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20.04.2004 Regional News

Domestic Violence bill seeks to promote harmonious marriages

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Kpando, (V/R), April 20, The Domestic Violence Bill seeks to promote harmonious marriages by facilitating mutual respect and protection in marriages rather than encourage break-ups.

Mrs Sheila Minkah-Premo, Executive Council Member of the Leadership and Advocacy for Women in Africa (LAWA) gave this assurance at a two-day seminar on domestic violence and the Domestic Violence Bill for Queenmothers and women's groups in the Kpando District at Kpando on Monday.

The seminar, which was initiated by Miss Akua Dansua, Member of Parliament (MP), for North-Dayi explained the import of the bill to the women and the general situation as far as domestic violence against women was concerned and what was required to stem the phenomenon. Mrs Minkah-Premo said the Bill sought to protect both parties to marriages and such relationships and should therefore not be misconstrued as directed against men.

She explained that the provision for Civil Protection Orders in the bill attested to the fact that the bill was out to protect marriages and the interests of parties to them, adding that it was only in extreme circumstances that deterrent fines and custodial sentences would be imposed on offenders.

Mrs Minkah-Premo explained that the perceived pro-women nature of the bill had arisen because women had been the most victims of domestic violence not only in Ghana, but also throughout the world. She explained that the bill became necessary as a fulfilment of Ghana's international obligations as a signatory to several international conventions and declarations including the declaration on the elimination of violence against women and the Beijing declaration among others.

The Bill was also to address the inadequacies of existing Criminal Procedure Code in the peculiar circumstances of domestic violence, while researches had revealed the need for specific laws on domestic violence.

Mrs Minkah-Premo said men who did not make domestic violence a feature of their marriages and relationships needed not fear the bill. She explained that partners whose domestic misconduct could result in more serious harm to their partners such as death would be tried and punished for the more serious offence even when the Domestic violence bill became law.

Mrs Minkah-Premo said the bill did not make any provision on marital rape except that it sought to repeal the marital rape exemption in Section 42 (g) of the Criminal Code of 1960 (Act 29), which placed women at the mercy of the sexual gratification of their husbands even in unfavourable circumstances. She said the English themselves from whom that law was inherited had long gotten rid of it.

Mrs Barbara Ayesu, Co-ordinator of LAWA asserted that reasons usually assigned to justify domestic violence against women were myths, which should be gotten rid of from the mentality of women and society in general.

She identified some of such myths as the view that "when women say no they mean yes", that violence against women tended to renew love towards the victim, that inhumane widowhood rites were necessary to protect the widow against being haunted by the late husband and that a woman lost her rights once she got into marriage.

Mrs Ayesu said it was also untenable to blame domestic violence on drunkenness, that women invite such violence on themselves by their misbehaviour and that men were like that.

She said it was unfair to conclude that some women complain about their husbands' misbehaviour in order to draw attention to themselves.

Mrs Hilary Gbedemah, Senior Legal Advisor of Women in Law and Development in Africa (WILDAF) explained that the bill was a "half-way house between criminalisation and doing nothing about domestic violence."

She said without the bill the only option left would be for the marriage to break-up or the victim be forced to stay put and endure her trauma with its physical, psychological, economic and social dehumanising effects.

Mrs Gbedemah cautioned that it was important to see and deal with the early signs of approaching domestic violence at home.

She said more often when such acts of violence occurred the perpetrators were most likely to issue threats or show some pretence towards remorse in attempts to soften the victim.

Mrs Gbedemah said gestures towards placating the victim through various forms of love overtures might not be genuine and could lead to greater violence and even death in subsequent violent encounters if the problem was not addressed resolutely.

She said, rather than being a source of comfort and envy, a woman whose husband or partner provided her with everything and prevented her from earning her own income was being enslaved and denied her dignity and right to work and be self-dependent.

Mrs Gbedemah said victims of domestic violence should be encouraged to pour out their emotions rather than being judgemental about their plight.

She said it was very important to allow such victims to make their final decisions rather than doing so on their behalf. According to the participants, most victims were compelled to endure domestic violence for several reasons including the need to protect the interests of their children, the lack of economic empowerment, pressures from parents to persevere in such circumstances and the need to protect their husbands against the consequences of their actions, and the tendency for people not to believe them when they complain.

The participants said some of the things which necessitated domestic violence included total dependence of women on their husbands and partners, laziness on the part of some women, lack of adequate preparation before marriage, the nagging attitude of some women. Others were that before going into marriage, parents especially mothers advised their daughters to be very submissive and uncomplaining, forced marriages, denial of sex to husbands, drunkenness on the part of some women, intolerance of in-laws, dullness and lack of knowledge about how to receive visitors among others.

Miss Dansua urged the Queen mothers to be crusaders against domestic violence in their respective communities and impart the knowledge obtained at the seminar to other women and women's groups.

She said it was equally important for them to make the efforts at raising the issues at forums of chiefs at the local level to solicit their help and co-operation in addressing the problem.

Mr Pius Adanuti, Kpando District Chief Executive in his opening remarks said the country stood to gain a lot if women were assisted to overcome obstacles that hindered the development of their potentials.

He observed that more often, women tended to encourage some of the biases against themselves and expressed the hope that initiatives would be forthcoming from women leaders to correct the anomaly. Mr Adanuti advised women to encourage men to be their partners in projects and actions aimed at uplifting the status of women in the country.