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Vicious cycle of gender violence

gender_based_violenceLesotho this past week joined the rest of the world in celebrating 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence.

Whenever women report violence, in most cases at police stations manned by male law enforcement agents, the tendency is to check if the victim is herself not to blame for what would have befallen her.

The unacceptable practice is to find excuses for the perpetrator, which creates a vicious cycle of silence that discourages women from reporting cases to the police and ultimately fuels different forms of gender-based violence.

Yet we cannot address gender-based violence in isolation from other social ills such as poverty and poor education.

If women do not have access to quality education, they are less likely to be financially independent making them far more vulnerable to different forms of violence.

In order to win the fight against gender-based violence we need to improve women’s education and economic status.

These factors are the root causes that continue to contribute to women’s inequality, economic dependency and vulnerability to domestic violence.

Education is key to women’s economic independence.

We cannot attempt to address gender-based violence without simultaneously addressing women’s access to basic human rights.

Yes, the 16 days are very important in the calendar but if we want to drastically reduce the prevalence rate of gender-based violence, we need a 365-day commitment to girls’ education and women’s economic empowerment.

Sexual harassment rates are even worse in southern African counties.

Again, harassment at the workplace is the most common.

According to Genderlinks, in Lesotho a shocking 63 percent of women said they were sexually harassed at work, while 57 percent experienced sexual harassment at school.

In four provinces of South Africa, 59 percent of women in Limpopo, five percent in KwaZulu Natal and Western Cape, and 2.7 percent in Gauteng reported being sexually harassed at work.

But perhaps the most worrying cases of gender-based violence are those that take place in a regular family set-up.

Women, including the well educated ones, still suffer in silence at the hands of their spouses.

Patriarchal ideology, couched in cultural mores, still manages to suppress even the most educated among gender-based violence victims.

Indeed, many will go to report to police soon after a beating but as the physical scars heal, the majority of the victims are persuaded to drop the charges “for the sake of the family”.

The cycle of violence is repeated again and again.

The visible scars will heal and often disappear so in the eyes of the rest of the family, the matter would have been put to rest but the victim will still have to deal with other forms of pain.

Indeed, it is the unseen scars that will remain indelibly printed on the emotional and spiritual well-being of the victim.

We are talking here about the hoards of emotionally scared women, the walking wounded, who keep holding onto marriages that have ceased to work, more often, just “for the sake of the children.”

But increasingly, as one local NGO Sesotho Media for Development found out on its outreach programmes in Qacha’s Nek, men are also victims.

The same centuries-old patriarchal values of “manhood” paradoxically work against men themselves. Many men interviewed by Sesotho Media for Development revealed that some of them have had to endure years of abuse by their spouses.

Such abuse is characterised by assaults but often takes the form of virulent tongue-lashing — verbal abuse.

The men say they would rather suffer in silence than tell friends or community members that they are victims of such abuse by their wives.

Some have taken to alcohol to drown their sorrows in a desperate bid to cushion themselves against verbal abuse.

In the end, such men have to carry the invisible emotional scars of abuse for the rest of their lives without venting them.

Educational programmes are the most urgent intervention needed in matters to do with gender violence.

Men have to be told that it does not diminish their “manhood” to open up about such abuse and get assistance.

Women, especially those in dysfunctional marriages, have to be educated to understand that they need to share their burden with professional counsellors in order to be rescued, instead of resorting to the same tried but mostly tired and failed solutions of patriarchal family ideology which would condemn them into an unbroken cycle of violence.



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