Disability and gender-based violence

Dr Christine Peta Disability Issues —
The 16 Days of Activism against GBV is an international campaign which runs from November 25 to December 10 of every year to challenge violence against women and girls.

In recognition of such an initiative, this article examines the link between gender based violence and disability. Gender based violence causes disability and in turn, disabled women are also subjected to gender based violence.

That is not to say that women do no perpetrate violence against men but it is to say that men tend to inflict more physical and mental harm on women compared to the other way round (Cantos et al, 1994).

According to the United Nations, approximately 70 percent of women experience violence in one form or the other during their lives. The World Health Organisation states that GBV is an international problem which may even be more dangerous than road accidents or cancer.

An article published by the World Bank revealed that beyond claiming 1,6 million lives on a yearly basis, those who survive violence often suffer more malignant penalties in the form of disabilities and long-term physical, psychological, economic and social consequences (Rosenberg et al, 2006).GBV includes both active violence and passive violence. Active violence involves what is aggressively done to the person — being beaten up or being raped.

Passive violence includes behaviours that deny attention, thoughtfulness and respect for the woman such as ignoring her, making her feel ashamed or not valuing her opinion (Iglesias, 1998, Naidu et al, 2005).

In the context of disability, passive violence may manifest in cases where an intimate partner denies a disabled woman basic care which relates to her health and safety.

This can include failure to provide food for her, not dressing her wounds, not getting her out of bed, leaving her in soiled clothes or bed sheets or leaving her in the toilet or bathroom for long periods of time.

The most published form of gender based violence is physical violence which reportedly affects millions of women in Africa. Masses of African women endure beatings or other kinds of viciousness from their husbands or close companions and such beatings may result in physical, mental and sensory disabilities.

A study carried out in South Africa revealed that whilst it is not expected that men should harm women, the use of modest violence to assert men’s control of women is traditionally acceptable (Jewkes & Morrell, 2010).

Research undertaken in Zimbabwe revealed that wife beating may be interpreted as the expression of love by a husband as well as a tool for stabilising the marriage, hence the first beating is expected to occur immediately after the wedding (Chirume cited in Taylor & Stewart, 1991).

It is therefore culturally acceptable for a husband to discipline his wife through modest beatings, albeit without using weapons such as knives or axes.

However, a WHO/PATH study carried out by Ellsberg and Heise (2005) reveals that injury is not the only primary health outcome of violence against women, but health consequences may include among others, psychosocial disorders, depression and anxiety.

The irony of the matter is that despite international and local legal instruments prohibiting violence against women, African culture allows husbands to beat up their wives as a form of discipline and a way of resolving family conflict or for other reasons that are stated above.

Some of the reasons for spouse bashing are as ridiculous as in the case of a Harare man who beat up his wife for having male contact numbers in her mobile phone (Mutore 2012).

In Zimbabwe, some men blame evil spirits after hitting women, as in the case of a 44-year-old Harare man who blamed evil spirits for his physical attacks on his 71-year-old mother (Masakadza 2011).

In Uganda, Buganda mothers would flee their homes to rescue themselves from the viciousness of their husbands in a setting where men rule their wives and children with an iron hand and  physical discipline and wife abuse is acceptable as part of cultural duties (Tamale, 2005).

The ba jajja (grandmothers) therefore devised a survival plan which saw aunts being given the responsibility of tutoring young girls in behavioural tactics that would save them from the wrath of their future husbands [Such fury may result in beatings that may cause injury, disease, disability or death among the women].

A 2005 WHO study reported that 50 per cent of women in Tanzania and 71 per cent of women in Ethiopia’s rural areas reported beatings or other forms of violence perpetrated against them by their husbands or other intimate partners (Kimani, 2007).

Furthermore, Amnesty International reported that in South Africa, one woman was killed by her husband or boyfriend every six hours. In Zimbabwe, six out of 10 murder cases tried in the High Court in 1998 were related to domestic violence.

In Kenya, the attorney general’s office reported in 2003 that domestic violence accounted for 47 per cent of all homicides (Kimani, 2007)In 1999, the then-UN Secretary-General Kofi Anan said violence against women is the most persistent and shameful human rights violation. Speaking against gender based violence, Nelson Mandela declared that “there is no moral goodness in using an ineffective weapon”.

Economic and social costs of GBV
A study carried out in South Africa revealed that gender based violence results in tremendous social and economic costs to the women, their families, communities and society as a whole.

Women may spend long periods of time in hospital, receiving treatment for GBV related injuries, thereby relying on the public health care system for ongoing treatment which is related to their disabilities, and associated complications (Naidu et al, 2005).

Disabilities that arise from GBV may result in women being unable to work and consequently being unable to earn an income or to adequately care for themselves and their children (Naidu et al, 2005). For example, a woman who became blind as a result of GBV perpetrated against her by her husband had to give up her University studies and ultimately the important contribution that she could have made to society as a teacher.

The same woman’s daughter also became blind due to GBV perpetrated against her by her abusive father. She had to attend a special school for the blind, which attracts higher financial costs to the family, in a context where special education schools charge more fees than mainstream schools.

Way forward
The Zimbabwe Domestic Violence Act (2007) addresses issues of gender based violence in relation to prosecution of offenders, relief for victims, as well as protection from impending violence.

UNFPA acknowledges Zimbabwe’s compact legislation programme in relation to gender equality (UNFPA Zimbabwe, 2011), albeit stating that more can still be done.

A public health approach which draws contributions from different sectors and disciplines promotes integrated action by different sectors such as health, education, social services, and justice, thereby reducing violence (Rosenberg, 2006).

“Fundamentally, public health is focused on prevention of harm caused by disease or violence, interventions may eliminate or reduce the underlying risk factors and buttress protective factors.”

Whilst it may not be easy to quantify the outcome of gender based violence, the long-term psychological, physical, economic and social costs that result from violence are very harmful.

Dr Christine Peta is a Public Health Care Practitioner who among other qualifications holds a PhD in Disability Studies. Be part of international debate on how best to nurture a society which is more accessible, supportive and inclusive of disabled people. Partner with Disability Centre for Africa (DCFA): WhatsApp; 0773-699-229, Website; www.dcfafrica.com; E-mail; [email protected]

 

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