Domestic violence has been a problem since human kind became a species. As society has progressed and philosophical movements have increased the consciousness of human kind, domestic violence in progressive circles has been condemned as the scourge that it is. While some countries and cultures, mostly in the developed world, has made great leaps in curbing domestic violence, some places, such as many countries in Africa. Domestic violence is a symptom of unequal gender power dynamics. The solution must therefore come from within the context of the African culture (Shamu, 3). Many cultures in Africa are tribal in nature and the basic makeup of perceptions that govern the society are one of the root cause of domestic violence within these cultures. As this essay explores, solutions are complex, since the underlying issues run in the deep currents of the culture. There is difficult quantifying an exact number of how much domestic violence happens in Africa. Africa is a large continent of scores of sovereign people totaling a bit over 1 billion people (World Population Review). For the context here, we can suffice it to say that the amount of attention domestic violence in Africa has generated points to it being an outlier of incidences when compared to other more developed continents such Europe and North America.
Emily Burrill, Richard Roberts and Elizabeth Thornbury have researched domestic violence in Africa and the laws currently in place to combat it. They write, “Since the 1990s we have seen an explosion of public attention paid to domestic violence within Africa.” This is the first step to working towards solutions, the widespread recognition of the problem. A problem cannot be fixed if people are not aware that it exists. At the heart of the issue are not necessarily the laws, which are another symptom of the underlying problem of a conglomeration of cultures that deny women the same basic rights and freedoms of men. In some tribes, such as the Maasai where women are still bought and sold like property and men are able to have as many wives and households as they can afford to have. (Otoo, 1). As with many tribal cultures, they have a variety of traditions and ceremonies dating back centuries which are considered to be very important to the people One of these practices and traditions is female circumcision, also called genital mutilation. Emmanuel Otoo, an advocate for women’s rights writes, “Before a Maasai girl is married, she must undergo circumcision, a rite of passage to adulthood.” While a rite of passage, under the modern lens, it is also a violation of a woman’s rights. This is where the issue of domestic violence becomes so difficult—when there are traditions embedded within a culture that violate a woman’s rights. The solutions then are complex, since they involved changing the fundamental DNA upon which the culture and family structure is based (Shamu, 3). A similar problem is early marriage, which is defined as a child getting married before 18. This is as much an economic problem associated with relative poverty, as it is a cultural problem. According to Otoo, “Many Maasai families face challenges in providing for their children, and the most common solution is to marry daughters off at a young age” (Otoo, 1).
One way to fight such violence is through the legal system. To this end, Kenya, the country where the Maasai live, in 2001 passed the Children’s Act. Many female Maasai, among other cultures, because they place less value on female children, deny them the right to an education. This feeds a vicious cycle of violence since an uneducated girl will grow up to be a woman who is unaware of her rights and as a result will not seek justice for injustice delivered upon her. The Children’s Act was written to ensure these rights and make sure that every child receives an education. This is an example of regulating domestic violence within the context of legal systems. This requires a cooperative government and also enforcement of the laws being passed. The results can be mixed. Just because the Children’s Act was passed in 2001 does not mean that all children are going to school that should. Females still disproportionately do not receive the same level of education as their male counterparts since there is a difference between passing a law and enforcing it. Burril and her researches commenting on this issue write, “Disputes relating to families and personal statues were relegated to a residual category of customary or family law, often controlled by existing native authorities.” This touches upon the second way, and perhaps the most effective way to fight domestic violence, working through tribal leaders so that the solution can come from within the culture rather than from the outside.
This touches upon the solution to the problem. The solution will not come from legal reform, referendums, laws or legislation. These, used in the right way and presented in the right context can help the problem, but the real solutions come one step at a time and come from a changing of the way that women are viewed. As long as women are viewed as property, it will be difficult to argue that they should be treated as autonomous agents deserving of the same rights and educational opportunities as their male counterparts. This can be done through education, implanting this idea in children at an early age. It can be done through awareness campaigns. All of these efforts much be blustered by a legal system that takes action in high profile cases, punishing those who violate women’s rights in order to send a clear message that such behavior will not be tolerated.
Nicholas D. Kristof in his book advocating women’s rights writes, “Half a million women die each year around the world in pregnancy. It’s not biology that kills them, so much as neglect.” History across the world, not just in Africa, reads from the patriarchal narrative of the world being a man’s world in which women are merely minions. In this changing in many Western, developed countries, it has changed the way the rest of the world views cultures where domestic violence against women is still unacceptably prevalent. This recognition is positive, but it also makes us aware of just how drastic the problem is. Solutions are being worked on in a variety of countries through of governments, NGOs, schools, and concerned citizens. Progress happens one legal victory and one changed heart at a time. The work being done by the larger structures of the legal system will only be effective if awareness campaigns are happening at the tribal level to win over people’s hearts.
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