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Feature Article of Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Columnist: Sakyi, Kwesi Atta

Is Gender-based Violence on the Increase in Ghana?

By Kwesi Atta Sakyi
24th December 2012

(This write-up is dedicated to all women and children out there who have suffered some form of indignities, such as abuse, violence and discrimination resulting from G.B.V. My heart goes out to them).

Domestic Violence can take many forms. It includes child abuse, rape, corporal punishment, verbal abuse, deprivation, body scarification, female genital mutilation, forced marriages, sexual harassment, among others. 25th November every year, is designated as International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. In Ghana, between 1999 to May 2010, there were 109,784 reported cases of domestic violence, averaging about 10,000 cases every year. (AllAfrica.com 2011).

Children who are orphaned have to stay with relatives in Ghana. This is where the girl child among them becomes vulnerable to sexual abuse. The boy may be subjected to child labour so much so that he may run away from home and become a street kid or a call boy at the bus station or car park. These are known locally in Ghana as kubolors. They may take to drinking, smoking and doing drugs in order to survive the hardships of the street. Some step fathers may sexually abuse their step-daughters, while some step-mothers may subject their step-sons to verbal and physical abuse.

Such boys may be deprived of food or be made to do unpleasant household chores, such as breaking firewood or carrying heavy loads to the market. Our Ghanaian culture makes women underdogs, as men are the family heads in a patriarchal society. Some men take advantage of their strong financial position to sexually abuse young girl relatives, who are staying with them. In some cases, it is a taboo for a young girl to report such an affluent and important member of the society. Many rape and physical abuse cases go unreported because women fear the stigma and social consequences.

In some poor houses, mothers often use cooking utensils to beat miscreant children. We have learnt of cases where a mother put the fingers of an eight year old girl in boiling water for stealing something like 50 cents, or for eating a roasted cob of maize. In some very poor societies, some mothers encourage their daughters to get into prostitution so that they can generate income for their upkeep. Domestic slavery is not uncommon in Ghana in this day and age, whereby some poor parents contract loans and give their children to the money lender as collateral or mortgage.

At this point, I will focus mainly on domestic violence between married couples. Domestic violence is violence that manifests between married couples. Many factors are responsible for the occurrence of this sad phenomenon. In this era of human rights, it is quite sad that we still hear of cases of men beating up their wives or spouses, or is it the other way round? Many women are pummelled and brutalized by their husbands for many reasons. Of course, there have been anecdotal cases of some women killing their husbands by hitting them on the head with fufu pounding pestle, or sometimes they cut off the genitals of their husbands, when they have been messing around with other women and they are in a drunken stupor.

I remember some decades ago, a nurse in Apam in the Central Region did that to his spouse, and it made the headlines in all the major newspapers in Ghana. One of the causes of gender based violence is rumour-mongering or the grapevine. When a woman suspects that the husband is flirting around with other women, the rumours start flying around and she will start casting insinuations, or she would refuse sex to the husband. Communication normally breaks down between them. Women being caustic and acerbic with their remarks, they would get the man over the edge, and he will decide to do the talking with his fists. This normally happens when the man, out of frustration, goes on a drinking binge.

Domestic violence occurs mostly between young couples who lack marital experience. This is why young couples need a lot of counselling by elders. Sometimes, pastors in the church wade in to settle marital disputes. However, in some sad cases, some bad eggs in the clergy may cash in on the problem and exploit the situation to their advantage. Domestic violence between couples could also arise when the man often goes out with his friends on a drinking spree, or where the man spends a lot of his time outside the matrimonial home. Sometimes, tension in the house could build and GBV could be sparked by interference from visiting mothers-in-law, or members of the extended family.

I have had a lot of this experience in my own marriage, whereby my sisters have been jealous of my wife, and they have tried to damage her reputation before me, so that I take umbrage and beat her up. Sometimes, when the couple stay together for some time without having children, then tension starts mounting between husband and wife as to who is the cause of the infertility or the dry spell of children. Sometimes, the couple may have step-children from an earlier marriage, and the treatment meted out to such step-children could be the cause for domestic violence.

On other occasions, it could be neighbours who could be interfering with your marriage, as you may suspect that your neighbour is having an affair with your wife or husband. Sometimes the husband could be having an affair with the domestic servant or housemaid or sisters-in-law. There are instances whereby the wife may take leave to visit the parents and then she goes to stay forever. The man fills the vacuum with imports. Sometimes, a man gives some capital to the woman to trade, then she misapplies the money by buying herself fanciful clothes, make-ups and jewellery, or she posts some of the money to her relatives. A man can really get upset over such. Sometimes, the man provides the housekeeping money, and the wife does not manage it well, whereby the kids are not well fed or properly clothed or looked after.

Some men get over the top when they come home from work and there is no food prepared, or they discover that the wife has gone to visit her friends, or is attending a kitchen or birthday party, or a funeral and she has left young kids at home, unattended to. Some wives will not listen to the advice of their husbands and they will convince them to take them to watch movies or attend some discos. This is where we have marriage mismatch, or incompatibilities, whereby the couple has interests which diverge. This could be a cause for domestic violence. A woman who is dirty, or who does not keep the house clean, who does not wash the clothes but keeps them piled up in a corner or who keeps the bathroom and sinks choked up or dirty, or smelling, can be off-putting. Of course, husbands are supposed to help with household chores, but then they may be busy at work with a lot work responsibilities. These days we have many career working wives who have multiple roles as mother, worker, housewife and home manageress. In deed, such women have to learn how to balance their act through multi-tasking.

