The children of GBV and a complicit community

Blessing Chinganga RGN, BSc (Hons) Health Studies, MSc Health and Wellbeing

In a house down the street, there is yelling and screaming.  Everyone can hear it, but no one intervenes until there is silence.  Soon after a man, huffing and puffing steps out of the door and saunters into the street as if nothing has happened.  When he is safely out of the way, the neighbours stand outside their houses looking at each other, then, towards the house where soft sobbing can be heard.  The elder of the women knocks on the door left slightly ajar and calls out for her friend and then she walks in to find a woman broken.  That is the simple way of putting it.  You see she has been beaten up so many times that she has simply lost all semblance of who she is.  She is huddled in a corner and her children cling to her, terrified and relieved that she is alive enough to cry.

Her reaction

If you were to ask her at that moment – why are you still here?  She would not comprehend your question?  Where are you expecting her to be exactly?  This is her home and these are her children.  That man that left the house after beating her severely – that is her husband.  She will clean herself up and sit down on the sofa he tried to strangle her, as if nothing bad has happened.  She is used to this, she says – she blames herself because she asked him why he did not come home last night.  She even manages to let out a small laugh after that remark as she stares on to the floor.  She won’t meet your eyes.  She tries hard to calm herself and catch her breath.  So from this you can be sure she is not going to call the police because she knows it will only be adding fuel to the fire.  She knows he will be back but she won’t run.  She cannot run.  She has nowhere to run…..

His reaction

He knows, he did wrong, but he is sorting it out in his head as he walks away.  Why did she have to ask and make him angry – she drove him to it.  So, she thinks just because, she has a new job she can rule over him and ask him questions he does not want to hear.  And it is not as if she is the only woman in the neighbourhood getting beaten for asking or doing something silly.  When he was growing up he used to see wife beating as normal because it stops women from asking you questions you cannot answer.  Trying to catch him out.  If he wants to spend the night wherever – it is his business, he is a man and that should mean something.  It is easier to win an argument with your fists anyway.  She will not dare ask again and soon she will forget.  He is not worried about any come back.  She might tell her brothers, but they will just chide him, after all they drink together, and they know she talks too much.  It should never have happened, she should never have asked….

The children’s reaction

James is 11years old and thinks he despises his father.  He feels guilty and angry every time this drama plays out.  He looks at his mother, pretending nothing had happened and he feels so confused by this reaction.  If someone hurts you – do you not run away, do you not leave?  What kind of love is this? How, is his mother going to go to work on Monday with a swollen eye and that cut on her chin that she has been dabbing with cotton-wool.  He has a mixture of pity and loathing.  His feelings bubble up from the myriad of childish fears that if these two people stay together, one day something terrible is going to happen.  He hopes one day that she will wake up to the fact that she, can run and he will help her carry the baby while she carries the bags.  He fantasises about this all the time, and dreams of a household that is calm and normal like some of his friends…..

Society’s reaction

Well unfortunately, gender-based violence is embedded in our community like a scourge.  In the olden days our elders used to sit the offending spouse down and lay down rules forbidding him from violence in the home.  However, nowadays, well it is almost endemic.  It is a very poorly kept secret that the woman next door needs help but what kind of help and who wants to interfere in someone else’s marriage.   Society quietly buries its head in the sand, only lifting if to draft laws against gender-based violence that victimises women almost exclusively.  If it bothered us at all, we would deal with the offenders the way we deal with thieves in the night. 

A woman being beaten, should elicit some kind of response in the hearts of those within earshot.  Who will protect her, if everyone minds their own business.  But wait, this woman has relatives, so maybe they will step in and remove her from this terrible situation?  In, my mind, this works but not in the mind of most.  In our culture and indeed in our major religions, marriage is a sacred institution.  She will be counselled at church that she must continue to pray for her abuser so that her marriage does not fail.  The church will rally round for her burial but not to save her and her children who are being traumatised repeatedly.  She could go to her Aunties and they will only send her back because they don’t want to be responsible for her coming back home after a ‘failed marriage’.  This happens to every woman – they will her.  She will be counselled to be more obedient to her husband.  No one in the church or in the community with tell her to leave with her children before they are traumatised beyond help because no one wants her home.  The stigma of divorce has helped to fill many coffins and created many singing opportunities for the church choir!

Gender based violence will not end by itself.  We, each, have to be each other’s keeper.  We need to protect not only this generation but the one to come who could turn out to be abusers themselves and the cycle continues.  Let us stop it now!

Blessing Chingaga