Of late, my Twitter feed has been abuzz with conversations involving gender-based violence (GBV); prominently violence against women (VAW), with a focus on intimate partner violence (IPV) in particular. A month ago some colleagues and I hosted a workshop which sought to introduce the participants to the concept of GBV, how one identifies it and surrounding local legislation. Two weeks ago, UWI MUN hosted a Twitter chat about GBV with the hashtag #KickOutGBV and later today (Oct.15 @ 2:30PM EST) they will be hosting a forum for said topic.
During the Twitter exchange it became apparent that amongst some of it’s participants, misconceptions regarding the phenomenon were still being harboured. Attempts were made to clear the disillusionment of the masses by other participants who were more familiar with the concept which, coupled with other things, provided for honest, respectful and informative discourse throughout the event.
A few weeks ago in my post “Of Masculinity and Men” I expressed the view that men were the number one perpetrators of gender-based violence towards themselves, but they are also, more oft than not, the perpetrators of violence towards women; especially in the context of domestic abuse.
Worldwide, 1 in 3 women have experienced physical and/or sexual abuse within their lifetime and the statistics for the Jamaican context are quite similiar. According to a 2008 survey conducted by the National Family Planning Board, 1 in every 4 women has experienced said abuse at the hands of their intimate partner. It is important to note, that this 25% of women accounts for only those who have reported these incidents, as 37% of those who had experienced IPV within the last 12 months (at the time of the study) did not report any of the occurrences.
The reasons for this unwillingness to come forward and file formal complaints I believe, lies largely in personally held beliefs and a propensity to adhere to “traditional” gender norms, as was indicated by the data. The survey found that 16.4% of women believe that it is important for men to show the woman who’s “boss”, almost 70% believe that a woman should be obedient to her husband even if she disagrees, with just shy of 30% (29.5%) stating that they believe it is a woman’s obligation to acquiesce to her husband’s desire to have sex even if it is against her will.
Physical and sexual violence, however, only accounts for two of the forms that violence against women may take. As Cohort II of the UN Trust Fund and JASL Advocacy Training Programme say, #ItNuhJusPhysical; a fact which was reiterated throughout the Twitter conversation.
One participant from the GBV sensitization session conducted by colleagues and I, had alluded to the controlling nature prevalent amongst Jamaican men, so it was interesting to read that the study found almost half of Jamaican women have experienced at least one controlling behaviour from their partners. 1 in 4 young men (aged 15-24) reported that they insisted on knowing where their partner was at all times, with almost half of them admitting to at least one form of controlling behaviour; which included restricting contact with family and friends and treating their partners with indifference.
It was curious to note that some of the controlling behaviours cited, such as suspecting their partner of cheating, were fundamentally insecurities held by these young men. After all, if another man “tek whe yuh gal” it is a direct and indisputable indicator that you were not “man enough” to keep her. Do you not just love hegemonic masculinity?
Another commonly held myth is that intimate partner violence is a display of love and affection by the perpetrator towards the abused partner. This also contributes to the underreporting; as the prevailing view of women, garnered from a baseline study conducted in two inner-city neighbourhoods of Kingston, is that their men do not love them if they do not beat them up. 1 in 5 young men have also bought into this fallacy, as they believe that they are justified in hitting their wives under at least one circumstance.
Just a few days ago, a fellow blogger of mine tackled the issue of women returning to, and/or praising the “love” of their abusers. It was a concept that perplexed him, as it has us all, and I was reminded of the hashtag #WhyIStayed. Perusing the tweets, I found that women possessed various reasons for staying in an abusive relationship. These ranged from religious beliefs (you know God hates divorce), fear of further violence (inclusive of threats to their lives) and economic instability (the abuser was the breadwinner and they had no access to resources).
One woman’s account of her experience made an impression on me as it captured perfectly the cycle of abuse and how it can escalate over time. Compounded with the extreme isolation to which she was subjected and the hope that the man you fell in love with is “still in there” somewhere, she found it extremely difficult to cut ties with him. In fact, she stated that her abuse somehow deepened her connection with her partner as they now had a “secret” and they couldn’t part ways until they had worked on their problems.
Intimate partner violence is deemed to be cyclic. This cycle, comprised of three phases, commences with what is known as “tension building”. It is during this phase that psychological abuse tends to occur as perpetrators verbally abuse their partners and begin to exhibit controlling behaviours. Partner’s tend to arrive at justifications or excuses for the abusers’ actions resulting in them remaining silent on the issue.
The second phase is where the actual incidents of more pronounced violence occurs. They may be physical, or may be an escalation of actions which transpired in the tension-building phase. Having made excuses for the actions of their partner before, persons being abused are left to passively accept further misconduct and may often downplay the severity of the situation.
The third phase in the cycle is often referred to as the “honeymoon” period, as it during this period that the abuser becomes acutely apologetic, frequently promising that they will change and abusive incidents won’t happen again. This stark, sudden change in behaviour usually leaves partners confused and incites the hope that their abuser will indeed change. However, this is just another facet of the manipulation that has been occurring throughout the cycle as the perpetrator rarely ever changes.
Gender-based violence extends beyond intimate partner violence and while men may also be victims, women are disproportionately affected. There exists an array of psychosocial elements which contribute to the phenomenon and while only a few of the issues were highlighted in this blog post, there yet remains much to discuss. Join the conversation with UWI MUN, RespectJamaica and myself today, Oct. 15, 2015 on Twitter at 2:30PM EST as we explore these issues further and #KickOutGBV
Sistren Theatre Collective and Partners, ‘Tek it to dem an rise up with Community: Baseline Report’ p.29