Is women’s resilience fuelling domestic violence?

A man attempts to twist a woman’s neck. Instead of of enduring violence, women are advised to identify actions that threaten their lives and seek help. PHOTO/STOCK PHOTO

What you need to know:

  • Experts say women are naturally resilient and do not want to walk away from a situation they could have handled. Women give situations many chances.
  • In their emotional and psychological make-up, women do not just walk away from something as important as a relationship or marriage, something that has cost many lives.  

Data from the Annual Crime Report 2020, shows that 440 people were killed as a result of aggravated domestic violence. For context, this is equivalent to losing 31 fully loaded commuter taxis. Of these, 246 were male, while 194 were female. 

Murder as a result of domestic violence was highest in Amuru District, followed by Mubende, Ntungamo, Kakumiro and Kisoro districts.  

Early this year, Claire Mukisa* almost became a statistic, when the man she had been cohabiting with for the last 10 years, hired a security guard and instructed him to shoot her dead, if she attempted to access their home.

“In our eighth year together, the relationship went sour. He got another woman. When I complained, he started beating me. He had never been violent to me before that affair. Every time he beat me, he would shout at me, saying he was tired of me,” Mukisa says.

In a bid to save the relationship, Mukisa decided to endure and stay put. However, in February this year, her husband packed her bags and threw her out of their home. 

“He hired a security guard and instructed him to shoot me if I attempted to come back. When he was at work, I returned and explained to the security guard that this was my home. When my husband found me at home, he put our two children in his car and took them to his mother’s home,” she adds.

Mukisa’s partner continued assaulting her, denying her conjugal rights and ordered the security guard not to let her out of the gate or allow her visitors in. 

“I returned to our home because I felt I had had a stake in building it. I also did not have money to rent a house or to start an income generating business to sustain me and the children because I am unemployed,” Mukisa says.

In June, Mukisa decided to escape. She has spent eight months without seeing her children. Although she reported a case at police, her partner has not honoured police summons.   

According to the Annual Crime Report 2020 of the Uganda Police Force, 17,664 cases of domestic violence were reported to Police. Of these, 13,145 cases were reported by female adults while 1,186 cases were reported by female juveniles.

Women naturally resilient
Dr Daniel Ruhweza, a constitutional lawyer, says domestic violence is a unique crime. 
“You have a marriage or family situation where a woman will remain put inspite of the violence she is suffering. It does not necessarily mean she has accepted or normalised the violence. It might be that she has nowhere to go.

“She could be locked up in the house and has nowhere to go.  Some of these things might not be deciphered by the naked eye. You need a psychiatrist to help you interview such a victim, because she might not even know that she is a victim of violence,” he says. 

Sam Settumba, a professional counsellor, says women are naturally resilient and do not want to feel like they have walked away from a situation they could have handled. 

“In my experience, women give situations many chances. Even in a family with a rebellious child, it is usually the mother who insists on helping the child, long after the father has given up. It is the same in relationships. In their psychological make-up, women do not just walk away from something as important as a relationship or marriage,” he says. 

Resilience ; the ability to harness our inner strength and bounce back after setbacks such as trauma, abuse or illness - is a virtue. But on the flip side, could resilience mean that some women are enduring intimate partner violence in the hope that eventually, things will change.

“It is a mixture of resilience and culture. Our traditions glorify women who endure it all, to celebrate many years in marriage. Before marriage,  a woman’s maternal relatives will caution her never to embarrass them by leaving her marriage for whatever reason. 

As a counsellor, I have encountered this. A woman will know that her man is capable of killing her, but she will stay with an abusive partner because she does not want to bring shame to her family,” Settumba says. 
Resilience could mean that a woman will miss the red flags that show her that her life is in danger. 

The role of the Church 
In the Book of Malachi 2:16, God hates divorce. The interpretation of this Scripture has caused heartaches to the institution of marriage. 
Pastor John Chemonges, a lead pastor at Deliverance Church Entebbe, says the role of the Church is to follow scripture in its entirety.

“We do not encourage, condone or support divorce because the Bible does not teach us how to divorce couples. The Bible only teaches us how to join couples in marriage. That is why before we join any couple, we take them through rigorous counselling to make them understand what they are committing themselves to. In fact, the minimum time we recommend for counselling before marriage is three months,” he says.   

Chemonges argues that in three months – up to the second before the nuptials are taken – anyone is free to quit the relationship. At that point, the Church is willing to allow them to walk out.

After the vows have been exchanged, when the couple encounters any challenge, the role of the Church is to help them work out a solution.
“In the case of domestic violence, talk to your religious leader. We help people get to the root of the problem, and then, reconcile them.  Every abusive problem has an underlying issue. The marriage did not begin in an abusive way; something must have gone wrong along the way. People do not just become abusive. Usually something precipitates it, such as substance abuse. Others use violence as a defensive mechanism to cover-up some shortfalls – an area where they are lacking,” Chemonges adds.  

