“Excuse me sir, I am here to report that my wife physically assaulted me last night, I even have injuries to back my claims.” These are words rarely heard (if ever heard) at any police station from a man.
For ages, Gender Based Violence (GBV) cases have mostly had men as the perpetrators and women and children as the victims. Numerous non-government organisations have conducted women empowerment forums to sensitise women on their place in society. But very few efforts have been made concerning male victims.
Though men have always been seen as part of the problem towards achieving gender balance, the tide seems to be turning, and not in their favour. A number of them have been victims with their spouses as the perpetrators. Some even run away from their homes.
Shamsi Kazimbaya, the acting Secretary General of RWAMREC (Rwanda Men Resource Centre), an NGO that fights for men’s rights on the gender table, says that cases of men being on the receiving end are common.
“When we began our programme, we conducted an assessment down to the district level and established that men were suffering in silence. For long, when speaking about GBV, society has perceived men as perpetrators and rarely victims. But the truth is that some of them suffer in silence. The tradition and conservative African culture makes it hard for them to report it. Men are perceived to be somewhat superior and stronger and not supposed to admit openly to weakness.”
Kazimbaya adds that negative masculinity has been a leading cause of silence amongst men. “With all that is expected of them, none of them wants to seem helpless by calling for help or reporting to the authorities. Society only finds out when the violence escalates to life threatening levels.”
She says that the wrong interpretation of gender programmes by some women could have given rise to some men’s problems. “In the women empowerment programmes, some women wrongly interpret the programmes and their purpose. Though the purpose of the programmes is to promote gender equity, some take the programmes and forums as a call for resistance and end up oppressing their spouses or partners. For long, women have felt that men were superior to them, the sudden empowerment should be handled carefully,” she says.
Soon to be 58 years old, Yusuf Ganza, a resident of Nyamirambo, sees the rising number of GBV cases against men as a sign of men weakening. “The young men of today are not like the young men of our days; nowadays they are weak and cannot even stand up for themselves. That’s the reason for such cases. Any man going to the police to report that his wife has assaulted him does not deserve to be referred to as a man; he has no right to if he doesn’t even have control over his household. Traditionally men were not challenged physically by women; they knew their place and took it well,” Ganza remembers.
Ganza doesn’t see things getting better anytime soon for men. “You young men have allowed yourselves to be overpowered, they (women) know that you can be beaten and remain silent to protect your egos. It won’t get better soon, all organisations are trying to fight for women’s rights and no one cares about men. With all these gender equality issues going on, one party will have to suffer,” Ganza says.
Doreen Igambire, a lawyer in Kigali, says that men who do not seek justice and nurse their injuries quietly could be doing so out of choice. “The constitution allows both men and women to seek justice in a court of law, those who don’t do it out of choice,” Igambire says.
Lina Mbabazi, a mother of one, has been married for three years. She says that the violence against men perpetrated by their spouses could be as a reaction stemming from ongoing women empowerment forums. “As far as seeking gender equity goes, women are now more vocal than ever; they are standing up to men and at times some of them take it personal and get physical.”
Mbabazi confesses to having heard some women brag about how they ‘control’ or ‘handle’ their husbands. “Honestly, I have overheard a lot of women talk about how they physically challenge their husbands; they talk of it like it is impressive. It worries me because it could soon become a trend. Some feel protected by the law because of the empowerment programmes and are sure that they will get away with what they do,” says Mbabazi.
Allen Umwali, a GBV officer at Gender Monitoring office, says that the silent culture could also be blamed for the increasing number of intimate partner violence experienced in some homes. “We have a silent culture; people don’t talk about what happens in their homes and relationships, they keep it bottled up. At some point, emotions run over and if they can’t file for divorce, they turn violent,” Umwali says.
“It would be easier if people talked about their woes at least to a close friend. It would make it easier to deal with whatever is bothering them,” she says.
Umwali says that the gender equity forums are not solely meant for women, but men are reluctant to attend them.
“Most of these forums are not solely for women, they are not meant to ‘arm’ women against their spouses. The main purpose of these forums is ensuring that everyone has a chance on the platform. At times men are reluctant to participate and end up saying that no one cares about their welfare, which is not true gender justice. It is time everyone came on board and embraced change so that no one feels marginalised,” Umwali says.
The GBV officer adds that it would also be very good if women do not misunderstand the purpose of the women empowerment. “The moment some of them interpret the messages passed to them wrongly, the end result is unpleasant.”
To leave such occurrences in the past, the gender experts advice that men with such experiences will have to speak out to get the attention they deserve. “I would encourage men to speak out, to talk of what’s happening, it is the only way we can know of the situation and give it the attention it deserves. They need to know that it is okay to speak out and it doesn’t make them lesser men when they speak out,” Kazimbaya says.
Police speaks out:
Chief Inspector of Police and head of Anti GBV Desk, Linda Nkuranga, says that men do report cases of Gender Based Violence, but not in large numbers. “Yes they do, but the numbers are not big due to the stigma and culture. Because of the increased awareness some of them are coming out to report.”
From January to June this year, police reports indicate that a total of 106 cases of violence have been reported, ranging from murder, assault, suicide and harassment.
Nkuranga further says that the numbers of incidences have gone down. “Though the number seems slightly high, the number has gone down; it is just that we are having more reported cases of violence against men. Awareness has brought people to the realisation that action will be taken if you engage in Gender Based Violence no matter who you are.”
Male domestic violence victims may be reluctant to get help for a number of reasons.
A 1997 report says significantly more men than women do not disclose the identity of their attacker. A 2009 study showed that there was greater acceptance for abuse perpetrated by females than by males. In a recent study of the judicial attributions of sentences for battered women convicted of killing their male partners, researchers found that judges often minimized previous partner violence, describing discrete episodes of violence, rather than as ongoing patterns of serious domestic abuse.
Some studies have shown that women who assaulted their male partners were more likely to avoid arrest even when the male victim contacts police. The study concluded that female intimate violence perpetrators are frequently viewed by law enforcement and the criminal justice system as victims rather than the actual offenders of violence against men. Other studies have also demonstrated a high degree of acceptance of aggression against men by women.
Studies have shown many police officers do not treat domestic violence against men as a serious crime, and often will view the male victim as a “pathetic figure”. It is for this reason, and also the view among many law enforcement officers that men are inherently “stronger” than women (and disregarding that violent women tend to use objects to assault more often than men), that male victims are often less likely to report domestic violence than female victims. When and if they do, men are often treated as the aggressor in the situation, and often even placed under arrest.
The possible reason is stereotyping the issue by society and the law makers who only think that domestic violence is a male beating up his wife. Gender based violence for men is real and is happening everywhere in the world.
Personally I have never seen a male victim of GBV though I have heard my friends talk about it which is hard for me to believe. How can a woman beat you? If GBV for men exists, then society has not done much to address the issue because no man has come out to report such a case.
Rwandan society is not addressing GBV for men and only focuses on women. Though some men who still believe that a woman should be submissive to their husband as it is in Rwandan culture, gender equality has given power to women to the extent of fighting with their spouses.
Men are considered superior, so society presumes that they do not face GBV in their homes and those who face it can’t speak out because they are ashamed and don’t want to be called inferior.