Violence in high fences

 

She was born and raised in affluence. Unlike most African women, she has lived in protected fortresses. But Josina, daughter to former Mozambican President Samora Machel, was not immune to gender-based violence (GBV), Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) reporter SUZGO CHITETE writes.

 

It was the 70th birthday of her mother, Graça Machel, but that was the day Josina suffered GBV at the hands of her lover.

“This is a man I thought loved me, but he punched me for no good reason. I was so shocked that I did what everybody does when this happens to them. You don’t turn towards your aggressor,” said Josina, 41.

She shared her poignant recollections at the Women Advancing Africa Forum 2017 in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, recently.

Josina Machel harbours depressing memories of gender-based violence

“You protect yourself and your face, but to my surprise, I actually turned towards him and I asked: ‘what?’ That is how I got the second blow which ruptured my right eye. I ran away,” she added.

Once, she peeled off her tinted glasses to show nearly 300 delegates what happened to her blind eye.

Some hearers, including her mother Graça, could not hold their emotions. Tears, murmurs, hugs, and handshakes were unmistakable.

How could the president’s daughter face such a beating, empowered and protected  as she was?

Josina appeared rather calm and collected as questions gushed.

“Gender-based violence affects everyone, especially women. It doesn’t matter who you are. This is what I learnt when I asked my lover that I wanted to spend the night at our [family] home being my mother’s birthday,” she explains.

Josina named her attacker against the will of those who wanted her to remain quiet for her family’s sake.

She speaks of “no easy road to justice” as her files consistently went missing.

“There was no evidence that I had been assaulted. When I decided to go public, the reaction was ‘why is the family allowing her to talk about it?’ This has to be sorted out privately,” she recalls.

The Machels remain a powerful family in Mozambique and Graça is an influential activist and widow of South Africa’s iconic freedom fighter Nelson Mandela.

Josina believes her files kept disappearing to awaken her and her family to the suffering of millions of African women.

“To me, this was a call to join the fight. All women, regardless of status, need to work together to eliminate gender based violence,” she implores.

Early this year, her assaulter, Rofino Licuco, a wealthy Maputo-based businessperson, was sentenced to three years and four months imprisonment. It was later changed to a five-year suspended sentence because he was a first offender.

Josina’s case may be remote to many Malawians, but it lifts the lid on the suffering of elite women.

Men for Gender Equality Now (Megen) national chairperson Marcel Chisi says GBV is rampant in wealthier families, but many suffer in silence.

“Unlike low-income earners in high density locations, the nature of housing estates for the affluent and the fact that they scarcely communicate with their neighbours means that most GBV cases oftentimes go unreported as the victims want to protect their reputation,” he observes.

Unsurprisingly, most awareness campaigns against the vice target rural communities.

“That is where the problem appears to be because people are willing to report cases while most urban elites suffer in silence,” he states.

At Kanengo Victim Support Unit in Lilongwe, inspector Wells Munthali revealed that most violations recorded at the police station are reported by low-income earners.

He explains: “It is very unlikely for the elite to report victimisation. Even serious cases of assault are hidden not just from the police and neighbours, but even their family members.

“Issues of class and reputation are part of the problem. They seem to think that reporting violence would downgrade the respect in society.”

In 2013, the United Nations reported that almost half of African women experience physical or sexual violence compared with 35 percent globally.

The recent Demographic Health Survey shows that Malawian women aged between 15-49 experience physical and/or sexual violence at least once in their lifetime.

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