An African woman’s right to walk away

Date: December 5, 2010
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As the campaign for the 16 Days of Activism enters its final week, it’s important to ponder the acceptability and tolerance of women-bashing that is inherent in African cultures.

Women get beaten for the flimsiest of reasons as men seek to demonstrate domination over them. Yet even with offenses regarded as grave or unforgivable, such as unfaithfulness, it is impossible for me to embrace the idea that laying a hand on a woman is justified.

I know there are men who have never, who would never, and who can never ever lift a finger to hit a woman. The thought is repulsive to them, alien and completely divorced from their mental software.

My brother is one of them. The father of my child is another one. A number of my male friends also come to mind and several men I have known along the journey of life.

It makes me wonder then: if beating women comes “naturally” with acquiring the status of “manhood” – why are there so many decent male human beings who are not inclined towards violence against women?

In embracing the concept of “Africanness” how does one reconcile these barbaric tendencies with the most rudimentary notions of justice, fairness, respect and the recognition of women’s humanity and dignity?

I was appalled some weeks ago when a Zimbabwean man who had been hauled before an overseas court shamelessly admitted that he had beaten up his wife and excused his disgusting conduct by stating that this sort of violent interaction with women was “common” where he comes from and basically normal.

Of late the media has been flooded with objectionable reports of men beating up their wives for all manner of feeble reasons – ranging from anger because a wife had bought a new cell phone, to anger because the wife had not answered her cell phone, to anger because a cell phone was switched off at night. Give me a break!

Gender-based violence is about exercising dominance; it is about the social (and gendered) constructs regarding the worth, place of, value, and the “ownership” of, a woman by a man.

Many women derive a sense of worth and value from being “claimed and owned” by a man in the form of matrimony – they don’t regard marriage as a partnership but rather they see it as an opportunity to serve, obey and endure.

By internalising these normative patriarchal values; women become more vulnerable to violence and abuse because they fail to assert themselves in relationships in a way that ensures that the men they share their lives and bodies with do not exercise undue control over them.

But why do men beat up women?

Culture: some say it is socialisation and they’ve been told it is an appropriate demonstration and expression of manhood to beat up women, especially wives because wives are their matrimonial “property”.

Upbringing: some argue that men who abuse women watched their own fathers or male role models beat up women and now merely repeat, re-enact and replay the script they memorised in childhood.

Inadequacy: others assert that men who are violent have a sense of inadequacy and derive some measure of self-assertion when they display violence, instil fear and physically exercise dominance over those they know are mostly powerless to defend themselves or retaliate: women.

Brutality: some people are just pre-disposed to evil and gain immense satisfaction in inflicting pain on those they perceive to be weaker, and these kinds of people go beyond inflicting physical harm to the cruelty of emotionally, mentally and psychologically tormenting another person because it makes them feel powerful to destroy the confidence of another.

So what can women do?

I am inclined to urge women to do the only thing they can do when faced with an abuser – flee!

You can’t change somebody else – you can only change how you react to them.

Walk away – keep walking and don’t you dare go back to him. Walk away and start anew. Walk away and live again. It is your right as an African woman. Walk away and believe in your humanity – believe that you’re human too and that you deserve better.

Delta Milayo Ndou is a Zimbabwean gender activist and journalist. This article is part of a special series on the 16 Days of Activism for the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service that offers fresh views on everyday news. For more information on the 16 Days Campaign go to





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