The Greatest Evil Is When Gender Violence Is Accepted as Being Normal

Cape Times (South Africa), November 26, 2010 | Go to article overview

The Greatest Evil Is When Gender Violence Is Accepted as Being Normal


BYLINE: Mercilene Machisa

He looked me in the eye without a single flinch and said it, "I have done one of these things in the past. I have done things to scare or intimidate my wife on purpose by threatening to hurt her, yelling and smashing things. I have hit, kicked, dragged, beaten and choked her. I have physically forced her to have sex when she did not want to."

The un-darting eyes, unashamed face and confidence with which these words were uttered said to me that the respondent was wondering why I was even bothering to ask questions that had such an obvious answer. These things were no secret but a common event.

Sadly, this is like many findings from recent Gender Links' gender-based violence (GBV) indicators research, conducted in Gauteng between April and July, which found that 78.3 percent of the 490 men interviewed admitted to having perpetrated violence against women at some point in their lifetime.

This violence could be psychological, sexual, physical or economic. More than one quarter (29 percent) said they had perpetrated violence in the past 12 months. This shows there is a widespread and pervasive pattern of male abusiveness toward women in this society.

Perpetration of violence by men was measured concurrently with experience by women.

One striking observation of the study is that men confirmed what women were more reticent to admit. The same study found that 51.1 percent of women admitted to having had violence perpetrated against them.

Is it that survivors of violence are afraid of stigma and hence less likely to open up about their experiences? Maybe they are still being abused and don't want to incriminate their abusive partners?

Or is the open and massive disclosure by perpetrators a sign that the practice is "normal" and they are unashamed about it?

People are usually more likely to lie about behaviour if they are ashamed of it and think others will disapprove. Some may not want to expose their personal evils for fear of punishment.

An exception, however, is when the evil has been legitimised and there are norms justifying it: the "everybody does it" rule.

Yet surely the fact that "everybody" does a wrong does not make it right?

Results show that violence against women has been, and continues to be, legitimised within, and woven throughout, our societal fibres. Communities are still perceived as condoning gender-insensitive attitudes, such as the idea that married women are "owned" by husbands who have a right to punish them when they do wrong. …

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