The Istanbul Convention provides the following definition of violence against women:
"violence against women" is understood as a violation of human rights and a form of discrimination against women and shall mean all acts of gender-based violence that result in, or are likely to result in, physical, sexual, psychological or economic harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.
The above is a broad definition of ‘Violence Against Women” and encompasses all the gender-based violence that women all over the world suffer from. Violence against women and girls is a problem of pandemic proportions. At least one out of every three women around the world has been beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime with the abuser usually someone known to her.
The following article will examine violence against women in relation to a married woman in Cameroon in general with emphasis on our counselling experience at the TESHO Family Center (TFC) and with a desire to provide hands-on practical suggestions for resolving this problem for those men and women who find themselves in a marital or cohabiting premarital relationship.
Violence against women is a reality in Cameroon and it occurs amongst all socio-economic and intellectual classes
When I was a young girl growing up in Bamenda, reading about Cinderella and other romance tales, watching Hollywood movies depicting handsome boys kissing drop-dead beauties, I actually thought Whites did not scold or slap their wives, let alone beat on them. I believed in my heart that theirs was living happily ever after as depicted in the romance tales. Great was my shock when I entered the university and read real-life stories of white Americans and Europeans battering their wives. Then I remembered that while growing up, adults around me got into all kinds of conflicts with some couples ending up in a boxing ring.
It was a sobering thought to realize that my romantic ideas about marriage had been dashed and that violence in families is a universal phenomenon.
That said, during our counselling experiences at the TFC –TESHO Family Center and from research, violence against women is the tip of the iceberg or the symptom of a deeper multifaceted problem. Many people may know and talk only about physical violence but our research shows that there are three main forms of violence and that the other two can be as devastating as physical violence. They are:
- Physical violence (ranging from pinching through the battery to murder)
- Verbal violence (insults, mockery, derogatory comments about the person).
- Psychological violence (refusing to eat her food, ignoring her, religious and financial violence)
The diagnosis or the aetiology of this violence against women in Cameroon can be divided into four groups;
- Factors related to the community.
- Factors related to the man.
- Factors related to the woman.
- Factors related to couple interactions and sexuality.
The community is not proactive in preparing young couples for the realities of marriage like living in a relationship that has as little stress as possible. The community lets young people read romance tales as a prelude to marriage. In addition, the community gets carried away with this fairytale idea as they dress the bride on her wedding day like a princess in a long flowing white robe complete with a crown on her head. In all of these wedding preparations, the young couple does not have skills on;
- How to build healthy relationships.
- How to take care of the children as a team especially in the early months or years post-delivery.
- How to acquire the skills of NVC – Non-Violent Communication that explores the aspects of verbal, non-verbal communication and especially the skills for active/attentive listening.
- How to interact with in-laws (mother-in-law jokes are not a laughing matter).
- How to build a relationship with step-children.
- How to acquire the skills for non-violent financial budgeting, saving and expenditure.
The community should write out manuals and teach relationship-building skills that are context-appropriate for each community. Without this preparation, young people will marry under the influence of passion and when the passion wanes (as it naturally does in every relationship on earth), they start wondering what hit them. That is when many of them want out as fast as possible. They do not realize that, without adequate skills, they will meet the same challenges and make the same mistakes in their next relationships.
FACTORS LINKED TO THE MAN
In many cases, when there is violence against women, the fault is dumped on the man and the man, in turn, dumps the fault on the woman as the cause of his violence. A man needs to realize that he contributes to causing the violence and he will need to contribute towards its solution too. He has to understand the following facts and acquire skills to solve this problem;
- Accept the fact that his fits of violence constitute a destructive force that he needs to work on.
- Going for help and implementing the skills acquired will help.
- He may have lofty academic degrees but relationship skills are very different from academic skills and so he has to be humble enough to put aside his academic degrees and learn the simple common sense skills that he needs in order to meet his wife’s emotional and physical needs.
