Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Bystander effect, a plus or minus in Botswana’s fight against domestic violence?

Almost every romantic relationship has a power imbalance and in Botswana the stakes are much higher for men. Batswana men who defer to their partners usually attract snide remarks like “sekukuru” which directly translates to wimp or henpecked husband. Batswana men are always under pressure to prove that they are the ones who wear the pants. Sometimes the line between proving that they are in control and domestic abuse can be blurry.

“The notion of male dominance and female subservience is common and accepted by many communities in Botswana. Some form of discipline, physical or psychological, inflicted on their female partners is commonly culturally accepted as the right or prerogative of men in relationships. Most communities will only frown at the excessive measures used by men, such as that which results in profound injury or death of the partner. This gender attitude is promoted from childhood where the male child is accepted to be more aggressive and dominant while the girl child is encouraged to be more domestic, subservient and tolerant” states a research paper : Intimate partner violence: The need for an alternative primary preventive approach in Botswana by Radiance M. Ogundipe; Nataly Woollett; Gboyega Ogunbanjo; Anthony A. Olashore and  Stephane Tshitenge.

Research results reveal that intimate partner violence is not only pervasive but also irrepressible.

A 2012 self-reported survey of 1229 (639 females and 590 males) citizens of Botswana aged 15 years and above, from remote settlements, rural and urban areas of Botswana, reported a lifetime prevalence of intimate partner violence of 67% among the women. More than one-quarter of the women interviewed admitted that they experienced some form of intimate partner violence within 12 months prior to the survey, while close to half of the men interviewed admitted perpetrating intimate partner violence.

Worse still, the results revealed that despite all those years of working hard,  of building starry careers or amassing academic credentials, educated women find themselves pinned to a bed or cornered at a party or groped, or leered at or catcalled by a man – worse still by educated men.

According to the research report, “In Botswana, educated and employed women appeared to experience more IPV compared with their unemployed and less educated counterparts, but it may be argued that educated and employed women in Botswana may be less tolerant of IPV and more likely to report their experience. Similarly, men with higher educational status admitted to perpetrating IPV more than men with lower levels of education. Here again, the role of lack of assertiveness as a result of economic dependence was not demonstrated in the Botswana context.

“As was found in other southern African countries, cultural beliefs about the unquestionable rights of men to have sex on demand in relationships, and acceptance of partner beating as permissible, played a major role in the prevalence of IPV in Botswana.

“Childhood experience of abuse or violence seems to play an important role in later experience or perpetration of IPV in Botswana. Most (88%) of the women who had experienced IPV and about two-thirds of the men who admitted perpetrating IPV reported being abused as children. About half of these women had also witnessed their mothers experiencing IPV. A quarter of the men who admitted perpetrating IPV had witnessed their mothers experiencing IPV.”

With so many Batswana men and women trapped in the vicious cycle of IPV, the country’s fight against domestic violence seems destined to flounder on the rocks of bystander effect.

There is a long-standing assumption that bystanders are largely apathetic to the plight of others, Botswana social scientists however present a different perspective. They posit that social and political institutions like individuals can also be bystanders and that they can be empowered to have a positive effect on gender relationships.

A Gaborone clinical psychologist, Dr Sophie Moagi says, “a bystander is an observer of violence or other aggressive behavior. In contrast to the passive term, an active or prosocial bystander means someone who actively intervenes in the incident. Generally, we think bystanders are individuals but bystanders can also be collective agents that shape societies’ norms and culture. Engaging bystanders can increase community awareness of the scourge of violence in our society and galvanize everyone to be involved more actively throughout the different stages of violence.We, as bystanders, can prevent violence from occurring by stepping in and calling out assaultive behaviors. By setting standards for what is acceptable and what is not, we can help others to recognize when their comment or behavior is offensive and intolerable. For example, we can respond to inappropriate comments by saying “Are you hearing what I am hearing?”, “I can’t be the only one who thinks this is not OK”, or “I know you’re a better person than that.” By doing so, we can bring out attention to the situation and put peer pressure on the perpetrator to stop.”

This view is shared by Dr Poloko Ntshwarang a Senior Social Work lecturer at the University of Botswana. Dr Ntshwarang explained that “bystander intervention is inclusive and effective because it gives everyone a role to play in reducing abuse and actively changing the culture. Active bystanders are needed more than ever. GBV is not an isolated, incidental, or private matter but it is a societal problem that needs societal effort. It will take involvement and understanding of everyone in society to break the cycle of violence and diminish the factors that feed into GBV. On the global average, a victim of domestic violence experiences assaults 35 times before reaching out to the police. The victim may not report the assault because they are humiliated, they fear revenge, and they are financially dependent on their perpetrator. GBV has the ability to create a personal conflict and can shamefully drive the victim to internalize and normalize their experience, thus prolong their exposure to violence. In this case, as bystanders, we can provide emotional support to the survivor to ensure that they no longer go back to their abusive partner or to trap themselves in shame and guilt.”

The long and short of their argument is that the role as potential bystander should be empowered to prevent and eliminate domestic violence.Specifically, the role of men as bystander of domestic violence holds a great contribution.

 Being a bystander includes anyone who is aware of the abuse, but is not directly involved. Bystanders hold great sway over the outcome of abuse, and can easily align with the perpetrator or the victim. Bystanders have an inherent responsibility to prevent and stop abuse.

Most Batswana men who have been drilled in male dominance often fail to understand their contribution and responsibility to help in cases of violence against women. Their socialization predisposes them to endorse toxic masculinity and see patriarchy not as an evil to be stamped out, but as a natural difference between the genders, ordained by God or biology, to be protected against rampaging feminism.

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