BEATING - ‘THE ONLY PUNISHMENT FOR OUR WOMEN IN AFRICA’
Nelson Dweh sits on his neighbour’s porch out of the glare of the sun. It is mid afternoon and the 59 year old is taking a break with his friend, David Walabo. They are talking about their past experiences with women. When asked whether he ever beat his wife, without hesitation the old man says, “Yes, I did it many times.”
Dweh and Walabo’s views on domestic violence are not unusual in Liberia. Mr Dweh goes on to explain why he thinks there is nothing wrong with beating a woman. “The women these days have a problem when you do not have a job. The woman does not respect you and if she does not respect you, the only punishment for our women in Africa is beating,” he says.
Last year in Liberia, the number of reported cases of domestic violence were the second highest gender based violence after rape. But the Ministry of Gender and Development along with NGOs believe the actual numbers are much higher. The problem is, they say, women just aren’t reporting it. Men, who are often the head of the home and also the bread winners, have traditionally had the power over women. In our Liberian setting, men often take charge and feel they have authority in the home over their wives and children. People turn a blind eye to what happens to some women who are beaten by their husbands or partners in the community.
Edith Kudah, the Gender coordinator for Ministry of Gender in Grand Gedeh explains what many rural women go through at the hands of their husbands. "Mostly in our rural setting, after the woman finishes the farming work and when they coming to town, the woman would have a bundle of wood on her head with a baby on her back and maybe a pregnancy, while her husband will only have his cutlass in his hand walking behind the woman,” she says. “When they get home, she would go fetch water, make fire and put the water on to get hot for her husband to bathe. Thereafter she starts to beat rice to prepare meal for her husband and children, while he lies in a hammock and relaxes,” says Ms Kudah as she gets more and more angry as the story goes on. She continues,
“It won't stop there. When the water is hot, the woman would leave everything else and empty the water to take to the bathroom. She would also carry the soap dish while the man only walks behind her to the bathroom, and when he finishes, he leaves the bucket and soap dish in the bathroom for the woman to go for, while he only walks out to get dressed and wait for his hot meal.” She concludes by saying, “After doing all these work, and the woman complains of being tired when her husband wants her in bed, he beats her and accuses her of having an affairs outside."
Ms Kudah also says children learn from their parents. The dangers of domestic violence affect the children when they grow up. She says if a boy sees his father beating his mother, the chances are he will follow in his father's footsteps and do the same to his wife when he grows up.
On the other side of Zwedru on a hill top, students happily pour out of the Multilateral High at the end of the day. The whole campus looks colourful as the children, wearing pink tops and maroon bottoms, make their way home. One student, 20 year old Victor Jarbo, explains how he watched his mother get beaten by his father on a regular basis. Although he says he will never do the same to his future wife, he admits his mother deserved the beating. When asked why it happened, he says, “She did not cook on time, so my father beat her." He admitted that his father would beat his mother on her back, rather than on her face where it would be seen. The bruises were hidden under her clothes, away from the community. "I did not feel bad when my father beat my mother because she looked for it,” he goes on to say.
The shocking thing about Victor’s comments is that he is among the next generation of Liberia. To have young men believing it is OK to beat a woman if she doesn’t cook the dinner on time is a worry for women’s groups all over the country.
Domestic violence is a big problem in Liberia according Ashia Kamara from Action aid in Zwedru, Grand Gedeh County. She says tackling it should start from the community and county levels before going to the national level. “It Is like in almost every home in Liberia, you would find out that either a woman or a girl is suffering from violence. One way or another they have suffered violence in the hands of those that should be protecting them.”
But things are slowly starting to change in Liberia, according to Ms Kudah. She says more women are starting to know their rights and are beginning to speak out for themselves. The government of Liberia, in partnership with international partners, is spreading awareness of domestic violence throughout the country. They have been conducting workshops and seminars to try and educate both men and women about gender equity.
But while there are young men like Victor who think women sometimes deserve to be beaten, there are many others with much more modern views. 23 year old Augustine Dweh is in the same class as Victor, but has a completely different view on the subject of domestic violence.
"I never saw my father beat my mother,” he says. “So I don't deem it necessary to beat my girlfriend. I would take it to be wrong if a man beats his wife"
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]."
This is the second of a three part series on domestic violence, written by Mae Azango. Today’s feature looked at domestic violence through the eyes of a man. Tomorrow’s will look at domestic violence through the eyes of a woman.