- He has to be humble enough to learn the skills of anger management and implement them.
Being a man in certain contexts is never easy and if a man is not very aware, he can vent his frustrations on the weaker woman his wife.
FACTORS LINKED TO THE WOMAN
Women who are emotional by nature are deeply affected by verbal and physical violence. In the end, they become powerless, passive, helpless and voiceless victims of violence. A woman needs help in the following areas:
- Learning to accept the fact that violence against her and her children is a “no-go” zone. She has to learn to communicate this clearly to her husband.
- Deciding that she will not cover up for her man no matter how important he is in society.
- Learning about the different kinds of violence so she too does not become the perpetrator of verbal violence on her husband and children.
- Getting the resources and the skills to keep herself and her children safe from a violent husband.
- Having a well-thought-out plan A, B, C to keep safe in case of an escalation of the violence against her or her children.
- Getting the resources or a network that recognizes danger signs of violence so they can help her keep safe or diffuse the violence.
Thinking that the woman is a helpless victim of violence and that she has no part to play in its cause nor its solution is futile reasoning. She has a big part to play in resolving this problem of violence against her and her children.
FACTORS RELATED TO COUPLE INTERACTIONS AND SEXUALITY.
The relationship between husband and wife is a very complex one. Often, they both fall in love with the outside packaging of each other and they get married hoping that the other person will change to suit their ideal of the perfect spouse.
The following are the mistakes the man makes that may lead to violence in the relationship:
- The man does not take time to study the emotional woman found inside Mrs Pretty.
- Being a physical pragmatic person by nature, a man spends all his energy working to meet the woman’s physical needs of shelter and food while neglecting all the other emotional needs.
- He does not take time to learn the soft skills that he needs to be a great partner.
- Anatomically and biologically speaking, the woman is as different from the man as the day is from the night – a man needs to study these differences and work to be a non-violent partner.
- His wife’s body may belong to him by tradition or Biblical standards but he has to meet his wife’s emotional needs before she can offer herself to him.
- Engaging in unsafe sex or sexual practices in which she does not want to participate is also violence against a woman.
- He does not know that violence towards a woman is the fastest way to turn her into a bag of ice in bed.
These are some of the mistakes that a woman makes too.
- Not realizing that her tongue is a “lethal weapon” that can make a man’s blood to boil over.
- A man is more physical than emotional and will vent out his frustrations like a child when pushed far enough.
- Sex is important for most men and refusing them sex in a violent non-verbal or verbal way will bring out the worst in most of them.
- Not realizing that a man has needs that she too has to meet in order for the relationship not to nosedive into violence.
- She is not aware that her violent husband may be suffering from a health problem like bipolar mental illness and that he needs medical care for that condition.
- Mental illness apart, most women do not perceive the fact that it takes two to break up a relationship from a trusting to a violent one in the same way that it takes two to build it back together.
The TESHO – Team Spirit Holistic Foundation has realized that talking about violence against women without teaching family members the necessary skills to manage it will not help the family.
Condemning the man, blaming him and throwing him in jail is like putting a feverish baby in the freezer to bring down its temperature. The feverish baby may come out of the freezer with a reduced temperature but that has not healed the baby; the temperature will come up sooner or later and the next episode may be lethal.
A long-lasting treatment of violence against women will entail the right diagnosis of the cause and giving context-appropriate treatment that is tailor-made for each family. It entails listening to both husband and wife and not just condemning one person.
That is what the TESHO program is teaching families. All the stakeholders in the fight to stop violence against women need to get their act together – the community, the husband and the wife. They all need to realize that the problem is multifaceted and that the solution will be multifaceted as well. There is no hard and fast rule to resolve violence against women. There is no one solution that fits all families. Getting the husband and wife team to communicate on how best to solve their problem will yield better results than imposing a solution on them.
Dr FON FONONG Elizabeth
+237 677 60 39 39