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We say no to wo(men) abuse

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An article in the Times Sunday has raised debate among gender activists, and the Times is being called to answer for what is being classified as hate speech after its decision to publish the article by the columnist Qalakaliboli titled ‘Women are the worst abusers’.

This article was in reaction to the 16 Days Against Gender Based Violence campaign recently held across the globe. He argues that most campaigns are run against men, instead of running campaigns that will clearly bring solutions to the rise in cases of gender abuse.

The bone of contention with the activists, however, is that the article is insensitive to the plight of women suffering at the hands of male abusers. The level of intolerance for his view is extreme and they are demanding an apology for his opinion.

This newspaper does not condone abuse - or violence in any form - against any human being. We also subscribe to the rights of individuals to express their opinions within boundaries that do not encroach on the rights of others.

We are, therefore, mindful of issues bordering on defamation and hate speech and the often thin line between what constitutes hate speech or fair and justified comment.

Hate speech is defined as a communication which carries no meaning other than the expression of hatred for some group, especially in circumstances in which the communication is likely to provoke violence.

It is an incitement to hatred, primarily against a group of persons defined in terms of race, ethnicity, national origin, gender, religion, sexual orientation and the like.

Hate speech can be any form of expression regarded as offensive to racial, ethnic and religious groups as well as other discrete minorities such as women.

The right to freedom of expression, on the other hand, is recognised as a human right under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and recognised in International Human Rights law in the international Covenant on Civil and Political rights.

These rights, however, come with restrictions, when necessary, for the respect of the rights or reputations of others or for the protection of national security, public order, public health or morals.

Infringe

Did this right exercised by Qalakaliboli overstep onto hate speech and did it infringe on the rights of women? Was there any justification for his argument that women themselves are abusers?

Would he have been said to have used hate speech if the article headline was;"Men are the worst abusers? " Would men have raised a protest? Certainly not. Men have not reacted to these campaigns this way in the past and certainly have not during the 16 days of activism. In this country, only Qalakaliboli seems to have reacted and women are up in arms.

Their reasoning is simple to understand. Statistics are there for all to see that men are indeed the worst abusers of women and, therefore, campaigns have largely been focused on men, calling for an end to violence against women.

But what of the abuse against men? Statistics are raising a serious cause for concern as more men are now reporting cases of abuse by women, all over the globe.

A recent survey of Central and Nairobi provinces in Kenya by the male advocacy group Maendeleo ya Waaume (Progress for Men) found 460 000 cases of domestic abuse against men, up from 160 000 cases in 2009.

In Britain, with every 100 women murdered by men, there are 30 men murdered by women. The 2001-2002 British crime Survey found that 19 per cent of domestic abuse incidents were reported to be male victims, with half of these being committed by a female abuser. Between April 2005 to March 2006 the figures of abuse cases against men rose to 24 per cent.

The British Home Office statistics showed that men made up 37.5 per cent of domestic violence victims each year during 2004. The number of women prosecuted for domestic violence rose from 1 575 in 2004-5 to 4 266 in 2008-9.

Mark Brooks of Mankind Initiative, a helpline for domestic violence victims, said: "It’s a scandal that in 2010 all domestic violence victims are still not being treated equally. We reject the gendered analysis that so many in the domestic violence establishment still pursue; that the primary focus should be female victims. Each victim should be seen as an individual and helped accordingly".

In most countries, domestic violence is deemed unacceptable by most people, but it is equally true that the social acceptability of domestic violence differs by country.

According to a UNICEF survey, the percentage of women aged 15-49 who think a husband is justified in hitting or beating his wife under certain circumstances is, for example, 90 per cent in Jordan, 85.6 per cent in Guinea, 85.4 per cent in Zambia, 85 per cent in Sierra Leone, 81.2 per cent in Laos and 81 per cent in Ethiopia.

The good news is that only 38 per cent of Swazi women support any justification for this, according to the Demographic Health Survey of 2006 -2007.

This clearly indicates that there is still a lot to be done by advocacy groups to eliminate this phenomenon, across both sexes.

 

Both men and women have a responsibility to wipe it out completely. To do so, however, we have to be bold enough to admit that abuse exists across both sexes and should not, for one moment, take one extreme view against the other. How we communicate these messages is also extremely important. Our choice of words should not come across as insulting or demeaning. What the recent statistics show is that campaigns should, from now on, present a balanced campaign for both sexes so as to prevent criticism by one against the other.

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