Domestic violence is a global pandemic and a form of human rights violation. One in three women experiences violence from an intimate partner worldwide. This is more common in developing countries in general and Ethiopia in particular. With the rising level of reported abuses against women by their intimate partners, the problem has become a cross-cutting issue interlinked with everyday routines. EBR’s Kiya Ali spoke with victims, psychologists, government officials and legal experts to shed light on the matter.
A father’s love is just as important to a child’s development as that from the mother. However, Merhawit Tadele’s experience is the reverse. She was repeatedly raped by her father during her childhood. She finally decided to flee to Addis Ababa as she could not bear the sexual and emotional violence anymore. In Addis Ababa, Merhawit, who had grown up in the countryside, had no relatives in the city, forcing her to become a prostitute.
Sexual abuse is one form of domestic violence, mostly committed by relatives. The victims range from the wife and children to the elders. This crime often goes unnoticed, neglected and barely disclosed partly due to family secrecy and socio-cultural norms in Ethiopia. In fact, it is considered a private and family affair in Ethiopia.
Although domestic violence may occur regardless of gender, the number of victims who are female outweighs their male counterparts within Ethiopia and in the world as a whole. About 40Pct of women are victims of domestic violence in Ethiopia, while below one percent of men have undergone such experiences. In their role as wives, intimate partners, girlfriends, mothers, sisters, children, elders, or stepdaughter, women are the main victims of domestic violence. This type of violence usually occurs in a household environment, within a relationship between a man and a woman. The abuser often the husband, boyfriend, father, son, stepson or brother.
For instance in Awi zone, in the state of Amhara, eight out of every 10 women are victims of domestic violence, but less than one percent of them sought help, according to a study conducted by Agumasie Semahegn, a lecturer at the College of Health Science, University of Ghana. Another study by Sileshi G Abeya noted that three in four women had experienced at least one incident of domestic violence in their lifetime in western Ethiopia, but less than one-third of these women had reported to concerned bodies.
Domestic violence has detrimental effects on women. World Health Organization (WHO) reports show that women who suffer from domestic violence, be it physical or sexual abuse or both, are more likely to be exposed to extreme poor physical health conditions. They may have problems with walking, carrying out ordinary activities, pain, memory loss, and dizziness. In addition, they have a reduced likelihood of contraceptive use, according to WHO. These women also suffer from irregular vaginal discharge, vaginal bleeding, pain during intercourse, chronic pelvic pain, urinary tract infection and medically treated pelvic inflammatory disease.
Abonesh Hailu, 32, is among the many who have passed through such problems. A mother of three children, she got married eight years ago. As a survivor of female genital mutilation (FGM), she feels pain during sexual intercourse. FGM is one of the other forms of domestic violence. “I suffered from urinary tract infection and irregular vaginal discharge, which I recovered from after being diagnosed and completing my medicine prescription. However, I still feel pain during sexual intercourse.”
Besides suffering from sexual health problems, survivors of domestic violence are highly vulnerable to mental and emotional health problems. “A traumatic event can lead to mental health issues such as posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety, conflict mental illness, suicidal thoughts, and sleep disturbance,” Azeb Asaminew, who is a Psychiatrist at Debremarkos Hospital, tells EBR. “Some of my patients are suffering from flashbacks, dreams or nightmares about the event.”
From a psychological perspective, repeated violence creates a sense of helplessness and hopelessness, according to experts. ”A feeling of unworthiness, inability to trust anyone, withdrawal from a social relationship, and a sense of ‘why me’ is potentially caused by domestic violence,” states Senait Temesegen, a Psychologist with over a decade of experience in counseling.
Some of the major causes of domestic violence are; low self-esteem, extreme jealousy, poor anger management, inferiority complex, untreated psychological problems, un-resolved childhood trauma, limiting traditional beliefs and addiction, among others. “However, the causes of domestic violence cannot be used as a justification for the actions of the abuser nor should it be used to rationalize the behaviors of the abuser, since the psychological wounds of domestic violence are devastating,” she explains.
Rather, knowing the root causes of domestic violence can only be used to better understand, why abusers believe that their actions to abuse their partners are rational. “The abuser may also be a victim of violence during childhood and thought that violence is the right way of handling a dispute. Understanding and helping the abuser, helps to break the vicious cycle. But, this does not mean that the abuser can escape from legal action,” Senait adds.
The Constitution of Ethiopia states that women have the right to protection from any form of domestic violence. Particularly Article 35 of the constitution, which outlines the specific rights. However, there is no separate article or law that would directly address the issue of domestic violence, according to legal experts. “Besides, the definition given to domestic violence is not comprehensive and the scope is very narrow,” Loza Tsegaye, the project coordinator for women scholars support program at Setaweet explains.
Dereje Tegyibelu, a Legal Services Director at the Ministry of Women and Children Affairs agrees. “The law does not address the different aspects of domestic violence like economic violence and marital rape. In fact, article 564 of the criminal code is the only provision with explicit reference to the term ‘domestic violence’ within it,” he says. “Article 564 does address domestic violence committed by a marriage partner or a person cohabiting in an irregular union. But, it does not consider any form of abuse committed by anyone other than those who have sexual relations with the women, as domestic violence.”
The gaps are apparent despite the Ministry of Justice revising the criminal code in 2002, which included amendments intended to protect women from all forms of domestic violence. Ammendment of the Code addresses violence against women in different forms; by expanding the existing vague provision, by introducing new offenses, redefining the elements of these offenses, adding aggravating circumstances and revising the penalties applicable in cases of violation. Since then, no amendments have been made.
The breaking up of social ‘norms’ is another roadblock in the process of fighting domestic violence, according to Dereje. “Some of the possible solutions are; creating awareness, working on social consciousness and traditional values, having support groups and having strong social relationships,” he says. Senait agrees. “Domestic violence is a human rights abuse and it is a learned behavior. So, it can be unlearned“. EBR
The story of Merhawit Tadesse is sourced from a study dubbed “the Socio-economic cause and effects of prostitution” with the consent of the Author.
8th Year • Aug.16 – Sep.15 2019 • No. 77