There are situations where the man is a workaholic, so much so that he spends little time at home with the family. Such a man can be minting a lot of money, but then money is not a substitute for love or conjugal bliss. When couples fail to communicate effectively, tension and suspicion set in. Some women too often get fed up with their men and then they will start looking elsewhere. They may start having affairs with the landlord or the man’s best friends, or even the bosses of her husband. Some women are too demanding in terms of sex, or in terms of material things. The converse is also true.

For instance, a woman tells you to buy her an expensive car, but you cannot afford it. She starts pestering you with unsavoury words, and she may deny you sex. Sometimes, it is the other way round, whereby the man is a sexmaniac, and demands too much sex from his wife. This is where a man can get over the edge and start pummelling his wife, as if she were a punching bag, and he, a Sonny Liston or a Mike Tyson or a Muhammed Ali. In the UK, USA and other advanced countries, it is not common for husbands to beat up their wives because the law is rigid, clear and severe. Many women there have learnt karate and judo for self defence. However, in Africa, it is normal to beat up your wife and later pacify her by buying her some nice clothes or presents. Some women take pride in having their husbands beat them up. They say it shows affection. Love and hatred juxtaposed indeed.

In Ghana, we have a Police Complaints Unit known as WAJU (Women and Juvenile Unit) and in Zambia we have the Victim Support Unit (VSU). When I first came across the acronym GBV, I thought it was a new medicine which had been introduced into the market. GBV stands for Gender-Based Violence, or Domestic Violence. What would you as a husband do if you found yourself in the following situation? Would you pound your wife?

1. The first lady spends three-quarters of the time at church, going for all-night vigil and travelling to attend church conventions.
2. The first lady is heavily involved with a political party and goes around campaigning to canvass for votes or attending party meetings.
3. The first lady is given money to pay children’s school fees and she diverts the money for something else.
4. The first lady cannot cook properly but you cannot tell her that and you choose to eat out most of the time. She complains that you are dating other women.
5. Your wife’s phone is forever busy with calls coming in from all quarters, including male workmates, male pastors etc.
6. Your first lady is garrulous or talkative, and picks quarrels with all your neighbours, who are not on talking terms with you.
7. Your first lady wants you to spend a lot of money on yourself, to buy expensive clothing but you do not want.
8. Your first lady likes visiting jujumen, seers, ngangas and sangomas or fortune tellers.
9. Your first lady does not agree to follow you to your church and insists you should follow her to hers.
10. Your first lady does not disclose her income to you, but always wants your money, and she refuses to allow you to spend money to help your relatives or siblings.
11. Your first lady wants to go to school again, after giving birth to four children and she already has a first degree.
12. You come home from work tired, and you find your wife drunk on a whisky you had kept for a rainy day.
13. Your first lady accuses your sisters of being witches, but you have not accused her sisters.
14. You are in the Diaspora and sent a lot of money home to your wife to build a house. She squandered the money.
15. You keep a joint account and you are joint signatories. You have a pet project and you want her to agree to withdraw some money for it, but she refuses. Instead, she cajoles you to buy her all the latest fashionable clothes and perfumes.
16. Your first lady still has ties with her former husband or boyfriend, and they keep communicating ad infinitum.
17. Your wife always takes the full tank car out, but never bothers to top it up with petrol/ gas.
18. Your wife has grown very fat and shapeless. She has given you six girls. You are fed up with her for not producing a boy heir to your name.

CHRAJ (Commission for Human Rights and Administrative Justice) in Ghana is doing a
commendable job in settling many issues of domestic violence. For instance, a man divorces a
wife and fails to provide money for the upkeep of the children, who are with their mother. When the woman approaches the man for money, she gets beaten up and was told to go collect the money from her boyfriend. The man even claims that the last of the six children they have was not his. Yet, the woman was the one who sponsored the man when he was at the university. The man has since become alcoholic and is on crack cocaine. WAJU is now called DOVVSU (Domestic Violence and Victim Support Unit) in Ghana.

Many women are now achieving upward social mobility through the acquisition of higher education. They have been offered myriad of opportunities. They are being liberated and empowered through education. Some husbands become jealous when their wives are rising on the educational ladder, and this could be a cause for domestic violence. When women acquire higher degrees and they start earning better salaries and perks, some husbands get jealous. I have come across women who have more wealth than their husbands and they have more savings and have built mansions.

Foolishly enough, some husbands view this as insubordination or an affront and they start domestic violence against their wives. Really, some men cannot stand the sight of their wives advancing rapidly in their careers, and will rather have them kept tied to the kitchen. Women emancipation has come to stay, and we men had better come to terms with it by breaking ourselves out from our cocoons to see the light at the end of the tunnel for our spouses.

Churches and NGOs have to fan out to educate men against gender-based violence or any form of domestic violence. Our mothers should be told to stop verbally abusing our children or using domestic utensils to beat them. Our husbands should be told to put a stop to binge drinking, or going on spending spree when they have a lot of money in their pockets. Our women should be told to choose their words carefully when addressing their husbands, or they should stop making unreasonable demands from their hubbies.

Marriage should be looked upon as for better or for worse, for poorer or for richer, till death do us part. It should be taken as a long term mutual friendship. Trust, loyalty, fidelity, respect, obedience, hard work, constant communication and the fear of God are some of the ingredients for a happy marriage. Do not lean too much towards your extended family or neglect them, but then, do not let them remote-control your marriage. The two of you should tango, by making your marriage work. After all, there is no ideal or perfect marriage. It all depends on you two.
Contact: kwesiattasakyi449@gmail.com
Cell: +260 973 790 152

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