Ignored scars of gender violence - The Nation Online

Ignored scars of gender violence

Survivors of gender-based violence are dying for psychosocial support, especially counselling, writes Staff Reporter JOHN CHIRWA

The happiest day for Rose Mhone, 39, came in 1992 when she told her sweetheart:  “Till death do us part.”

Our cartoonist’s impression of GBV

But it was no happy affair as her husband started sleeping around.

“Within a year, he started going out with other women. For 23 years, it has been worse,” she says.

According to Mhone, the man married nine women without divorcing the mother of four. “As a woman, I was taught to persevere,” she says. “I hoped he would change with time. But he did not.”


Abuses persist

In 2011, the man reportedly sold all assets the family owned, eloped with a neighbour and bolted to Tanzania where he spent five years.

“He came back apologising. I gave him a second chance for the sake of our children,” explains Mhone.

But this was no end of an error.

The man did not just demolish a nursery school, the family’s sole source of income. He also sold a plot and a house they were living in, inflaming the woman to report him to police and the social welfare office.

She recalled: “The police arrested him and he spent some days in the cooler.

“We live together, but we no longer trust each other. We don’t share a bed because the man refuses to go for HIV testing with me. How can we trust each other after separating for years?”

According to Mzuzu Police Victim Support Unit (VSU) coordinator Flora Njawili, Mhone’s predicament personifies emotional abuses which top the list of reported gender-based violence (GBV) cases at the station.


National concern

The 2015-16 Malawi Demographic and Health Survey shows one third of women, aged above 15, experienced physical violence while a fifth suffered sexual violence.

Violent acts abound in wedlock where four in 10 married women confessed experiencing physical, sexual and emotional abuse at the hands of their spouses.

The count of reported GBV cases by Malawi Police Service (MPS) tripled from 9 272 in 2009 to 29 488 in 2012.

Last year, tallies in VSUs countrywide revealed a 41 percent increase in reported cases compared to 2015.

They attribute the rise to mass awareness as well as favourable laws, especially the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act (2006), Child Care, Protection and Justice Act (2010); Gender Equality Act (2013) and the Marriage Act (2015).


No counselling

The laws prescribe counselling to help GBV victims recover from traumatising experiences and re-integrate into society.

Although the police swiftly arrest offenders, relevant State agencies usually do nothing to counsel the victims as prescribed by the laws.

People who have experienced abuse, observers and perpetrators of GBV go without any psycho-social attention.

Trapped in an abusive marriage, Mhone feels neglected.

“The courts in Mzuzu ordered that my husband has no right to sell the land and home we jointly own, but I have had no counselling,” she says.

Yolamu Chiwanda, the deputy director for social welfare in the Ministry of Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare, recently bemoaned widespread ignorance of psychosocial support services in district social welfare offices.

He said: “As social workers, we have the means, but the only problem is that people are not aware of our services.”

Psychologist Ndumanene Silungwe, based at St John of God College of Health Sciences in Mzuzu, says GBV causes indelible emotional scars and trauma if not tackled in time.

“Individuals from families experiencing domestic violence may suffer from depression, substance abuse and mental problems as they struggle with emotional pain,” he says.

Silungwe reckons most GBV survivors in the country seem not to know they require counselling for their mental well-being.

“Professional counselling in Malawi is underdeveloped, so few people access psychotherapy when it comes to interpersonal issues like GBV. Many know counselling in terms of HIV and Aids, mental illness and chronic medical conditions,” says the mental health specialist.

Government, in partnership with the European Union and United Nations (UN) agencies, has established one-stop centres in 13 districts which offer comprehensive VSU services.

The centres compliment almost 250 police-based VSUs countrywide to tackle cases that require privacy and counselling.

The VSUs handle almost 15 000 cases a year, according to a report by the police service.

“Out of these cases, 70 percent are dealt with in the VSU, 20 percent are referred to other organisations and 10 percent are referred to court,” it reads.

To Silungwe, the legal approach to GBV cases neglects “mental scars” which would be healed using psychotherapy which seeks to understand the mind of the victims and the  perpetrator’s.

He explains: “We have VSUs that normally tend to look at those issues from a legal perspective, but we need to deal with these issues from a psychological counselling perspective.

“This is about digging the psychological sources which in most cases are part of a personality; the past abuse, loneliness, depression, lack of assertiveness, culture and other mental health problems that the people in the relationship are facing.”


Beyond rape

Silungwe reckons the one-stop centres are also not enough as they mostly focus on rape and defilement, leaving out other physical abuses.

“GBV is not just about sexual abuse. We need also to look at women and men who suffer battering. For them, counselling is important for self-awareness, empowerment and, if it works, it has a generational healing process,” he says.

Treat guards with care

Joseph Daulphin Makako


n economically sound home engages security service providers for their home safety day or night.

A security agency deploys the number of guards requested by the client.

Although it is the client that engages a security service provider, the client also has a role to play for the guard to work effectively.

The way guards are treated contributes to their performance.

They are not robots or super-natural beings as some clients perceive them.

They work 12-hour shifts and most of them cannot afford a bus trip to work. They walk long distances from populous locations far from their workplaces. As such, they are often tired before their work begins.

In some workplaces, they are subjected to various jobs by the client in return for supper.

Nonetheless, the client still expects the guard to be alert 12 hours of nightly duty.

This is not realistic.

During rainy seasons, guards’ absenteeism becomes a major concern for both the client and security service provider.

Lack of guard shelters to shield them from raindrops and chilly weather affects their performance, forcing them not to report for duties.

Furthermore, big houses require more than one guard at night for easy patrols. Some security companies conduct security surveys and recommend the number of guards required per shift, but most clients insist on one guard regardless of the size of the area because of the costs.

In some compounds, a guard patrolling the front cannot see the back of the home.

As such, anything happening at the rear goes undetected. This becomes a problem.

All the clients care about is that there is someone outside guarding the premises—and many houses experience avoidable break-ins.

Of course, the client is the boss and needs to be handled with care.

But many clients forget to contribute in checking if the guard is fully equipped.

Every guard must have a whistle to alert the client and the neighbouring area of any criminal activities. But you hardly find a guard having it.

The company has to provide props for the guards, but the client has a duty to inform their service provider of any gaps.

A torch, used for observation during night hours is another important tool. With frequent blackouts, it is a must-have for any guard.

Lack of basic tools should be a concern for the client. They need to check if the guard has these tools. At the end of the day it is their lives that are in danger.

It is also the duty of the client to give the guard the dos and don’ts of the household. The security person should not be left guessing.

Some clients do not allow guards to draw water or cook within their premises; others deny the guards keys of the main gate after locking it. The guard is supposed to be informed of all these restrictions.

When a guard is left to figure things out on his own, chaos and conflicts erupt.

In many cases, clients are  responsible for the payment of guarding services either from their pockets or courtesy of their employer.

However, the way their spouses and dependants address the guards leaves a lot to be desired.

The guards are traumatised by verbal abuse; often being treated as a sheep which is about to be slaughtered.

This is a topic for another day.

But the client must take the initiative to ensure that the guard is well taken care of in return for better services.

The company plays its part, but it is up to the client to make the environment conducive for the guard.

How you handle guards will determine if they will lay down their lives for you when robbers come.

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