Role of religious organisations, families in dealing with gender-based violence scourge
Beyond gender inequality, tradition, discrimination, religious doctrines and victim-blaming from families and communities are major reasons the menace of gender-based violence have continued to thrive. Temitope Ojo looks at the role of religious organisations and families in dealing with this menace.
Domestic violence against women is one of the most prevalent human rights violations in the world. It knows no social, economic or national boundaries. The scourge, as well as other forms of violence against women, has eaten deep into the fabric of our society creating a lopsided gender balance with the female gender being the greatest victim.
Violence can take different forms ranging from sexual to physical and psychological or emotional forms. This degrades the humanity of women in society. Abusive partners and perpetrators base their actions on the superior nature of the male sex, religion, law, custom, economic situation, family pressure, and their behavioural pattern.
What’s more, many survivors are subjected to victim-blaming or ostracised from their families and communities due to social norms. This puts them at significant risk of isolation and further violence.
Roseline Akapo is a lecturer in one of the federal universities in the South-west. Like every other girl of marriageable age, she dreamt of settling down with a man who would love and cherish her, and thereafter live in peace and harmony for the rest of their lives.
And though she did meet this man, or so she thought, what has, however, eluded her is the peace she craved for, even when they are barely a few years into the marriage.
The mother of one recounts that her husband started abusing her three months into their marriage.
According to her, she was eight months pregnant when her spouse almost beat her to death because she confronted him about his incessant infidelity. She sustained various bruises, but she was lucky to give birth to a healthy baby when it was due.
Even after the birth of her baby, the beatings did not abate as he took delight in pounding her black and blue, at any slightest provocation. And because she did not want to be termed ‘a a failure’, she stayed in the abusive setting. Her family and even the church they both worship in wouldn’t want to hear about her leaving the marriage.
Roseline’s experience of being a victim of violence generated strong negative feelings about herself, including feelings of guilt and shame.
Many have argued that to stem the rising tide of violence against women, the role of family and religion cannot be over-emphasised. This is because religious doctrines and teachings sometimes convey values to their members.
Places of worship have also been fingered as encouragers of this scourge with many churches being accused of not doing enough to stem the tide. The leaders are said to amplify passages in their religious books to justify the act. It seems like the verse in the Holy Bible which says ‘Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husband … for the husband is the head of the church …has oftentimes been misunderstood.
On the basis of this scripture, many men have abused their wives either physically or verbally. Such men assume they should be accorded with all respect that equals that of a servant to a master and anything outside of this behaviour is met with a measure of their physical strength against their wives. This practice has been evident in the earlier periods and is still prevalent in some communities.
Victims usually turn to family and friends first to share their experiences and get support. Oftentimes, the needed support is not gotten as the families too would not want to hear of their daughter seeking a divorce no matter the issues involved.
Adetutu Oshofowora, Relationship Coach and Marriage Counsellor believe that though the Church is trying to stem this act, they can still do better.
According to her, in recent times, many churches and Christian leaders are modifying their approach and are now more open to separation if not divorce out rightly.
She says no woman should ever be forced to choose between safety and her religious community or tradition. She should be able to access the resources of both community-based advocacy and shelter and faith-based support and counsel.
On what the Church is not doing right, Oshofowora identified negligence of signs of violence before marriage, refusal to join perceived temperamental partners in marriage, and misquoting, misunderstanding and misrepresenting certain portions of the Bible, thereby encouraging them to stay with violent partners.
“The signs of violence are always there before marriage, but many churches do not have an effective premarital counselling programme that is comprehensive enough to identify these issues before marriage.
“Even when we do, instead of recommending the relationship to be broken immediately, and refusing to join them if they don’t listen, we try to mediate between them, teaching the person on the receiving end how to cope with a temperamental partner. Whereas temper is the seed of violence, once you cite it in one of them, you clearly tell them it won’t work.
“Also the fact that many leaders do not believe in divorce under any circumstance because they misquote, misunderstand and misrepresent Mal 2:15-16. They refuse to separate them and ask the victim to leave. And this is what often causes the cases of mortality that we have. We keep encouraging them to stay with violent partners till one day the victim is killed or the victim kills the partner in self-defence,” she explained.
For someone who handles cases of gender-based violence on a regular basis, Oshofowora, who is also a Christian, is of the opinion that once violence is established, the victim should leave that marriage and environment as quickly as possible.
For her: “This is because the covenant of life is more important than the covenant of marriage. Marriage is just a very small subset of life, marriage must never be the opportunity cost of life.”
Oshoforowa also added that the church can do better, especially in the area of professional counselling for both singles and married couples.
“The Church must also understand and accept that just because someone is a pastor does not automatically make the person a good or professional counsellor.
“We need to train our ministers on the basic rudiments and principles of counselling and also give room for those who are professional in counselling or who have it as a ministry and are good at it the freedom and leverage to handle counselling in churches, even if they are not ministers.
“And the church has to do better, especially in the area of professional counselling for both singles and married,” she added.
Speaking from the Islamic point of view, Khaleepha Muteeullah Idowu Adegbenro Azzayyaatty Alhamaawy R.T.A noted that the Prophet, Muhammad, (SAW) set direct examples of the ideals of a marital relationship in his personal life.
According to him: “There is no clearer prophetic saying about a husband’s responsibility toward his wife than his response when asked: ‘Give her food when you take food, clothe her when you clothe yourself, do not reveal her face, and do not beat her’.”
He continued: “A responsible man will never raise his hands to beat his wife because we are of the same being. An understandable man or woman will know that fighting, cheating or killing one another is like doing it to oneself.”
“Abusive behaviour towards one’s wife is forbidden because it contradicts the objectives of Islamic jurisprudence – specifically the preservation of life and reason, and the Qur’anic injunctions of righteousness and kind treatment.
“We as religious leaders preach this and we will continue to tell our members that “any violence and coercion against women that is used to control or subjugate is considered to be oppression and is unacceptable in Islam, even if it is sanctioned by cultural practices.”
To stem the rising tide in domestic violence, family and friends should have a powerful impact. Victims who receive support from people they are closest to experience less future violence, injury, suicide, depression, and other negative health outcomes.
And to adequately respond to the needs of victims of violence, religious leaders also can utilise their positions as community leaders to help shape the discussion of issues concerning violence against women.