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Executive Director of the Bureau of Women’s Affairs (BWA), Faith Webster, is calling on women to reject and break free of the notion that if a man physically abuses them, it is in some way done out of love.
“That’s a serious myth that we have been trying to address even in our public education sessions. It’s something that we always try to highlight as one of the myths of domestic violence and explain to them that you are under an illusion because there is no way that somebody can really love you and abuse you in this manner,” she says in an interview with JIS News.
“Can love produce these [actions] that put you in the hospital for how many days,… you have to be absent from work is what we often ask,” the Executive Director remarks, adding that “little by little they do come to the recognition that this cannot be so”.
While this might seem like a no brainer, Mrs. Webster explains that it is a quite a complex issue, which is best explained in terms of the cycle of violence theory.
“In terms of the cycle of violence theory we explain to them that they get into a relationship and it starts out very well, this man has been very charming and everything to them and then it moves into a stage where you call it the incidents stage where there are small blows and hits and all of that,” she explains.
Continuing she says “then it goes in the acute battering stage, then it moves to a stage where the woman gets battered and bruised. The man comes back to the woman now with flowers and gifts and takes her out on a date to say he is sorry and he will not do it again and you know what happens? It begins all over again”.
Thus in terms of counselling Mrs. Webster reveals that “we show them that cycle and explain to them that this cannot be love but you know what happens to women sometimes is that they cannot disassociate themselves from the person who was so loving who they met in the very first instance to this monster they now see”.
‘Woman beating’ or the physical harming of a female is just one aspect of violence against women which includes murder, rape, incest, sexual harassment, assault and verbal abuse.
The UN Declaration of Violence Against Women and Girls defines violence against women as: “any act of gender-based violence that results in or is likely to result in physical harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty whether occurring in public or private life”.
Mrs. Webster notes that this issue must be addressed with the utmost urgency as even in cases where it might be a one off experience, the trauma and damage can last for a lifetime.
“That (violence against women) is really serious because that is a damage that can affect women permanently if they don’t receive the help and counselling that is needed to help them to get over the experiences they have had,” she emphasizes.
This she continues, is as a result of the fact that they are “emotionally and psychologically abused and this we have found contributes to them lapsing into a period of depression, some even become suicidal and in terms of some of the young women who are going to school they are not able to concentrate on their lessons. Also they are physically abused and you can see the black eyes and scars on their hands”.
Highlighting the severity, seriousness and lasting effects of violence against women, she recalls a public education session in which adult women broke down because memories of past abuse were triggered.
“We have developed an education tool that we use to help us in our sessions and when we even show that video on incest, sometimes there are older individuals in attendance…I can recall on at least 2 occasions where the women had to be taken out of the room and when we were called out to deal with them we found out that they were relating back to a past experience many years ago when this very thing of incest happened to them and they were not able to speak about it,” the Executive Director recounts.
This is one of the main reasons why the BWA and other stakeholders look forward each year to November 25, which commemorates International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.
“The significance of International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women is to really raise the awareness of the public to the whole issue of exactly what it says violence against our women and our girls. What we want to do is let the public and the various stakeholders understand what this is all about, what it entails, and to solicit support from the public and our stakeholders to join together with us to see how we can eliminate and eradicate this serious ill against our women and our girls in society,” Mrs. Webster affirms.
But this of course is not a job for one day; it is job that the Bureau does right throughout the year.
“Although this issue of violence against our women and children and gender- based violence is an issue that we work at throughout the year, we use this specific time to see how we can intensify our efforts and to really push the message home to others,” she states.
To ensure momentum and progress each year the BWA tries to build up on the number of persons that come into contact with the issue, and its message
“Over the years the response has been pretty good and what we seek to do every year is to bring new people into the loop. We see if we can reach out to other women, girls, men and boys in different areas not just in the public sector but in the private sector, in the communities, in the inner city, the rural communities, and the schools to let them understand what the day is about,” she says.
In the meantime, the BWA will continue its emphasis on education as one of the means by which women can be empowered to free themselves of being victims of violence and violent relationships.
“What we seek to do a lot at the BWA is to educate women and sensitize them about the whole issue so that they can be empowered and find it within themselves to make that decision, which is needed to get them out of these circumstances. We will continue to go out to women in the communities and our own public sector agencies to help them to build up their self esteem and self confidence,” the Executive Director assures.
While acknowledging that the BWA has made headway in making more persons aware of the issue and their rights, Mrs. Webster asserts that the BWA will not be complacent, but will press on and address the emerging challenges.
“What we have found is that people are much more aware of their rights and so I would say that we have made a marked improvement, yet even so we recognize that there is still more work to be done because as we advance and the society moves on in terms of development in the area of Information Communication Technologies; cable TV, the Internet, use of the cell phones (it) brings a new dimension of pornography, sexual violence, and how our women are portrayed,” she opines.
She further states that “so you find now that we have to be working with new and emerging issues in this area of gender-based violence. This brings new challenges and so we have to find new ways to see how we can counteract these new things that are coming to the fore”.
Violence against women and girls is not just a crime, but is regarded as a violation of women’s human rights. The statistics on violence against women reveal a worldwide human rights concern. According to a pamphlet prepared by the BWA “at least one out of every three women have been beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused in her lifetime, according to a study based on 50 surveys from around the world. Usually the abuser is a member of her own family or someone known to her”.