The other 349 days...

2016-12-11 06:03
Josina Machel, daughter of Graca Machel, was brutally assaulted by her boyfriend and subsequently lost an eye. Picture: Elizabeth Sejake

Josina Machel, daughter of Graca Machel, was brutally assaulted by her boyfriend and subsequently lost an eye. Picture: Elizabeth Sejake

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Gender-based violence and domestic violence know no race, class, colour, ethnicity or religion. Violence does not recognise the size of your bank account or your family background, and affects women from all walks

In fact, research by the World Health Organisation (WHO) shows that 35% of women worldwide have experienced some sort of gender-based violence. Almost one-third of women who have been in a relationship have experienced physical or sexual violence by their intimate partner – also known as domestic violence. This means that one in every three women in a relationship is a victim of violence at home.

These figures are astounding and yet, Africa still lags behind in providing exact numbers and research on domestic violence on the continent. A lot of the research available is based on estimates and, in some countries, such as Mozambique, there is no research at all. This poses a challenge on how you address the problem where there isn’t sufficient information to show the magnitude of the issue.

Our governments and ministries of women need to begin to take gender-based violence and domestic violence more seriously and ensure that we have the right figures, know the magnitude of the problem and have the right structures to address the issues.

The UN’s global 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence campaign provides survivors of violence with the opportunity to open up and speak about their experiences, and create awareness of the magnitude of the problem. However, a lot more needs to be done, because there are 349 more days in the year in which women continue to be abused and exposed to all kinds of violence. We still have men who beat up women in the “name of love”, and across communities there are those who still perpetrate violence as a form of “showing love”.

These are the forms of cultural norms that the Kuhluka Movement seeks to address – working together with men across communities, custodians of culture, community leaders and interest groups – and begin to interrogate such harmful practices and traditions, and question traditional practices and behaviours, that foster an environment that tolerates violence towards women.

The challenge we have is that not all women are speaking out because of traditional perceptions that what happens in the home or in the bedroom between partners should stay there. There are also other challenges that women face: a lot of the time they are torn between leaving partners and staying for the kids, they are scared of losing financial benefits and, in addition, there is a lack of or minimal support by governments and ministries of women across a number of communities in Africa.

I believe that more women should begin to speak out about abuse. Research by the UN Development Programme shows that women have traditionally not spoken out against domestic violence because of shame (in front of neighbours), fear of a spouse, threat of family breakdown and financial dependence.

Many women can attest to this and it should not be so – our governments and ministries of women should have allocations and budgets to support women in abusive relationships and ensure that these women have a safe place to go, that they receive the right support and, when experiencing abuse, can turn to a safe place where they can heal, pick themselves up and begin to move on again.

It’s sad that statistics show that one in every three women experiences domestic violence in their lifetime. What’s even sadder is that you never know whether the person you are with will abuse you. While there are telltale signs in some cases, with others, violence just erupts and, before you
know it, you have lost an eye or a limb or even your life.

The period of 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence provides a springboard to engage and speak out about abuse. The remaining 349 days of the year should be used for continuous engagement.

More needs to be done to create support structures for women to speak out without having to think about the shame that may come with speaking out.

Women, regardless of their financial status or their family backgrounds, must speak out against abuse and not remain silent in toxic and dangerous relationships in which they may lose their lives.

Machel was a victim of abuse, which left her blind in one eye. She is the founder of the Kuhluka Movement, a not-for-profit civil society organisation that aims to combat the violation of women’s rights through advocacy, education and mitigation

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Read more on:    16 days of activism  |  women abuse
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