I am referring to a recent publication in Searchlight newspaper “Withholding sex, refusing to cook, wash is abuse.â
This headline summarized the speech by a young lawyer, at the wrap-up of a 16-day campaign to raise awareness on domestic violence by the Ministry of National Mobilization and Gender Affairs. Somehow, I dare say, that with such a headline, the campaign missed its mark, because the two do not go together. Moreover, domestic violence cannot be addressed unless attitudes rooted in ignorance are put to rest.
A good question to start with is âwhat is the role of each gender in society?â While some may argue that gender is a social construct, I will not go down that path. What is important in any discussion on gender roles is to realize that social norms and gender identities are the results of and in turn, affect all interactions in society and help to define oneâs interests (Granvotter, 2000). To break this down further, every society determines the behaviour of men and women who live in that society, behaviour that is shaped by the interests of those with power within that society. As a result, gender roles in relationships cannot be limited to emotions or religion, but must account for the economics of relationships as well.
Looking after the yard, gardening, building a house, are all looked on as a manâs work and very often a cost is attached. Yet childcare, housekeeping, and cooking are also part of the list of careers by which persons earn an income. We pay persons to do all of this, yet we overlook the fact that many women and some men perform these same jobs in the home daily without complaint or financial enumeration. One can argue that it is a job which one party, (usually the man), pays for through the provision of goods and services, as in a barter system. However, if the other person (usually the woman) refuses to cook, clean or engage in sexual intercourse, then that constitutes a breach of contract. However, no employer has the right to assault his employee or business partner under the law. Therefore, in any context, abuse, regardless of the reason, is wrong.
In any context, abuse is all about power and control. The Domestic Abuse Intervention Project in 1984 came up with the âpower and control wheelâ to illustrate how domestic abuse is perpetrated. The wheel shows eight aspects of abuse:
- Intimidation: making her afraid by using looks, actions or gestures; destroying things, displaying weapons
- Emotional abuse: calling her names, putting her down, humiliating her, making her feel guilty
- Isolation: controlling what she does, whom she sees and talks to, where she goes
- Minimizing, denying and blaming: making light of the abuse, saying she caused it
- Using children: threatening to take the children away, using visitation to harass her
- Using male privilege: treating her like a servant, making all the big decisions etc
- Using economic abuse: making her ask for money, preventing her from getting a job, taking her money etc
- Using coercion: threatening to commit suicide, to report her to welfare, threatening to do her physical harm.
If we are truly honest with ourselves, we will admit how our culture has normalized some of the behaviours on this list, choosing to confuse abuse and sin, because it fits our idea of entitlement hiding under a thin veneer of spirituality.
Relationships should be a partnership. When God made Eve, he said that he was making Adam a help-meet, a suitable helper. The only part of Godâs creation referred to as ânot goodâ was Adam in his solitary state. Humans are bio-psycho-social (flesh, emotions and social) beings. Eveâs presence was not just to provide physical help, but also to provide socialization and emotional respite. However, this also went both ways. Eve was also human and Adam, therefore, had the same responsibility to her as she to him. These days, some men (or women) want to believe in their hubris, that once they have provided economic support to their partner, that is the extent of their duty. In a relationship, it is not. There is no excuse for gender violence. It is a crying shame that even our wise fools seem to think that.
It is time that we stop making equivocations. Our churches need to take a stand and teach their stand. After all, the golden rule is religious policy. While it is good that the topic of âgender affairsâ is led by a sole Ministry, there is no doubt that ending domestic and gender violence is the job of all Ministries. We must eliminate the conditions, such as poverty and ignorance, under which abuse is bred. This task requires inter-ministerial collaborations to educate, legislate and police a society with no tolerance for gender violence 365 days a year, not just 16, when the eyes of the world are upon us.