Unpacking gender based violence

Two events link my article this week, the upcoming Easter holidays and the just ended summit in Gaborone on gender based violence.

At this time when we celebrate the resurrection of the ‘Prince of Peace,’ I hope that I might help some of you see how ordinary relationships can open the door to gender based violence when peace is absent.

Sadly over the years when I worked with communities, I observed that we are outwardly a churchy society but inwardly the power of peace and love of the Man we believe in often seems to elude us.

Don’t worry, I am not about to launch into a sermon but you don’t have to be an evangelist to see that the absence of peace in families where gender based violence is experienced, can be linked to the absence of a love of God.

There are many individuals out there who do not seem to understand what gender based violence is all about it and what they can do to help reduce it. I trust the following case study from my kgotla a few years back will help

WANGU’S STORY

Wangu came to seek advice and guidance concerning her very difficult circumstances. She was highly expectant and stressed as the father of her unborn child had distanced himself from the situation she was in. I telephoned the man and invited him to the kgotla for reconciliation and he faithfully came at the appointed time.

In telling her story Wangu related how she met Wapa and enjoyed a wonderful relationship for three months. A month later she became pregnant and proudly announced the good news to Wapa, who simply responded by saying ‘Ao Mma.’

These few words communicated volumes to Wangu but she had not braced herself for what was to come.

In the weeks that followed she saw very little of Wapa who started drinking alcohol in a manner he had never done before. Then on the occasions he did visit, no meaningful communication took place between them. This pattern of behavior played itself out until Wangu was almost due to deliver. Preparations like buying clothes for the baby was an issue that Wapa never wanted to discuss.

Thankfully with the assistance of a baby shower, Wangu’s circle of friends and colleagues supported her. As she was just about to go home for maternity leave, she legitimately expected Wapa to show some financial commitment.

WAPA’S DEFENCE

Wapa had listened silently to Wangu’s testimony. When he told his story it took an unprecedented angle and one that watered down my prejudice towards men in similar situations.

Wapa disclosed that when he met Wangu she was already a mother of two children. He saw his role as partner as simply basking in the warmth of Wangu’s love and assisting where possible with the children she already had. He maintained that they did not know each well enough to commit to the financial bind of more children, and added that she should have communicated her intentions to become pregnant. This he claimed would have given him the chance to prepare psychologically for the burden and joy that a new baby brings.

He kept on emphasizing how difficult life had been, and that to be dragged into unplanned costs made him angry. He explained that he already had three children with three different mothers and the maintenance bill was heavy.

Surprisingly Wapa broke down and cried as he was concluding his defence.

WHAT WOULD YOU DO IF YOU WERE THE JUDGE?

Wangu needs support from the father of her unborn baby. She needs both short term support in finances and long term emotional commitment.

Wapa claims he is not capable of supporting Wangu and the unborn baby for two reasons. Firstly he is holding onto the principle of consultation, which was never made. Secondly in showing the court his pay slip he indicated how little he had to survive on after paying maintenance for his other children.

The highly personal issue of why two adults in this day would risk HIV and unplanned parenthood only three months after meeting had also to be addressed. In this the older generation’s avocation of Planned Parenthood where young men were taught some tips to avoid ‘damaging’ young girls was raised. ‘Withdrawal (go itiga ) was one of them. Another was when young women were simply told “go tswala toisi” as a means to deny young men sex.

Today in the era of openness and advanced communication skills, why do we fail to communicate openly what our desires are in a relationship? –

In reconciling these two I encouraged Wangu to admit negligence and apologise to Wapa as this would heal him.

I also reminded Wapa that he had left too much in the hands of Wangu and while he had a point, he had to be responsible and ensure that he stretched his budget to include his fourth child. He could not after all disregard his own part in the consequence of having unprotected sex.

The good news is that they were able to see each other’s point of view and settled their dispute, with Wangu at least going away with some money as Wapa undertook to sell two cows.

In the spirit of Easter this is a story of hope. There are similar cases I have presided over which have not been settled so agreeably, paving the way for bitter recriminations and the potential for gender based violence. We all have an obligation and a duty to develop strategies that can sustain violence free relationships.

Peace and security are human rights issues, so let us sacrifice all we can to give each other not only love but peace and hope – a divine trinity that embraces the fullness of life.

Happy Easter.

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