Tough law enforcement, aggressive prosecution, effective prevention programs and available shelter for families in distress, are some of the remedies often recommended to help victims of domestic violence. The application of these remedial measures is, however, problematic in societies where there are inadequate resources to manage gender based violence. The fact that a large number of women in developing countries are subject to customary law which reinforces the subordination of women, exacerbates the problem. The chips are clearly stacked against women particularly those in abusive relationships.
The unequal distribution of marital property amongst women who divorce both in urban and rural settings is widespread. It is for this reason that women weigh the risks of taking a stand against abusive partners. Consequently, they are locked in a cycle of violence and this reinforces the belief that women, regardless of their social status accept abuse as part of life. Discriminatory attitudes remain rife in cases where customary law is strictly applied. This has, to a large extent, served to obscure the realities of gender discrimination. There is a need for more clarity in the law regarding the property rights of women who in a substantial number of cases, live with the fear of being left destitute after a divorce.
The law of course, can only go so far in preventing cases of domestic violence. A change in attitudes is crucial in an inherently partriarchal society. There is no doubt that the women’s movement in developing countries, deserves some credit for sharpening its edge over the years through public awareness campaigns but more needs to be done to include men and young boys in these movements. The idea that the fight for the rights of women should generally be left to women has to a certain extent, resulted in an “us against them” approach which will only leads to further alienation of women in a world that is dominated by and skewed towards men.
While the inclusion of men in the feminist movement may sound scandalous and contrary to what most people understand about feminism, higher impact change will only be possible if we all come to the realisation that “feminism is a title to a process and that process is equality”. This can be done with the understanding that male involvement in the feminist movement is not aimed at appropriating and hijacking the agenda but nurturing boys and young men who will grow to have positive attitudes that encourage the creation of a society that recognises equality between the sexes.
The escalation of gender based violence in parts of Africa, is a cumulative effect of inequalities that affect both women and men which remain unresolved. The inability of some male members of our society to participate in social or economic productivity through meaningful employment, often leaves them feeling emasculated. The impoverishment that follows entails misery and in its consequence, violence is unleashed on those who are vulnerable. Women’s bodies become some kind of battle ground for those who feel society has failed them.
While domestic violence is not a crime that is exclusive to people from deprived backgrounds, it is impossible to ignore the fact that such a high proportion of violence against women is committed by men from a low social class. Forming alliances with men within the feminist movement, will allow men to revisit their conceptualisation of masculinity and fight the scourge of gender based violence.
There are numerous good examples of pro-feminist movements which involved men that emerged in the US, the UK and Australia in the late 1960s and early 70s that grow out of the frustration with traditional notions of masculinity. That does not mean the battle for equality has been won in these countries but progress has been made. Developing countries are capable of coming up with solutions tailored for their societies which will lead to equality of a universal nature. There is a need to identify the gaps in anti-violence initiatives. Working with men is an essential step that will help promote new concepts of masculinity and mobilize men and boys to engage in anti-violence activities.
Even though this sounds like the stuff of utopian dreams, it is cogent to argue that a more inclusive approach, will allow pro feminist males who support bridging the gap of equality between sexes, to stand as allies with women to dismantle the patriarchal notions that facilitate the subjugation of our grandmothers, mothers, sisters, daughters and many other women in society.