15.03.2003 Feature Article

Violence Against Women (VAW) In Ghana and FIDA

Violence Against Women VAW In Ghana and FIDA
15.03.2003 LISTEN

Nana Oye Lithur, the secretary to the executive commttee of International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA) has recommended the promulgation of a law to cater and decide on 'domestic violence'. Her recommendation further asserted that '…to curb domestic violence was to enact a domestic violence law and not by education and counselling'. She intimated the alarming rate of domestic violence cases '…one in every three women in Ghana having experienced one form of domestic violence'. Lastly the report added 'when passed into law Ghana would also have fulfilled its international commitments towards ending violence against women as stipulated in the convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women (ghanaweb, 12/03/03).

I am happy on the position of FIDA to take up the issue of addressing domestic violence and discussing a bill to the effect of become a law in Ghana. Such a development is appealing indeed.

In agreeing with Nana Lithur with her work and that of FIDA to seek to the welfare of the growing violence against women (VAW) particularly gender violence, education and gender, I disagree with her on the position of education and counselling. Gender counselling and education are effective tools in campaign against 'masculinity' and the over-stretched 'patriarchy' of the world's social system. Of course, in a typical cultural society like those in Africa and Ghana in secular sense, counselling will be a tedious step to break into the mainstream and the canker of feminine violence. Nonetheless, as a strategy, it could always be effective if the right target is aimed at. For example, Church and traditional institutions are two of the most important doorsteps where counselling on violence should be encouraged. This is to the fact that most marriages being domestic in nature are now shifting to the churches or a combination of both. One cannot downplay the potency of such institutions assisting in this way. It will also be the tool for FIDA to set up counselling programs countrywide to aim at the secular public of our communities. What FIDA will be frustrated on is its sole attempt to handle the cases of VAW from their offices and courts.

Education will certainly remain the most crucial and effective strategy and tool in handling VAW. No matter the law, cases could be reduced with mass education creating the most appreciable awareness in our society. Without effective education VAW will go on, victims will suffer in various forms - physical and emotional torture, maimed or some victims willing to endure VAW for the sake of families and its economic effects -; perpetrators will be punished to the highest degree but that does not solve the problem. VAW will still go on.

Tackling VAW demands a multifaceted approach. One single strategy like law will not yield the most appreciable result. The approach should include a first step of re-examination of the forms of VAW in the Ghanaian society. Physical violence, which result in scratches, bruises and marks are often noticeable. However, the writer being a male is of the conviction that emotional violence is extremely higher than the physical violence. Simple words to tease women (e.g. hey, this dress is like…), reducing their capabilities (e.g. what can you do?), effective instruction (e.g. Get ready! where are you?), not using the word please (especially after marriage) for women, etc are really much of a bother. Emotional VAW do not need laws to punish victims, neither do they go out of mind in months. They are psychological to permanent bruises that need counselling, education and encouragement to reduce its effect on victims. Not all women will report simple bruises on their body as physical violence. This is where counselling and education are still important to both sexes - men and women. On the other hand, if a woman dies out of VAW, that is not VAW. That is murder I think. And murder is a criminal offence.

VAW is on the ascendancy in the Ghanaian community so says the report. This means, some things are changing. If things are changing, outlook on the global sphere and the way we handle our things would have to undergo through some of these changes. A comprehensive change to our social fabric is not the question but human institutions are dynamic and so will codes and mores. VAW in Ghana can have its roots well planted in the growing perception and system of our loving relationships. I will use the example below to stress on the point of marriage in Ghana:

Kofi Mensah started courting Adwoa Ataa. Long before they settled as couples, Kofi's responsibility does not only include showing affection in a way protection and handling issues. It includes buying a lot of gifts for Adwoa, offering money for transport at most times that she visits. Adwoa has already demonstrated to Kofi that she is going to depend on him. She is vulnerable because she has little confidence of taking care of herself. So Kofi knowing this raises his egos and demonstrates his manhood left and right. Then comes the marriage, Kofi pays for the dowry as custom demands and other things. In all the discussions what people say is "Kofi Mensah IS GOING to marry Adwoa Ataa" but NOT "Kofi and Adwoa ARE GOING to marry". So Kofi after paying the dowry buys all the rings and most times the lady's wear. Kofi is in absolute control of everything including according to some tribes the warning that he has to take good care of the woman, give her all that she needs, and if she incurs loses it is the husband who should bear all but her riches come to her 'original' family.

I am aware that most women are today assisting greatly in the purchase of rings, buying their own wedding dresses and even sharing the celebration costs. There are some women who have been or are the major sponsors of weddings but they give the money to the husbands since they are the one's to pay all the costs. No one knows the efforts of the women behind the scene. Their efforts are 'not mentioned at all'. No one knows about this help.

