Monday, 18 April 2011

If the House Don’t Sell you ………A Rebuttal to Ms. Azango’s Wife Beating Piece

Mae Azango, FPA STAFF WRITER Monrovia>

The article in the FrontPage Online Africa newspaper caught  and held my attention.  I could not believe what I was seeing.  The headline blared out “BEATING - ‘THE ONLY PUNISHMENT FOR OUR WOMEN IN AFRICA’ .  Was this a question?  If so, where was the question mark? This is not only the worst piece of journalism but creates great harm to our country. As a woman, I take exception to this writing. First of all, there is no balanced reporting. Does this mean ALL Liberian men beat their wives? Where are the examples of decent Liberian men who honor, respect, and love their wives? In the piece the author, Ms. Azango, writes “But back on the porch with Neslon Dweh and David Walabo, the two old men continue to talk. Mr Walabo, in his early seventies, laughs as he too admits to beating his wife. "According to our tradition, our older people believe that if you beat a woman, she will change,” he says. “I beat my wife because she made me vexed. She did not wake my children up early to get them ready for school on time.” The two men giggle together, like children, as Mr Dweh goes on to say, “Let me tell you something funny. When a husband really tortures his wife, she kills a chicken for him the next day as though he had done [something good for her]."

What bull! So does this mean that you think women love to be beaten? Is physical violence now an  acknowledged form of endearment?  These men interviewed in this piece are in their seventies, products of a bygone era. Imagine the headline that Ma. Azango uses “BEATING - ‘THE ONLY PUNISHMENT FOR OUR WOMEN IN AFRICA’   Is this a statement or a question?  If it is a question, should it not be phrased as such?

These same headlines today will be the ones that will bolster and support outsiders research as they come into our country. Liberians themselves give the ammunition that is used to shoot us. As we say “if the house do not sell us, the street will never buy us.” A young student comes to do research in the country and then takes this piece back as indisputable proof that Liberian men are all wife beaters.   As I read the article, I began to think back to growing up in Liberia. My uncles, cousins, and other male relatives  most assuredly must not be Liberians since I saw none of them beat their wives.

While I do agree that domestic violence is a grave and serious subject and deserves our attention, perhaps the writer would have served us better to write about young men and women who are breaking the mold, creating loving and safe environment for each other and their offsprings, instead of writing that women love to be beaten and men enjoy being the ones to administer the beatings.

Domestic violence happens in every country and we need to educate our people about the horrors and consequences of domestic violence. But to have a journalist craft such faulty writing, and to have an editor use such a sensational headline to sell papers boggles the mind.
In the US “Domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women between the ages of 15 and 44 in the United States, more than car accidents, muggings, and rapes combined. ("Violence Against Women, A Majority Staff Report," Committee on the Judiciary, United States Senate, 102nd Congress, October 1992, p.3.) There are 1,500 shelters for battered women in the United States. There are 3,800 animal shelters. (Schneider, 1990). Three to four million women in the United States are beaten in their homes each year by their husbands, ex-husbands, or male lovers. ("Women and Violence," Hearings before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, August 29 and December 11, 1990, Senate Hearing 101-939, pt. 1, p. 12.) One woman is beaten by her husband or partner every 15 seconds in the United States. (Uniform Crime Reports, Federal Bureau of Investigation, 1991).
For all this, the US newspapers do not sell papers by claiming that women in the US love to be beaten or that American men beat their wives. Many journalists are educated enough and competent enough to see that while a small percentage of men may beat their wives, there are other men who do not and the small percentage does not represent the whole.

Additionally, domestic violence is not confined to women alone.  There are men also who suffer great harm, emotionally and physically, at the hands of their spouses.  It does not just happen to women. Although the number is small compared to women, a more balanced approach would be worthy of anyone who claims to be a journalist. I am tired of having to defend my Liberian men and women from bias and yellow sensationalism that tries to call itself journalistic reporting. The images that we show the world come back to haunt us in many ways.  As Liberia moves to take its place in the world, we do not need stereotypes being perpetuated in the guise of journalism.  As we Liberians say “If the house don’t sell you, the street will never buy you.”

Jackie N. Sayegh
Program Manager
Institute for African Development
Einaudi Center for International Studies
Cornell University
Ithaca, NY  14853