Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Start at the root

IF ever there was an issue that needed to be confronted using a multi-pronged approach, it is that of domestic violence. The complexity of the matter simply does not allow for anything less. This is underscored by the unfortunate fact that a number of Caribbean countries have seen several widely publicised cases this year in which women have been brutally killed by their former or current partners. These killings have again raised many questions about what can be done to stop these incidents from happening.

What makes this type of attack unique is the fact that it usually accompanies a history of abuse wherein the persons are intimately involved and would have the complications of shared financial interests, property and children, making it difficult for them to simply cut the abuser out of their life. Furthermore, in a small society such as ours, the flippant advice from some to the abuse victims to ‘get out’ does not go very far when one cannot run very far.

As a result, we cannot simply look at the protection element of the equation. Police resources are limited, as are those of civil society groups who offer shelter. It is not feasible to have 24-hour protection, which therefore limits the prospects of abuse victims to earn a living and move around freely in society. Besides, the issue of protection comes in when the situation has escalated to untenable proportions. There must be continued efforts to head this off by working on addressing the root causes of the problem.

There is so much gender politics surrounding the issue that it hinders the ability to adequately address the matter. For some, domestic violence is synonymous with violence against women, and while women continue to make up the majority of victims, it is known that men too, suffer at the hands of their female partners. Nonetheless, one seldom hears of the abuse of males escalating to the point of murder and this is therefore perhaps why many feel justified in the ‘feminisation’ of the issue. We acknowledge, however, that men too find themselves in abusive relationships and that society’s view of manhood makes it difficult for them to get help, whereas women now have more avenues for support.

This seems to have created some tension, wherein men feel that women are being given special treatment in a day and age where gender equality is considered to be the ideal. This frustration about being at a constant disadvantage, especially before the law courts, may be contributing to the violence against women, as some men may feel they have to take matters into their own hands, since they will get no justice through the right channels.

Therefore, a collaborative effort must emerge between all social organisations. In order to change the society’s mindset about what is an appropriate response to such problems, we must ingrain certain values at every opportunity. Leaving this work up to the domestic violence or gender groups is waiting until it’s too late. Schools, camps, churches and the numerous service clubs that abound on this island all have a role to play, and it needs to start from as young an age as possible in order to counteract possible negative behaviours witnessed in the home.

Perhaps it is no longer even helpful to refer to such incidents as ‘domestic violence’, as the term implies on some level that it is a private matter. Tremendous work has been done in changing mindsets, but persons still tend to see these incidents as private matters between a man and a woman. They are not. They are as great a threat to the sense of security and safety in the wider society as burglary, assault, rape or murder.

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