Why some women leave abusive relationships and others stay

Friday February 07 2020

At the end of last year, there was an uproar on Facebook, when introduction photos of Martin Juuko and Brenda Namuyomba were posted.
The outrage was caused by the fact that two months prior to the introduction, Juuko had assaulted his ex-girlfriend, taken pictures of his handiwork and posted them on his Facebook account.
Juuko claimed the beating was provoked by Namuyomba’s infidelity. Consequently, camps formed on social media, those for and against the barbaric act. Some people offered Namuyomba legal help to save her from the abusive relationship, but she chose not just to stay but to formalise the relationship.
The concerned social media family that had followed the saga came up with a number of reasons that could have persuaded Namuyomba to cling close to her abuser cum husband.
A one Grandpah Omuana Isaacs posted: “Love is not funny; our sisters who are not emancipated. I have raised my daughters to believe that true love is respect. If someone really cares about you, they would be very careful how they treated you.”
Peter Kuranga on the other hand posted that it was an act of expression of Juuko’s love: “He hates the evil act in her but loves her soul. He was casting evil act out of her. Wish them a happy stay and please discipline her always whenever is necessary,” he added.

Abuse in the name of love
Prissy Mirembe remarked that many people are undergoing violence in the name of love and for the sake of an official relationship. “If you can beat someone’s daughter to the pulp before taking a kilogramme of sugar to her parents, what will you do after the introduction and the wedding ceremonies? The next time he batters her, the wedding will follow,” she concluded.
Rahma Rahma noted that many people with low self-esteem often make bad decisions that usually end tragically. “Today you are congratulating them but next time, you will be all saying rest in peace,” she disconsolately posted.
Shifa Mbasaraki was skeptical that the introduction was a result of two people in love. “With those kibokos he gave her, maybe it is because of money, I do not see any love there,” she stated.
Angel Emtra noted that people were afraid of remaining single and were just settling for the sake of it.
Faridah Mutesi described Namuyomba’s decision to introduce her abuser as a domestic violence cycle known as the battered woman syndrome. “It repeats in phases and now what you see is the honeymoon phase.
The only person that can come out of this is the woman herself when she is ready and wants to. No words on earth, not even belittling her will make her want to move on unless she wants to. All we can do is pray for her,” Mutesi advised.

Traditional culture
Paul Ayebale stated that in Ugandan traditional culture, beating a wife is an expression of one’s love for her. “Sometimes it is a sign that you love that woman from the moon to the earth. Abandoning is the worst thing one can do to any woman,” he said.
Fred Mugisha, a counselling psychologist from Serenity Centre, Kampala, notes that all these observations and explanations for why women stay in abusive relationships are consistent with those that other abused women reveal to professionals.

Emotional deficit
The psychological reasons are naturally less visible, making it hard for many to understand and sympathise with victims. “First of all, it should be understood that abusers are usually victims of abuse themselves, so they are perpetuating what happened to them.
They have an emotional deficit that cannot be filled no matter what other people do to make them feel loved. They also have very low self-esteem and physically or psychologically abusing others gives them a sense of power and boosts their ego during that moment,” Mugisha relates.
In most cases, the culprits are genuinely unaware they are causing harm to their victims, that is why professional intervention is helpful.
The victims on the other hand, often find themselves caught in a cycle caused by realistic and unrealistic fears resulting from isolation and lack of self-confidence.
“People are affected by abuse differently, some give up responsibility over their own lives and condition themselves to believe that love hurts. They keep looking for situations that will fulfill their expectation,” the psychologist reveals. The first stage women typically go through when they are being abused is when they start thinking there is something wrong with them that provokes the abuse.
“Their intelligence has been belittled, their confidence destroyed; they are ashamed and trapped. It is at that point they decide to work on themselves trying to be that which their partners seemingly wants, thus deepening the cycle,” he notes.

Power and control
Pauline Kahuubire, a communications officer at Akina Mama Wa Africa, a feminist-Pan-African leadership development organisation, notes that reasons women stay with their abusers are varied. She reveals that abuse is rooted in power and control which means that an abuser usually exercises such overwhelming power over a woman that it becomes hard for her to leave, no matter how badly he treats her.
Women are told that violence in relationships is inevitable and they should accommodate it. Coupled with this is the idea that marriage is one of the highest achievements a woman can ever attain, such that its failure is a source of shame and a reflection of flaws in a woman’s character.
So women will bend to all the nasty twits to keep up appearances of a successful marriage because it is that institution that bestows her with power, respect and acceptance by society.

How to support women
A number of initiatives are in place to support women and girls experiencing violence. These have been established by government, human rights organisations as well as individuals.
Fida, for example, is well known for offering legal aid to women facing violence and for supporting them through the referral pathway as they pursue justice.
Other organisations offer refuge to women through domestic violence shelters. Action Aid and Mifumi have constructed a number of shelters across the country. Other organisations offer psychosocial support, which puts the women on path to healing mentally.
Corporate companies have also launched behavioural change campaigns to addressing the predicament of sexual gender based violence in Uganda.
According to Pamela Bayenda, the sustainability manager at Nile Breweries Limited, Plan International identified Kampala as one of the cities with more cases of domestic violence victims.


Alcohol is to blame
“In Africa, beer is a unique product that can be used by abusers to excuse their behaviour. We realised it begins as subtly as leering at the waitress and escalates to an extent where women are dehuminised and their dignity compromised,” she explains.
Gloria Nakafeero, the commissioner in charge of Gender and Women Affairs, Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development, said: “We are using the ‘No Excuse’ campaign as a catalyst to get people to reflect on their behaviour. We are aware that by identifying the problem we shall need to do more to create meaningful change. By raising awareness about the issue, the existing laws and policies and support services, we will contribute towards positive change in attitudes to make domestic violence and sexual harassment inexcusable, unacceptable and demand positive actions.”
Such efforts will also empower women to speak up and leave situations where they are being abused whether emotionally, physically or psychologically.
Kahuibire, however, notes that leaving is often a complex process with several stages: minimising the abuse and trying to help the abuser; coming to see the relationship as abusive and losing hope the relationship will get better; and, finally, focusing on one’s own needs for safety and sanity and fighting to overcome external obstacles.

Power imbalances
“Without correcting the power imbalances between women and men, violence against women will remain an issue. These power imbalances arise primarily from the belief, by both women and men, that women are subordinate and inferior to men by design and that men as their superiors should make decisions about every aspect of women’s lives, and “correct” their behavior, should they step out of line.”
She adds: “This gives men immense power while stripping women of agency—their ability to make decisions for themselves. This belief needs to be challenged and there should be a shift in mindset by women and society as whole, for women to be seen as valuable, even without being in relationships with men.”

Feminists initiatives
Many feminists and women’s rights organisations have contributed to building women’s consciousness in this regard. Furthermore, women need a support system to allow them to leave if they choose to.
This means a robust and trustworthy justice system that allows women to report and have their cases attended.
It is critical that women who report violence are supported in their pursuit of justice – physically and emotionally. It has been noted that responses by the public and professionals can make it more difficult for victims to leave.

Blaming victims
For example, while public acceptance of domestic abuse has decreased over time, blaming victims for their abuse still exists and is tied to sexist views, such as the belief that discrimination against women is no longer a problem and men and women have equal opportunities.
Ultimately, the only way to end domestic abuse is keeping it from happening in the first place. Encouraging fathers to nurture their sons and being role models that are respectful and treat women right will give the young generation something to emulate.
In the meantime, victims need to be understood and their experiences validated by friends, family and professionals to help them build the inner strength to leave abusive marriages.