12 November 2012

Zimbabwe: Domestic Violence - Men Suffer in Silence

PETER (not his real name) is a man who constantly takes physical, psychological and verbal abuse from his wife of four years. He married his childhood sweetheart, Dorcas and they have one child. Whenever they have a misunderstanding, Doracs has a tendency to grab the nearest thing to her and uses as a weapon.

The many scars on Peter's back from pots, knives and other household utensils that are capable of causing grievous bodily harm bear testimony to the abuse that he has endured at the hand of his wife.

Sometimes when his wife is angry, she behaves like a possessed woman, and threatens to kill him.

Fearing for his life, Peter recently moved back to his parents' home on a temporarily basis with his child.

It was hard for him to leave for two reasons: he loves his wife and also comes from a culture that dictates that if a man divorces his wife he cannot remarry as long as she is still alive.

This is not fiction but a real life story by a distraught and concerned father who called to tell us about the ordeal that his son was facing at the hands of his wife.

The father had read last week's article on gender-based violence that highlighted women as conveyors of violence in a context where they are often viewed as mainly the victims.

The gentleman challenged us to discuss gender-based violence by women against men.

While the 16 days of activism mainly focuses on emancipating women from the violence scourge, what about men since gender refers to both men and women?

Many people, in particular radical feminists will have a hard time sympathising with Peter.

Indeed, a snap survey that we conducted within our network the majority of view was that men are getting what has always been coming to them after subjecting women to domestic violence over a very long time without any reproach.

Nonetheless, Peter's case remains a tragedy because while violence against men is perceived to be at small scale, is nonetheless a reality.

In recent years, men have increasingly found themselves at the receiving end of violence.

Remember the case of 'female rapists' as the media like to call them? It would be interesting to know what is causing this increasing trend.

Nevertheless a common assumption of society views women as victims of domestic violence and rarely as perpetrators.

Indeed, 50 to 60 percent of all domestic abuse cases and violence are against women who historically and statistically remain most affected by gender-based violence.

However there are many reasons why society assumes men are never victims and chooses to also ignore the possibility.

First, incidences of domestic violence against men are seemingly too low to cause concern.

Secondly in most cases, the actual physical damage inflicted by men on women is perceived to be greater than the reverse.

Lastly, not much has been done to encourage men to open up about the abuse they suffer at the hands of women, and society has difficulties accepting the idea of men being victims.

Although many suffer in silence, a lot of men do experiences interpersonal violence in Zimbabwe.

However the fact that some male victims are now also seeking services offered by Msasa Project, which caters mainly for women, could be indicative of a lack of support services for men and boys.

It could also be that men are not making use of services that could potentially assist them because either they and/or society is in denial that such things actually happen.

Msasa Project has been referring the men to organisations that deal exclusively with men's issues.

Help for male victims of domestic abuse and violence is believed to not be as prevalent as it is for women.

There are hardly any shelters, and many men would cringe at the thought of broadcasting to the world that they are victims of spousal violence.

On the other hand, very often when men report violence, most people are so astonished they can hardly believe it.

Studies by some men's rights groups have shown that men assaulted by their partners are often ignored by police and also often have far fewer areas of refuges to flee to than women.

This tendency of treating domestic violence against men as a cultural taboo has seen many of them suffer in silence.

Some will question why any man would actually stay in an abusive relationship. It is not very surprising that they stay for pretty much the same reasons women stay.

That is for the children including fear of leaving them with an abusive spouse, feeling guilty and believing things could get better, or as in the case of Peter, they genuinely love their spouse and want to make it work. In Zimbabwe, little is known about the extent and actual number of men who are in domestic relationships in which they are abused or treated violently by women.

For most of society, that men can also be victims of domestic abuse and violence is unthinkable.

While it has taken years of advocacy and support to encourage women to report domestic violence, hardly much has been done to encourage men to report abuse.

Why is it important for society to be concerned about violence against men within the context of gender-based violence?

This year's local theme for 16 days is "From peace in the home to peace in our communities".

By implication, peace should start at household level as a subset of society, and violence should be denounced whether perpetrated by men or women.

Second, when people hear of gender-based violence, what immediately comes to mind is violence against women, yet this is just a small component of an entire continuum.

Pursuing a lopsided agenda concerned only with women in the context of gender-based violence may be counterproductive and unsustainable in the long run.

Working to diffuse the notion that men are invincible presents real opportunities for advancing the cause around violence against women and possibly shocks some men into realising that women actually wield the power to turn the tables.

The perceived invincibility of one sex is what has historically perpetuated inequalities, and holistic approaches are key to addressing domestic violence.

It may not be achieved overnight, but the end result could well be a society where no one resorts to violence to settle differences.

Natasha Msonza is a communication strategist and Information Officer at the Zimbabwe Women's Resource Centre &Network (ZWRCN). Feedback on: Tel: 252388/90 or Email: natasha@zwrcn.org.zw. Follow on Twitter: @zwrcnwomen

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