Gender-based violence: the unceasing menace

Tina Musuya. Courtesy photo.

Every year, from November 25-December 10, women-rights organisations mark the 16 Days of Activism against Gender Based Violence (GBV). This year the activities will run under the theme: From Peace in the Home to Peace in the Nation; End Violence Against Women.

Tina Musuya, executive director, Centre for Domestic Violence Prevention (CEDOVIP) shares her views on violence against women and their rights.

What is violence against women?
It is the denial of a woman’s rights and putting her under someone else’s control. Violence can be physically or it could be refusal to provide the necessities or forbidding her to work or sexual violence in form of marital rape.

GBV can also manifest in forced or child marriage and cultural practices. Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) disguised as initiation rites to womanhood, is about control of a woman’s sexuality. FGM comes with physical harm and can lead to death.

Often when GBV is talked about, physical abuse comes to mind. Tell us about emotional abuse.

Emotional violence can involve a man’s controlling behaviour like making decisions for her on whether or not to work and whom she can associate with. He may allow her to work but put stringent conditions, like being at home before 5pm.
Through intimidation, the wife is denied the right to express herself. It could be by putting two wives in the same house and expecting them to be happy, yet a man will commit murder if he found another man with his wife.

Is GBV on the rise or decline in Uganda today?
You need to understand where we are coming from. GBV was considered normal behaviour. You hear people say “Ebyo’omunjju tebitotolwa” meaning a woman must not talk about domestic issues.

There has been a loud silence on GBV. In 2006, when the Uganda Demographic and Health Survey (UDHS) included questions on women experiences, more than 70 per cent of women reported physical and or sexual violence from a partner. In 2011, it was 56 per cent.
We talk about the HIV/Aids prevalence being at 6 to 7 per cent, which is exceptionally high. But isn’t it too high that over 50 per cent of women experience GBV? There is an increase in the number of people talking about it, though; there is more reporting about GBV, which is a good step.

Is it only women, who suffer abuse? Don’t women abuse men?
Women abusing men is not as huge as men abusing women. In the 2011 UDHS, when 31 per cent of men reported to have experienced physical and or sexual violence by a wife or partner, 56 per cent for women reported abuse. Those who advance that view (women abusing men) do not understand gender-power relations.
A man can easily walk away from an abusive partner.

His relatives will even suggest a ‘good’ partner. A wife, however, will be urged to remain in an abusive relationship. They will say guma, obufumbo bwebutyo (take heart that is how marriage is).

When a woman says no to sex for various reasons, the man will say she is denying him his rights. In most cases, when a woman becomes violent towards a man, it is out of self-defense; he has been beating her for the last 30 years and this one time she tries to defend herself, it turns out to be fatal.

How does domestic violence affect children?
It is said a man’s kindness towards his children is revealed in the way he treats their mother. While some boys will say, “I saw my mother being abused, I will not do such to my wife,” but most likely the children will learn the behaviour and pass it on to the next generation.

The boy may think that is how women are treated and the girls will believe that is how they are supposed to be treated by men. Children may also become violent against fellow children. In most homes where there is domestic violence, the father refuses to provide for the family and the children lack the basic of necessities.

Domestic violence affects the children’s academic performance. Because there are problems at home, when a child goes to school, his or her mind is not settled.

Other children, especially adolescents, may engage in irresponsible behaviours like drinking or early sex because they are looking for the love that is not provided by their parents.

The media is awash with stories of men committing suicide after killing their wives.
It is men fearing the consequences of their actions. They fear the law will catch up with them or reprisals from the woman’s family. This is not a new phenomenon, though. It has always been there. As I said, there is just increased reporting on GBV.

What is the legal status on women rights?
We have very many laws to protect the rights of women. For instance, the 1995 Constitution spells out the fact that no cultural practice should infringe on the rights of people.

There are also specific laws such as the Domestic Violence Act, the Sexual Offenses Act that prohibits marrying under-age girls, and the law on FGM.

What is needed is enforcement and for the public to stand up for the rights of girls and women. Local councils and courts of law should administer justice. Police should keep law and order and help in enforcement.

Why were activists pushing for the Marriage and Divorce Bill whose precepts already exist in the Constitution?
Those laws were drafted from a gender insensitive perspective so they are unfair laws, which have a lot of gaps. Women are being treated unfairly. It is a pity how many people, including parliamentarians, do not realise that.

For instance, the Domestic Relations Bill (DRB), among others defined marital property but the public was fooled into believing that women wanted to steal men’s property. I feel insulted when someone says women are thieves. Does that mean your mother, sister and daughter are thieves? Others say it was packaged poorly by calling it Marriage and Divorce Bill.

That is hypocrisy. It is pretense to say divorce does not happen. No law will tell people to divorce; it is what happens between the two people that causes separation. This Bill sought to promote the principle of fairness.

For instance, it sought to make bride price just a gift one cannot reclaim when a marriage fails; you want to claim your bride price, but can you restore that woman to the status she was before you married her?

What are the 16 days of activism about?
They are about raising awareness on women rights. We have a network of East, Central and Southern Africa civil society organisations on GBV prevention and we are saying “voicing action now; leading the way to ending violence against girls and women”.

We want leaders to speak out and talk with action. The focus is on prevention, rather than treating GBV outcomes. We are conducting open court sessions for community members to interact with the judiciary.

We are holding public events at community level to learn from each other and condemn GBV. We are doing door-to-door campaigns reaching people in their dwelling places and at drinking joints.

What future do you see for women and girls in Uganda?
It is a bright one if we remain consistent in this cause. We can make a world where both men and women are safe. It is like a flying eagle. It must spread out both wings; it cannot fly with one wing confined. We need both men and women to fly well; that is the better future for men and women.

About Tina Musuya
Musuya has several years of experience working with communities, the civil society and policy makers to prevent GBV.

She oversees CEDOVIP’s violence against women prevention programmes. She, with other women rights activists, drafted and successfully campaigned for passage of the Domestic Violence Act 2010, and the Kawempe Domestic Violence Bylaw.

Under her guidance, CEDOVIP won the 2010 UNAIDS Red Ribbon Award for innovative work in preventing violence against women and HIV.