By Philippa Arthur
Society needs to stop asking who the real victim of domestic violence is. Whether men or women are the real victim is not the issue; we need to just accept that partner violence exists among partners, regardless of gender.
Domestic violence is generally interpreted as committed by men against women.
According to the 2015 report on Domestic Violence by Ghana Family Life and Heath Survey (GFLHS)although women are more at risk of experiencing domestic violence, a substantial number of men are also at risk of violence within domestic relations.
But the study revealed that for many people men being physically violated by women is considered ‘funny’ and sometimes ‘unimaginable.’
Admittedly, considerable effort has been made in Ghana over the last three decades to reduce the incidence of domestic violence, right from when some of the first studies on domestic violence in Africa took place in the 1990s in Ghana, as well as in Tanzania, Uganda and South Africa. These studies were motivated by the actions of activist groups, which played an important role in the formulation and passing of laws aimed at curbing domestic violence.
Ghana has a number of national laws, including a provision in the 1992 Constitution that prohibits discrimination based on sex, the 1998 Criminal Code Amendment Act 6 and legal amendments criminalizing certain harmful traditional practices, such as widowhood rites (1984), female genital mutilation (1995) and child abuse (1998). The most recent however, is the Domestic Violence Act (Act 732) which was passed in February, 2007.
As a country, we’ve worked hard to have general responses to domestic violence, which include educating law enforcement, attorneys, and average men and women about domestic violence.
However, I believe that it is time to start educating Ghanaians to understand that domestic violence isn’t always what it looks like. Women are not always the victimized; men are victims too.
Prince Addo, a 30-year-old man, who was physically abused by his girlfriend of three years, is a perfect example. His partner, Mariama Alhassan, who almost died as a result of an abortion she had against her boyfriend’s consent, immediately became the victim because she was hospitalized and thus appeared vulnerable. Addo was the one arrested.
His girlfriend, Mariama, came out of the hospital a free woman. Prince, the true victim in this story, was the one arrested. How often is a woman convicted for abusing her spouse or partner in Ghana?
Everyone involved in the case – from police, to social welfare workers and even his friends –ridiculed him because they failed to recognize that a young man could be a victim of an abuse by a woman.
It is quite unfortunate but it seems that the Domestic Violence and Victims’ Support Unit (DOVVSU) one of the established institutions to handle cases of domestic violence seems to be operating under one overarching strategy – ending violence against women and girls. What strategies are available to handle violence against men and boys?
There is a noticeable inconsistency here; a clear gap in providing support for male victims and survivors of domestic abuse. Male survivors like Prince Addo, due to their conditioning as men, the expectations and impositions of our gendered society, face unique challenges.
Addressing this issue will require bringing attention to forms of domestic violence experienced by men, and targeting awareness-raising campaigns towards the value of understanding how men also struggle with harmful masculinities that might be imposed on them by other men and women.
We need to ensure that campaigns that seek to promote awareness on issues such as domestic and sexual abuse are gender inclusive and do not exclude male victims.
Also, we need to have a domestic violence strategy that is separate, but equivalently aimed at: Ending violence against women and girls, ending partner violence against men and boys, a strategy that would recognize that these experiences and needs of male victims of domestic abuse are different from those of women, although equivalent.
Further training of police and other support services may also be required, as men find it even more difficult than women to report cases of domestic violence.
More awareness needs to be created to clear the social bias against men as perpetrators all the time and women as victims of violence.
Violence, in whatever form, is a human problem and must be tackled as such.