When violence runs (in) the family
Tsamme wa ka Mfundisi
What does “balepa” (family) mean? To me, it means love, kindness, structure, support, closeness… yet for many it means hurt, fights, rape, violence and killing.
In recent years violence in family settings has escalated. We have seen an increase in violence committed mostly by men who are either our brothers, uncles, nephews or even our partners (boyfriend or husband).
Intimate partner violence is a serious problem that affects thousands of women and families in South Africa. According to recent research by the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation, intimate partner violence prevalence rates – across population-based studies in South Africa – are between one-in-five and one-in-three women. About 40% to 50% of men admitted to abusing their partners. Additionally, nearly one in five women reported having experienced sexual violence from their intimate partners.
In March 2005, I lost a niece in such circumstances. She was shot and killed after she deciding to “fix things” with the father of her two children – the person she loved and trusted. She did not get the chance to see her two boys grow up. They are now 15 and 16 years old.
Throughout my life, I have had two loving brothers. I have never seen them beating a woman. My mother instilled good morals that included a belief that a woman is your partner and not your punching bag.
I come from a single parent family. Our mother, herself a survivor of domestic violence, raised us to be independent and loving. Although she initially did not want to consider divorce, she eventually did so when my father decided to find an “umakhwapheni” (a mistress) and she found the strength to move on.
My parents got divorced when I was merely five and I struggled for years to form a relationship with my father before he died. As a teenager, I blamed myself and struggled to trust men.
Despite this, I was also desperate to be loved and when I finished school I arrived in Johannesburg in search of greener pastures. I met a man who showered me with love and attention. I had finally found love… until we moved in together.
He started hitting me, cheating and even not sleeping at our flat. Talking to him did not help and his mother refused to intervene. After 10 years, I decided to move out so that my five-year-old son would no longer have to witness the fights and emotional abuse.
I had come full circle.
My experience is not unique. Family and gender-based violence is a global issue that affects not just the individuals involved but also their extended families.
Violence is a learnt behaviour that starts from a young age – some say when we ascribe preferred genders to our unborn children.
We come into this world not knowing what to expect but, with love and support from our family and friends, we share in the spoils of happiness. For this we should be grateful. Since we are social beings, we need family and friends we can trust; people with and through whom we can be motivated and inspired to become better people.
Violence is not only physical and, in most cases of abuse in a family, emotional violence plays a big – often invisible – role. A woman can be subjected to being demeaned by her partner and the man will be supported by the entire family, including hers. Intimate partner violence is one of the most common types of gender-based violence, with harassment, threats, neglect, assaults and rape occurring within homes and other places where people should be safe. Sometimes the children will also be victims, by either witnessing violence or being beaten by their fathers.
In most cases, women stay in their failed marriages or relationships for fear of being rejected by their own families; us women tend to put our family’s needs and pride before our own, hence we stay. At times we need our family members to just trust and believe us when we say we are not happy in our relationships; it’s not because we have found someone else. We are still faced with the issue of the “what will people say” syndrome and so a lot of women lose their lives because of family pressures.
If our families can’t realise that the world is evolving each and every day, most of us women are in danger of being killed. I don’t want my daughter or son to feel scared to come and talk to me if they are being abused by their partner. It is time that families really value each life they bring into this world.
Intimate partner violence continues because we turn a blind eye to what happens in the home. But if we are to tackle gender-based violence, then we must do so in every nook and cranny. No woman should be left behind because is it “not our business”.
Mfundisi is community facilitator at the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation, working together with the gender specialist on issues of sexual and gender-based violence