Capitalizing on the strength we possess as women gives us the opportunity to prevail no matter how many obstacles our perpetrators put before us. Why? Simply because we are everything they are not.
In Africa and in my country Cameroon, when we think of domestic abuse, we often focus on domestic violence. Many women in my community combine the emotional and psychological abuse they undergo in their homes on a daily basis to everyday stress and throw these out the door as a woman’s cross. In their world abuse is limited to physical violence and pain. They minimize it, overlook it and refuse to acknowledge it. It doesn’t matter how destructive the emotional or psychological abuse is. The truth is, Just because you’re not battered, assaulted and bruised doesn’t mean you’re not being abused.
Last year during a program I helped coordinate, I met this young woman who had been abused emotionally and psychologically so much so that she was unable to make any decisions on her own including something as mundane as how to wear her own hair. She had been told over and over that she was useless and her sole purpose for being was to produce children for her family. She was also expected to be grateful for that role. She wasn’t allowed to work, to visit her family or to keep any friends at all. The sad part is she wasn’t even aware of the fact that she was being abused or maybe she just refused to acknowledge it. According to her, she was grateful to be in that situation because many of her peers were not as lucky. Her experiences and those of thousands of women across Cameroon prove that acceptance of abuse is a social problem. When we endure misery and suffering on a daily basis and find only reinforcement for our inferiority and worthlessness all around us, it can be almost impossible to believe that we don’t, in fact, deserve to suffer in this way.
Perpetrators of emotional and psychological abuse use tools such as intimidation, fear, shame and the threat of hurting the people their victims love to keep them under their control. They use economic violence to deprive victims of basic necessities, controlling earnings and forbidding employment. They chip away at their victims’ minds and souls till they are just shadows of their former selves. Wounds and bruises may not be seen, but the scars run just as deep.
The attitudes of both men and women in Africa towards domestic abuse, the patriarchal nature of African societies and the role of religion seem to be the biggest blocks to abolishing abuse and violence against women in general. These attitudes, practices, customs and beliefs encourage the abuse and marginalization of women. The bottom line is that abusive behaviour is never acceptable irrespective of whom the perpetrator or victim is. Everyone especially women deserve to be valued and respected.
That is why women, who suffer most from gender based violence, must acknowledge and speak out against it. Women must lead the fight against all forms of violence committed against them. It begins with us; in our homes, our families and our communities. African mothers must teach their sons to be responsible husbands/partners/adults, as they spend years teaching their daughters to be good wives and partners. African women must make use of opportunities before them. They must empower themselves especially in terms of economic empowerment and financial independence. In this way, the option of economic violence is removed. We must protect ourselves first before calling on men and institutions, and government to join the fight against gender based violence.
Let us remember that capitalizing on the strength we possess as women gives us the opportunity to prevail no matter how many obstacles our perpetrators put before us. Why? Simply because we are everything they are not.