Considering the scenario depicted above, the society has given a go ahead, absolute control to everything in the matrimonial home in front of the man. The women then recoil and concentrate on hers duties as a woman. The case is even much worse in the rural areas where many of these women assist their husbands on the farm. Apart from the tremendous output such as cooking on the farm, collecting firewood and foodstuffs for dinner, there is the tendency to calculate the cooking on the farm as part of her usual duties of cooking in the house. She therefore earns little or nothing at all as compensation or recognition from her output on the farm. So many wives of male cocoa farmers do not own even a hector of the cocoa plants as her own. By custom, the man is expected to give her money to buy what she needs. Does that really happen most of the times? Who will not get angry if someone even if close keeps demanding help and money each day from her/him? So husbands who may face financial difficulty or emotional stress extend their bad feelings to their children and wives in particular. As a child of a farmer, I could not count how many times my mother asked money each day from my father to buy fish and other household items.

To talk of reducing VAW a number of issues would have to be addressed carefully. I mean careful because a random and quick change in self-realisation will crop up many adverse effects on women, especially those in the rural areas. The rural communities harbour many women who are purely farmers (or to say are assisting their husbands); lack education that will secure them employment in the competitive job market; may be unconfident of handling economic and family matters alone and/or may not even see 'little scratches' as genuine reasons for her to quit her matrimonial home and imprisoning her husband.

It is a general opinion in our country that husbands and wives do fight. People also know that in some 95% of those fights the winner will be the man. So women will be battered by all means as long as fighting in matrimonial homes are inevitable and accepted. How would victims accept this? There are some women who hate to endure the physical battering but may be the last to leave behind their marriages. Our current system also helps to safe majority of our women who have no capital or names to assets to be secured in caring for their children. Again, the situation goes to assure and instil a sense of responsibility in husbands to assist in childcare, providing the financial needs for education, shelter etc. Furthermore, marriage holds prestige in our cultural set up. We are aware of how 'single' women are thought of in our inner-selves let alone barren! To celebrate womanhood and respect, women in our society will always want to marry. Impotency is sidelined in each case. The case of women is so important to us. So most women do not wants to remain single, at least married and divorced or go through some unhealthy VAW.

This raises the complex situation of VAW deeply rooted in our social and manly-laid down system. It may not take laws alone to handle them. It is a conscious and systematic efforts, which include an increasing awareness among gender from all areas, including grassroots programs aimed at VAW. It may not take a year or two but with the system well planned to raise awareness, an appreciable impact could be made even in a rapid result than may be forecast. It is for this reason that I will still encourage FIDA to see education and counselling as the most effective tool. In doing this, the awareness should not be superseded by anger of the glaring VAW cases they see around them. I will rather encourage FIDA to target men and encourage men to accept the fact that fighting is an archaic culture let alone fighting with one's bed partner. It should be hammered home to the fact that it was the Stone Age era that fighting was a way of showing manhood. That era is long behind humankind and time for today's growing technological society.

In view of this I would like to make this proposal to FIDA, WAJU and associated feminist NGO's on some of the following suggestions:

1. Commence a national leadership training program among selected individuals nation-wide who will later serve as campaign team leaders

2. Initiate and facilitate national institutions of any nature in accepting gender as ethics in its operations

3. Target men in series of activities that will help raise awareness among men as a step to curb the growing battering

4. Lobby government and its local/district units to accept and integrate mainstream gender ethics in work places and all endeavours

5. Solicit the assistance of UNICEF, Save the Children and gender campaign NGO's world-world for support in programs aimed at economic empowerment and child healthcare programs.

In saying this, the writer has earlier stated that fighting this colonial attitude and so solution VAW needs wider outlook. It also includes assessing social, economic, political and technological dimensions. That is why he thinks that laws alone may not yield positive results than education and counselling, particularly in traditional societies in Africa and Ghana for that matter. The writer has undertaken researches on VAW programs in Asia as part of a community effort to tackle VAW. One significant but disturbing reality was that women were not willing to report battering particularly the poor mothers who see to rely on their husbands for monetary gains or family upkeep. They were willing to endure violence at home THAN to have their husbands imprisoned when they were not sure who will assist them financially at home. In another case of incest rape committed by the father who received death penalty for his act, the mother seems not to have forgiven the poor daughter over 8 years ago. The fact is the mother cannot contain the family's financial burden and she is extremely annoyed as to why she (daughter) reported the case for the father to be killed leaving 4 children behind.

This story is likely to come up in some way in Ghana. So in all cases of VAW and gender, appealing to conscience and building on the conscience has admirable result. It is disturbing to see VAW in today's civilised society but development practitioners would have to be careful in handling some of these issues. A lot of patience would be necessary in this case, while hoping that not today but tomorrow a better society may be observed.

The writer is willing to assist in any program in this light to solve this problem in our society. It is his dream as a person to seek financial assistance from NGO's to commence a program in this light and would be happy to get involved if there is a program on going. He is happy if interested NGO's can help.

P/S: I welcome criticisms and comments are welcome