We must change approach to end domestic violence

Friday, May 8th, 2020 00:00 |
Picture used for illustration only. Photo/Courtesy

Sandra Ochola 

Domestic violence is a political issue. It is also a social, cultural and economic issue.

Over the years, these dynamics ensured that it remained a personal issue, until the victims could not hide their scars anymore and secondary survivors bore the brunt of its effects. 

Families have lost loved ones, our children’s developmental wellbeing has been compromised and the country has had to bear the burden of treating victims in an overwhelmed healthcare system. 

The cultural footholds of domestic violence cannot be overstated. Within certain communities, it is still a non –issue when a spouse is beaten up, insulted or denied basic rights pertaining to their domestic welfare.

Cases of broken limbs or soiled innocence are patriarchally adjudicated upon and cattle viewed as adequate compensation.  

Yet, while we have made strides away from some of these damaging cultural practices, we have also become very individualistic as a society. We are not so proactive in intervening for the weak.

In fact, we often record such violent incidences for social media views, we listen and watch even for hours, as the hapless victims are drained of their dignity.

We are often, either too busy with our lives or too afraid to intervene. The results of such uninspiring socio-cultural approaches are evident.

Tens of men and women are suffering at the hands of their narcissistic partners as the younger generations watch and learn how to perpetuate the cycle of domestic violence. 

The coronavirus pandemic has not made things any easier. The ensuing curfews, social distancing and cessations of movement have placed both victims and perpetrators within close quarters.

Media reports indicate divorce and separation cases are on the rise as families are having a hard time staying together during this period. 

Between February and March for instance, the national gender-based hotline has registered 201 cases, with the highest number recorded in March when the public health measures became more stringent. 

According to these statistics, defilement, physical assault and psychological torture top the list of transgressions.

Further, rape cases increased by 35.8 per cent in the two weeks following the national curfew even as 21 women died from acts of physical and sexual assault between January and April 20.

The reasons for this state of affairs are as varied as the perpetrators and range from individual psychological shortcomings to existing domestic squabbles that have been exacerbated by the confinements.

Some of the reasons given by  perpetrators include that; the children were too loud, their wives were nagging, their husbands demanded for sex too often or their househelps are too slow in meeting their demands.

During these frustrating times, everyone and everything has become a trigger. 

It then becomes an economic issue when the victims are unable to temporarily or even permanently leave their partners.

There are those that have lost their jobs as companies resize during this corona period.

There are also those that hitherto, wholly depended on their perpetrators for their sustenance while there are others who are afraid to live solely on their savings as they do not know how long the virus crisis will last.

Consequently, we can’t be surprised when for lack of a means of survival, a spouse will stay with his or her abusive partner or a parent will look the other way as his or her partner continues to defile their child.   

Politically, it takes an efficient leadership to address most, if not all, underlying dynamics that perpetuate domestic violence.

In particular, how are we making life more affordable for the masses such that a victim can afford food, shelter and social security if they were to venture on their own?

What portion of our national budget are we investing in addressing mental health and gender-based violence issues?

What policies exist for the establishment of rehabilitation centres and safe houses at the county and ward levels?  

In the interim, it is commendable that varied partnerships are stepping in the gap for the victims and survivors. 

In the long term, however, it is imperative that we rethink our social, cultural, economic and political approaches to better serve the interest of the vulnerable groups.  —The writer is an Advocate of the High Court

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