Ruhweza, who is also the head of Uganda Christian Lawyers Fraternity, says it is wrong for church leaders to encourage couples to remain in violent relationships. “We need to protect life first. I usually advise my clients to first move from a space of violence. If a woman reports to you that her husband is violent and there is evidence, find ways to protect this woman. That is why we have shelters, where such women can go. Moving away does not mean that you have divorced your spouse,” he says.  

Ruhweza adds that if the cause of violence is alcohol or drug abuse, it is prudent to involve the police. 

To separate or not?

Chemonges says in his experience, 90 percent of domestic violence cases that are brought to the church are solved amicably. Only 10 per cent completely fail.“The easiest way out of any problem is to quit. If you have a challenge with your boss, quit. If your husband is disturbing you, quit. 

But quitting is not necessarily the best alternative. As we help the couple work through the problem, we get to unearth the deeper issues in the relationship. The challenge is when one of them is not cooperative,” he says. 
Chemonges adds that separation may be recommended – but only in the short run.“Where we see that the differences are irreconcilable, we may, at least in the short run, recommend separation – but not divorce – for a time.

Sometimes, the abusive spouse may reform when he is hit by the reality that the wife is not there anymore,” he says.
But, what if the abusive spouse does not style up? Ruhweze says in such instances, divorce is the solution.
“When every intervention has failed, we advise the person to have a legal separation. You are not divorced at this point, but you know where the children are, and who the caretaker is. If the situation becomes horrendous, people get divorced,” he says.  

Red flags to look out for
It has been a year now, since Linda Nakanyike’s* husband provided anything at home. He does not buy food, neither does he pay the rent.

“I have an older son from my previous relationship, and my husband was okay with that, as long as my son remained with his father. When my son came to live with us, my husband changed. At first, he was violent. He got hold of my neck and tried to squeeze it. We have three children together but he does not buy food. Every month, the landlord writes eviction letters to us,” she says. 

While Nakanyike is a housewife, her husband has a job. Although they share the same bed, she says he does not touch her.

“We were last intimate a year ago. Recently, I was shocked when my stepsister came to visit us. I put her up in the visitor’s room, but every night, my husband goes to that room and only returns to the master bedroom in the morning to bathe and change his clothes. He is always telling me to take my son and leave his home,” she says.

Does Nakanyike’s situation, which is emotional abuse, constitute violence? Ruhweza believes it does. What constitutes threatening violence? He may say, ‘I will beat you,’ or ‘Leave my house,’ but how do you perceive such? There will be the tone of voice, the weapon being used to issue the threat, the words used, the action taken after the threat was issued; did he grab your neck or arm? The victim has to consider if these things make her afraid. That perception is what causes someone to act or run,” he says. Settumba says psychological violence is a huge red flag that should not be swept under the carpet.

“Emotional abuse only keeps getting worse. If it gets to a point where he stops wanting you sexually; but he just keeps you around – that is a red flag. Also, neglect should not be ignored. Failure to provide necessities or refusing to pick up calls is very common in ‘side dish’ situations, but it also happens in marriages,” he adds.

The red flag of physical violence cannot be stressed enough. “If he always beats you, then apologises and you forgive him, that cycle is going to gravitate towards trouble. In counselling, we do not advise someone to leave, but we draw for you the scenario, to show you the pros and cons of your staying. And then, you make your own decision,” Settumba says. 

Way forward
“Talk to a professional who will listen to you without judgment and bias. They can clinically give you options to take. Alternatively, speak to someone you think will hear you out. But if it is physical abuse, walk away before he kills you. Sometimes, when you walk away, your spouse  can reform. In this case, we make him sign an agreement before witnesses, not to beat you again,” Settumba says.

Many women stay in violent relationships because they do not want their children to grow up without them. However, if your spouse kills you, the children will grow up without you, anyway. Stepping back and taking stock of the situation helps to come up with solutions. When it comes to intimate partner violence, self-preservation is key.

A total of 17,664 cases of domestic violence were reported to police in 2020 compared to 13,693 reported in 2019, giving a 29 per cent increase. Of these, 3,408 were male adults, 13,145 were female adults. 1,133 were male juveniles while 1,186 were female juveniles.

Domestic violence has mainly been caused by the Covid-19 induced lockdown and the resultant loss of livelihood, disputes over family property, failure to provide for the family, drug and alcohol abuse, and infidelity.

A total of 1,359 cases were taken to court, out of which 400 cases secured convictions.Six cases were acquitted, 88 cases dismissed and 864 cases were still pending. 

*We have concealed the sources’  actual names to protect their identities on request. 


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