.

Empowering women in African societies is extremely important because many women don’t even know they have the right to report their abuse. Sometimes just knowing you don’t deserve what is being done to you can help. However, it is important to remember that empowering doesn’t mean assigning the victim the responsibility to end it. The change cannot result only from the victim’s actions; it has to be recognised by the perpetuator too. Just as vital is the possibility of open dialogue within a community to change attitudes and curb violence for good.

Read Nakapi Leterta’s personal story about domestic violence and how AI’s partner in Tanzania, PWC, has helped her.