Domestic Violence also known as Domestic Abuse, Spouse Abuse, Family Violence and Intimate Partner Violence (IPV), can be broadly defined as a pattern of abusive behaviours by one or both partners in an Intimate Relationship such as marriage, dating, family, friends or cohabitation. Domestic Violence has many forms including physical aggression (hitting, kicking, biting, shoving, restraining, slapping, throwing objectives), or threats thereof, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, controlling or domineering, intimidation, stalking, passive/covert abuse (e.g., neglect), and economic deprivation. Alcohol consumption and mental illness can be co-morbid with abuse and present additional challenges when present alongside patterns of abuse.
The above forms of domestic violence have both short and long term effects on the victim and can trigger many different responses in victims, all of which are very relevant for any treatment or therapy.
In Uganda, there is no legislation targeting domestic violence, with a draft bill against domestic violence presently before parliament, women’s rights activists are determined to see this corrected. 68% of women in Uganda have experienced some form of domestic violence according to the country’s 2006 National Demographic and Health Survey. In Uganda, these women – and those worst affected are disproportionately poor, poorly educated, disadvantaged and therefore unable to rely on the state to protect them from intimate and abusive partners.
There is neither a law nor a legal definition of domestic violence. Perpetrators of domestic violence are usually charged with other offences like murder, assault, rape, defilement and child neglect among others, sometimes police or court officials send the women back home saying “that’s a family affair, there’s no case.”
There is predictably no data recording of cases of domestic violence. However studying police crime statistics from 2008, one finds 137 cases of murder as a result of domestic violence. More than 1,500 were charged with rape and 2,226 cases of child neglect were opened. “Other cases are charged under assault, so there is no way of knowing whether this assault was between a couple or not,” says Christine Nandin, head of the family and Child Protection Unit, at National Police Headquarters in Kampala.
Betty Aol Ocan, Member of Parliament representing the northern district of Gulu, describes the domestic violence problem as “very big.” Most cases reported to the police in northern Uganda are mainly of domestic violence character. For instance, we find that defilement (sexual abuse of a minor) happens within homesteads or households. Moreover, those are the reported cases. But there are also many unreported cases”. Ocan blames the high incidence of domestic violence in northern Uganda on the two decade long brutal war which forced up two million people into camps.
“Sometimes the men were greatly disempowered economically. And where the culture holds that you are supposed to be a provider or bread winner for the family and you cannot do it, then you become aggressive. So men have turned out to be aggressive on women. We hope this DV Bill will help to strengthen this situation,” says Ocan. Gender based Violence is however not limited to the north.
“If you sat at the Family and Child Protection Unit of any police station for the whole day, you would have a minimum of five cases that come in with different circumstances of domestic violence,” says Nandin.
Culture, economic dependence and impurity are major causes of persisting violence in African society, says Ritah Aciro Lacor, national coordinator the Uganda women’s network, the umbrella organisation for all women NGOs in the country. “There are issues of culture which most people use to justify violence that it is culturally acceptable for women to be beaten once in awhile by her husband. But there are also issues of economic dependence because women are the poor of the poorest and therefore they depend on their spouses economically. So they cannot make their own choices and end up suffering a lot of violence. But women’s growing assertiveness has been paralleled by increasing violence in homes. “A lot more women are getting empowered or are empowered, and unfortunately the men are not coping with the empowerment. And end result of that is violence because they think by beating a woman, then you are trying to bring her down and control her.” And because there is no law, a man can beat a woman and get away with it, Lacor says.
A domestic violence bill that prohibits violence between persons in a domestic relationship is being tabled in the Ugandan Parliament. The bill is intended to protect sufferers of Domestic Violence, punish perpetrators and set guidelines for courts on the protection and compensation of abused women. The bill defines a domestic relationship as “a family relationship, a relationship akin to a family relationship or one in a domestic setting that exists or existed between a victim and a perpetrator.” These relationships include those between spouses, relatives and domestic workers.
“The greatest hindrances are within our parliament. These are the people who pass laws and I don’t want people to think that Parliamentarians are immune, detached or isolated from society. They portray what our society is. So being in Parliament does not make them ant different. What society thinks of a woman, a number of MPs think the same,” says Lacor. Nandin concurs: “the other challenge is the society’s attitude. They would rather use the clan meeting or that Patriarchal system of solving family conflicts. If one goes to the police then you become a problem to the whole clan”.
But in spite of this, women activists are not sitting back. They would like to see anew law passed, and fast. “Women’s organisations have been spending sleepless nights lobbying the different stakeholders and different power centres, with Parliament, the Judiciary and the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs to get gender responsive laws passed. Having this Bill passed into law is going to be one step forward,” Lacor says. We should not leave it to the Women activists alone, let it be the responsibility of everybody to struggle to end this problem in our society, in order to have peace and harmonious living with one another.
The writer is a correspondence reporter with Acholi Times.
By A Web design Company