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Africa: Confessions of an Abused Husband

By Lonzen Rugira

For most of us when we hear about gender based violence we immediately think of a man beating a woman, usually his wife or girlfriend. It is what comes to mind even as the term GBV is technically supposed to refer to the abuse meted out to either of the sexes (men, women, boys, and girls). In any case, we know that most societies, including our own, suffer from this problem: where men physically and psychologically abuse women. In fact, consensus of the need to nip it in the bud has emerged that especially calls for bringing the perpetrators, men, on board. It is HeForShe.

The HeForShe campaign is a culmination of efforts that started about two and a half decades ago after the end of the Cold War shifted the global security narrative from the "hard" aspects of the arms race to the "soft" concerns of democracy, human rights, and women empowerment, for instance.

It is the context that led to the emergence of the women's movement that swept across Africa and some parts of Asia in the 1990s that pushed for the world to pay more attention to issues facing women. And with that the problem of GBV was brought to the fore as a concern for humanity and taken up by organisations like the United Nations, for example. Local and international organisations were immediately created to deal with women's concerns in general and GBV in particular. Monies were poured into them with the view that they'd lead to more understanding of these problems and the way they are manifest in society.

The source of the problems women faced, it was found, was that men tended to want to control their lives.

Moreover, violence against women was the uncontrolled desire by men to control them. It was the expression of a negative masculinity, a damaging notion of power that assigned certain roles to women, roles that would reinforce and normalise men's control over women.

In fact, there was nothing normal or natural that said that women must be controlled by men. The desire to do so on the part of men, therefore, was not biological. It was sociological. This was said in fancy language like this: gender based violence is the expression of a negative masculinity borne of a socially constructed patriarchy in which the desire for some women to be controlled is pathological.

In any case, negative masculinity was harmful to both men (perpetrators) and women (victims) - in other words, to society. Be that as it may, it was difficult to dislodge because it constituted behaviour patterns that were deeply-rooted in people's cultures; its resilience meant that only a generational shift in mindset could uproot it.

The first thing to do, therefore, was to problematise it. Next, was to do some things that disrupt culture by separating the bad aspects of gender relations from the good; by retaining the good and making the bad costly, penalised formally by laws and informally by social ridicule, shame.

Finally, the perpetrator group - men - could be brought on board by raising their consciousness about the harm they bring not only to women but also to themselves; reinforcing that such unbecoming conduct is ruinous to society. If they could not stop such behaviour for the love of their wives and children, at least they could do it for patriotism - for the love of country.

HeForShe a noble cause

Positive masculinity was the antidote. It's how we become HeforShe men, a campaign that is as noble and as laudable as they come. Everything made perfect sense until it stopped making sense, after I came across a study last week that threw a spanner in the works. Chief Superintendent Rose Muhisoni, a seasoned police officer who has spent more than a decade working in the area of GBV, decided to write about the subject for her Masters thesis, part of the course for senior police officers at the National Police College, in Musanze. Her thesis reads like a "what about us" cry for abused men.

Apparently men are suffering in silence from abuse meted out by their wives. She even has photographic evidence: boils, burns, bruises, scars.

It is all confusing because it begs the question: If negative masculinity is driving the abuse of women, how do we understand these cries of men?

The answer is ironical: men are silently takinsilently taking the abuse because of, get this, patriarchy. Here's how. Patriarchy conditions men to dominate and control women and it shuts them up when they are at the receiving end of domination and control. Thus, they must remain silent for fear that their manhood will be in question (the loss of control over their women), be perceived as unworthy and suffer public shame.

There's another reason, though. Men feel that by talking about their abuse they may be perceived as undermining the efforts to support women victims of abuse. According to Afande Muhisoni, they perceive compassion in "zero-sum" terms.

The data supports this. Statistics show that more women, and some men, are reporting cases of GBV, something that is attributed to the effectiveness of intervention measures. However, there is one area where more cases of men than women are reported to authorities when it comes to GBV: it is suicides.

g the abuse because of, get this, patriarchy. Here's how. Patriarchy conditions men to dominate and control women and it shuts them up when they are at the receiving end of domination and control. Thus, they must remain silent for fear that their manhood will be in question (the loss of control over their women), be perceived as unworthy and suffer public shame.

There's another reason, though. Men feel that by talking about their abuse they may be perceived as undermining the efforts to support women victims of abuse. According to Afande Muhisoni, they perceive compassion in "zero-sum" terms.

The data supports this. Statistics show that more women, and some men, are reporting cases of GBV, something that is attributed to the effectiveness of intervention measures. However, there is one area where more cases of men than women are reported to authorities when it comes to GBV: it is suicides.