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Men’s violence on wives proof of skewed masculinity

By Vision Reporter

Added 6th January 2009 03:00 AM

If it were between countries, we would call it a war. If it were a disease, we would call it an epidemic. If it were an oil spill, we would call it a disaster. But it is happening to women, and it is just an everyday affair. It is domestic violence. (Silv

If it were between countries, we would call it a war. If it were a disease, we would call it an epidemic. If it were an oil spill, we would call it a disaster. But it is happening to women, and it is just an everyday affair. It is domestic violence. (Silv

By Lillian Tibatemwa-Ekirikubinza

If it were between countries, we would call it a war. If it were a disease, we would call it an epidemic. If it were an oil spill, we would call it a disaster. But it is happening to women, and it is just an everyday affair. It is domestic violence. (Silverman and Mukherjee)

The media is awash with stories of wife killings. In several cases, the husbands’ violence was triggered by suspicion that the woman was engaging in adultery.

Mushanga’s 1988 study on criminal violence revealed that adultery is frequently a major factor in homicide and aggravated assault in Uganda.

In 2005- 2006, I conducted in-depth interviews with 50 men in Ugandan prisons for killing their wives. In 52.9% of cases the men gave adultery as the cause of the violence.

The trend is in line with Vetten et al’s 2003 report on Intimate Femicide in South Africa where killings by husbands were often triggered by struggles over women’s sexual choices and behaviour.

The predominance of adultery as a cause of femicide arises out of the fact that within patriarchy, sexual prowess is central to the concept of masculinity.

A wife’s adultery challenges her husband’s sexual virility — a challenge that goes to the core of manhood, thus leading a man into losing self-control. Greig Alan, 2001 observes that men in many cultures wage daily battle to prove to themselves and to others that they qualify for inclusion in the esteemed category “male.” To be “not male,” is to be reduced to the status of woman.

It is partly men’s insecurity about their masculinity that promotes abusive behaviour towards women.

A husband’s violence against his wife is rooted in power and gender. A man — sometimes polygamous — who kills an adulterous wife is reminding the woman that sexual freedom is a preserve of men.

I asked the imprisoned men whether men’s adultery is acceptable. Their answers evidenced the double standards of what patriarchy approves of men’s and women’s sexuality.

They averred that no man can tolerate a woman with multiple sexual partners because: “that is culture” … “a man is the head of the family and has the right to do what he wants” … “men have authority over their wives but the reverse is not true” … “adultery by a woman is a sign of lack of respect for her husband”

“It is natural for a man to have more than one woman. That is why a woman willingly becomes a fourth wife.”

When asked what he would do if he caught his wife in an act of adultery, one respondent said: “I would kill both of them. The man would have shown that I am no man.”

Another asked: “a woman I paid bride price for, how can she engage in extramarital relationships?”

I have often called for legislation to end violence against women. Today my focus is on the role of men in ending violence against women.

As observed by Michael Flood (2006), violence against women is a men’s issue.

Men have a crucial role to play in ending this violence and helping build a culture based on gender equality.

Together with Flood, I believe that most men are not violent, but few have done anything to challenge the violence perpetrated by a minority of men. Too many men have stayed silent in the face of other men's violence-supportive attitudes and behaviour.

As stated by Flood and evidenced in my study, violence is more likely in contexts where manhood is defined as dominance, toughness or male honour.

Most men do not ever use violence against their wives. But those men who do are more likely to have sexist, rigid and hostile gender-role attitudes.

There are higher rates of domestic violence in cultures and contexts where violence is seen as a normal way to settle conflicts, men feel entitled to power over women, family gender relations are male-dominated, husband-wife relations are seen as private, and women are socially isolated.

Men must take part in public action against violence. We need to change social norms and power inequalities that feed into violence. Men must challenge the unfair power relations and promote gender roles based on non-violence and gender justice.

Violence against women is a ‘men’s issue’ because, as community leaders and decision-makers, men can play a key role in helping stop violence against women.

It’s a men’s issue because men can speak out and step in when male friends and relatives attack women. And it’s a men's issue because the minority of men who treat women with contempt and violence, give all men a bad name. It is up to the majority of men to help create a culture in which this is unacceptable.

The writer is a deputy vice-chancellor at Makerere University

Men’s violence on wives proof of skewed masculinity

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