Sunday, August 19, 2012

You shouldn’t blame domestic violence for the breakdown of the family

(Originally published in Guyana’s Stabroek News on 28 July 2012)

I have seen it stated over and over that the breakdown of the family structure is the cause of domestic violence. I have never seen it this way. In fact, I have always seen it as the exact opposite – that domestic violence is the cause of the breakdown of the traditional family structure.
The continued scourge of domestic violence has also been blamed on the loss of morals and values. Still, I cannot see this as a cause for abuse because domestic violence has existed for thousands of years. There has been no loss of morals regarding this issue, as it has been a moral issue for millennia. Even in Guyana’s brief history there is evidence of domestic violence.
Although this quote from the online Guyana Journal is focused on female Indian indentured servants, the domestic abuse issue applies to all Guyanese. The essay entitled, “Indian Women of Guyana; reflections of their existence, survival and representation,” by Janet A. Naidu, said the following:
“While Indian men suffered because of the scarcity of women and were even killed as a result of British overseers’ sexual exploitation of women, Indian women suffered even more, not only by British overseers on the estates but also by their husbands at home.
The scarcity also led to the perpetuation of child marriage, with many young women forced to have older husbands and this, in some cases, leading to domestic violence and murder of women. In 1896, 11-year old Etwarea’s marriage was arranged by her parents to the wealthy Seecharan, age 50, who paid her parents ‘a cow and calf and $50 and made a Will leaving his property to his wife.’ He later suspected her at around age 16 of being unfaithful and ‘sharpened his cutlass and completely severed [her] right arm’ after which she died.”
Sounds like how some of Guyana’s women still die even today. My point is that domestic violence has been around for a very long time. It existed long before the recent so-called “breakdown of the family.” As such, we cannot say domestic violence is caused by the breakdown of the family.

However, it seems to me that long-standing issues such as domestic abuse, adultery and misogyny are the cause of the breakdown of the family and once women had legal and land rights of their own, they no longer needed to stay with a man who beat her, cheated on her, degraded her and tried to control her every move.
Now, if society is desirous of maintaining the structure of the traditional family, there are two ways to do so. One is to take away all rights from women so they have no choice but to once again be dependent on their abusive, cheating husbands. Or two, the men must simply stop beating, degrading, controlling and cheating on their wives.
One reason I have such an issue with saying the breakdown of the family structure is the reason for domestic violence is because it seems to imply that if a woman stays in an abusive situation long enough to ensure the so-called sanctity of the family, the abuse problem will eventually fix itself. We all know this is false. In fact, the longer a woman stays in such a relationship, the greater the chance that she will be permanently maimed or killed by her spouse/partner.
In fact, by saying the breakdown of the family is the cause of domestic violence, it seems to put the onus (and therefore the blame) back on the woman to ensure the stability of the family and thereby requiring her to make the necessary sacrifices (like her life) to keep the family together.
Earlier this month, a “National Conversation on Domestic Violence” was held at the Zeelugt Primary School. According to a Stabroek News article about the meeting, “Prior to the discussions, Minister within the Ministry of Finance Juan Edghill had urged participants to suggest possible solutions to the problem; contributing factors to the escalation of violence, specifically domestic violence and what individuals, communities and the state and its partners can do differently to prevent domestic abuse. He charged the groups to re-examine the role of the family; how the family as an institution can be strengthened and how families could do more to socialise its members to be respectful, tolerant and better equipped to resolve conflicts and manage anger.”
I have no problem with the Minister within the Ministry of Finance’s approach as stated in this article as long as it does not assume the underlying notion that it is breakdown of the family that is the cause of the problem. It is the domestic violence that is the cause of the breakdown of the family.
Domestic violence is about a need for control. Men have been socialised to believe they can and should control women. Women are realising that not only do they not want to be beaten and controlled, but also that they have a right to live a life without being beaten and controlled. The male response to the rejection of their controlling ways is violence. This is the reason for such a sharp rise in domestic violence.
To stop domestic violence, teach men and women how to communicate openly and honestly, and jail men who retaliate with violence.
Eventually, men will realise they cannot beat women into submission to their control without facing the consequences and domestic violence will slow down.
It is ironic to me that in the meeting mentioned above, those in attendance found that one of the contributing factors to violence is that “men felt disrespected in their relationships.” Seriously?
Women are degraded, they are abused mentally, physically, monetarily and verbally, they are raped, tortured and murdered… and the men are the ones who feel disrespected when a woman refuses to take it anymore? Give me a break!

If this is the definition of a traditional family, I am glad it is breaking down. Of course men are going to throw a tantrum when they no longer have all the power. Let them go ahead and take all the time they need to adjust to the new reality that women have power now, too. But it must be done without violence. That is the law.

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