Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

Violence in the Family: A Preliminary Investigation and Overview of Wife Battering in Africa

Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

Violence in the Family: A Preliminary Investigation and Overview of Wife Battering in Africa

Article excerpt


This paper examines wife battering in Africa although it is a world wide phenomenon. Due to the hidden nature of the problem accurate statistics on it are hard to come by. In many parts of Africa, wife battering is accepted as a part of the culture. This is reinforced by the sex role socialization of women, which encourages and emphasizes submissiveness. The victims of wife battering don't always leave the abusive environment because of lack of family and community support. Divorce is not always a viable alternative due to the stigma attached to it. Wife battering must be discouraged through legislation, general education and economic empowerment of women.

Keywords: wife battering, family violence, Africa


Family violence is as old as the history of mankind and it often occurs in the privacy of the home. Because a man's home is often referred to and regarded as his "castle", whatever a man does within the privacy of the home has often escaped the scrutiny of the public. As family violence occurs in all forms so does it also occur among all social classes. It is thus a worldwide phenomenon and a social problem. The kind of family violence which is addressed in this paper is that which is directed towards a woman, by an intimate partner. It must be noted that despite the high costs of family violence, every society in the world has social institutions that legitimate, obscure or deny the problem (Population Reports vol XXVII Nov 4 1999). It is apposite to define family violence, especially, as it is directed towards women. As observed by Population Reports above, Article 2 of the United Nations Declaration clarifies that the definition of violence against women should include but not be limited to acts of physical, sexual and psychological abuse in the community. These should also include spouse battering, sexual abuse of female children, dowry-related violence, rape, including martial rape and also other traditional practices which are equally harmful to women, such as female genital mutilation, sexual harassment and intimidation at work and school, women trafficking, rape at war, widowhood rites which are often degrading, and other forms of violence.

Violence against women, especially those acts perpetrated by intimate partners remains the most pervasive and yet the least recognized human abuse in the world (Population Reports vol XXVII No 4 1999). Around the world, at least, one woman in three has been beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused in her life time so says Population Reports. Knapp (2001) disclosed that when some women informants were asked whether they had ever been hit, slapped. Kicked or otherwise physically hurt by intimate partners, 38.5% admitted that they had been and nearly one third of the women admitted to have experienced at least, one physically violent episode by a current partner in the three months preceding the research. The study by Knapp also revealed that partner violence disclosure remained a difficult decision for many women for fear of partners' reaction in form of more physical abuse or abandonment. Another study by Ellsberg et al. (2001) based on a survey of 36 countries of the world indicated that between 10-60% of women who have ever been married have experienced al least one incident of physical violence from a current or former intimate partner.

The main focus of this paper is husband-to-wife violence, also known as wife battery or wife abuse, which occurs throughout Africa. For the purposes of this paper, wife battery is defined as violence which is perpetrated by a man upon a woman who is exercising the role of a wife in a domestic sphere (Working toward Gender Equality, London, Commonwealth Secretariat, 1993-95). This definition is further stretched to include any gender-based violence harm or suffering to women. Abuse may also include unusual threatening or coercion and it may include arbitrary deprivation of liberty. …

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