/** headlines: 124.0 **/
** Topic: Mozambicans Campaign Against Domestic Violence **
** Written 5:03 PM Apr 25, 1997 by mmason in cdp:headlines **
Copyright 1997 InterPress Service, all rights reserved.
Worldwide distribution via the APC networks.
MAPUTO, Apr 21 (IPS) - Mozambican non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are engaged in a campaign to reduce domestic violence but they face many hurdles -- from the fear of abused women to go public to the 'it's-part-of-our-culture' syndrome.
''Let's try dialogue to resolve our problems. Let's avoid violence,'' runs an appeal issued by the women's and other human rights NGOs when they began their three-year 'Everyone Against Violence' campaign late last year.
Government agencies have also joined the campaign, which hopes to change public attitudes to domestic violence in this Southern African nation.
While rights advocates feel that around one out of every five Mozambican women is abused by her spouse or partner, no exact figures or reliable estimates are available. The reasons for this are much the same as in many other African countries.
For one, most people living with abuse keep silent so as to protect the family image. Then again, the police generally do not follow up complaints from abused women because they see domestic violence as a family affair.
The data may be lacking but, says Dr. Helena Pedro of Women, Law and Development (MULEIDE) -- one of the NGOs involved in the campaign, ''there are many women who suffer from domestic violence behind a curtain of tradition and culture.''
This is corroborated by Irene Afonso of the Mozambican Human Rights League's Legal Assistance Board. She says many people, mostly women, approach her institution for help. Some of them ask the League to help them file criminal charges or institute divorce proceedings against their abusers.
Between October 1996 -- just after the launch of the campaign -- and February 1997, some 40 people in Maputo who had suffered abuse in the home requested assistance from MULEIDE's Legal Assistance Board and another 30-odd cases were also brought to MULEIDE's attention in the capital alone, according to Afonso.
But some people are against the campaign, especially since its plans include setting up shelters for abused women, which male critics see as running counter to traditional Mozambican culture.
Terezinha da Silva, president of the Forum Mulher, defends the idea of the shelters: ''It's in these places that they (the women) will find protection, defence, legal assistance and counselling as well as legal instruments they will be able to use if they so desire,'' she says.
The opposition hasn't surprised her. ''We expected resistance because domestic violence is a sensitive issue,'' she explains. ''But it's necessary to fight and do something for the victims of violence. That's why it is important for everyone to participate -- the social sector, doctors, the mass media and others.''
''The police also need to stop seeing it as a husband-and-wife affair in which the man has all the power and is always right while the woman is always blamed.''
''We are a patriarchal society in which the man is the head of the family, acts and lays down the law as he wishes,'' she adds. ''At the same time, we are in a situation of great poverty and domestic violence has increased with this poverty, as in other countries. But it's important for Mozambican families to live in peace and harmony and for there to be respect within the home.
''Women must not be seen as being in a situation of inferiority but in one of equality,'' she adds, explaining why her organisation joined the campaign.
She feels that people who claim that the campaign goes against African culture and tradition have never tried to put themselves in the place of the abused women, to find out how they feel and what they think about domestic violence. The daily existence of these women is dramatic, she says.
That's not an exageration as IPS learnt from women who live with abuse. ''I have been married for 10 years now and I have three children,'' says one civil servant who agreed to tell her story as long as her name was not published. ''Three years after my wedding, after I had my first son, physical violence entered our relationship. There is not a month that goes by without my getting a beating.''
''Sometimes the aggression results from simple things,'' she adds. ''If I ask him why he came home late, I get a good thrashing. I know he has a lover and that his family approves because they all don't like me and want me to leave the house. But I'm not going to do that because I don't want to lose my children. I thought of getting a divorce but I have to think about my children's future.''
Another woman, who also requested anonymity, said she was often beaten in the presence of her two children, aged six and eight years. ''The elder one has already told me that we should leave the house,'' she told IPS.
She has also been sexually abused by her husband, she said: ''He came home one day. I don't know if he was drunk, but what happened is that while I was in the children's room looking at TV, he called me to our bedroom and demanded that we make love.
''I wasn't prepared for that so I refused. He beat me, dragged me to the bed and pulled off my underwear. After he had finished, he just smiled and said: 'With my wife, I do everything'.''
Their families are aware of the problem, she explains, but her parents have advised her to remain in the home because she is a domestic and wouldn't be able to look after the children if she divorced her husband.
One of the most serious cases recorded at the Maputo General Hospital was that of a policemen's wife who had to be hospitalised for three months after her husband beat her with a rasp. Women have also miscarried there after beatings.
In another incident, a man beat up his wife when she tried to prevent him from taking away their children. She couldn't stop him, but as he was driving off with the kids, she threw a stone at the car window. The man filed a complaint with the police and she was thrown in prison.
Some men see domestic violence as the result of women trying to upset what they feel is the natural order of things. ''I am not an apologist for violence. I think there should be corrective measures,'' says engineer Almiro Souto. ''But the man must not lose his male status. There are women who forget they are women and want to argue with the man on an equal footing.
''When there is an argument, they get angry in an unbecoming way with their husbands but nature has already given full powers to the man. He is the head of the family and when he sees that his status is questioned he is forced to resort to other means to enforce his status.''
It's not only women who suffer domestic violence, whether physical or psychological, according to Afonso, but also children. ''There are also men who are abused, but few of them disclose this because they have a superiority complex or want to protect their macho image,'' she says. (END/IPS/DM/KB/97)
Origin: Harare/MOZAMBIQUE-HUMAN RIGHTS
[c] 1997, InterPress Third World News Agency (IPS)
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