8 October 2006

Zimbabwe: Real Causes of Domestic Violence


THE issue of The Standard of 24 September carried a story in which a young boy and his two brothers, aged five and eight, watched as their father battered their mother to death. This followed a domestic dispute.

Betty Makoni of the Girl Child Network, commenting in the same article said the experience of the three boys was a clear testimony of the terrifying effects of domestic violence and the more reason why the Bill on Domestic Violence should be passed in order to prevent loss of life, while protecting children.

After discussing this matter with friends whether the existence of an Act would have prevented Tichaona's father from murdering his wife, we concluded that such an Act would not have prevented the murder. This is because the husband was aware that murdering someone attracts capital punishment.

The question is why did Tichaona's father end up taking such a suicidal measure? My view is that it is not the existence of relevant legislation that stops domestic violence, rather it is identification of the real causes of domestic violence that will help stakeholders in coming up with the best way of dealing with it.

Advocates of the Bill on Domestic Violence concentrate on events that actually took place on the day of the violence, highlighting its horrific moments, without due regard to the causes and symptoms of domestic violence. As a result, these advocates are likely to come up with the wrong cure to domestic violence.

My view - which I have shared with friends and colleagues - is that it is extreme provocation that often drives the perpetrators of domestic violence to such tragic actions. The case of the late Oliver Tengende, is an example.

There are various types and degrees of provocation just as there are of domestic violence. In most of the literature that I have come across, infidelity is the most common cause of domestic violence. The current economic hardships have seen individuals chasing every opportunity that arises, no matter how unethical or immoral it may be, in order to survive. This has seen an upsurge in extra-marital affairs. It is very common to see couples shouting or fighting over trivial issues with infidelity surfacing as the underlying cause.

During the best of times in love affairs, some individuals spend a fortune on their sweethearts, buying them houses and furniture, sending them to school and finding employment for them. However, the moment this spouse, boyfriend or girlfriend starts looking down upon his or her partner and begins the process of dumping him or her, violence is imminent.

Equal rights have been misconstrued within the family set up to mean that husband and wife become "co-presidents" of the house. It is common that whenever people get together, there should be a leader. While most modern women face a major challenge because men believe they should have the final say whenever there is a deadlock.

If we have a situation where the woman believes she is more intelligent and that her spouse is intellectually challenged, we end up with a situation where both will seek to assert their authority in the house. The result is that either one of them gives up or it will only be a matter of time before domestic violence occurs.

Small houses have become another cause of domestic violence. Various forms of domestic violence are likely to erupt as the husband spends most of the time away with the small house.

But small houses themselves can give rise to domestic violence, especially when they decide to dump boyfriends for new ones. Physical violence and stalking usually result.

Fear of splitting assets into two equal halves after divorce or separation has kept some marriages intact but such marriages have become associations between two enemies. It is usually the man who fears losing in the event of a family splitting up. Spiritual abuse, such as the use of juju, which is not mentioned in the Bill is most likely to take place. Solution to this cause requires the intervention of professional counsellors because one needs to be armed psychologically to face the consequences of divorce.

However, there are other forms of abuse, which are mostly centred on lack of mutual respect for each other. In my opinion, it is not the existence of a piece of legislation that discourages domestic violence. Rather it is the understanding of one another in a relationship, giving each other responsibilities, the ability not to over-reach each other and the need to be together even during trying times.

Extensive outreach programmes targeting every citizen in the format of the HIV/AIDS awareness campaigns should be launched. They should be carried out by trained anti-domestic violence counsellors and should target everybody because at one point in life one is likely to be an instigator, perpetrator or a victim of domestic violence.

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