Title page for ETD etd-12082005-154509
||Behind closed doors. Listening to the voices of battered women : a Sociological study of spousal abuse in Venda
|Dr K Naidoo
Statistics reveal that there are large numbers of women, including those in marital unions or partnerships, who are enduring violence and abuse. Most of this abuse is at the hands of intimate partners and loved ones. Although arguments suggest that men too suffer abuse, women are the primary victims in the vast majority of cases. Domestic abuse in the South African context does not just involve minor forms of physical assault, but, frequently, serious injury and even death of women. In many cases of familial violence children who witness or are brought into the domain of conflict, suffer deep emotional and physical pain.
The present study sought to develop insight into the factors that lead to the abuse of women in a particular South African locality: Thohoyandou, Limpopo Province. Qualitative methods were used to study the experiences of twenty women who had suffered different degrees of violence in their marriages. All the women live in the area previously demarcated as ‘Venda’ and reported the abuse of their husbands to the Tshilidzini Trauma Centre in Thohoyandou. The literature review and interviews with members of the South African Police reveals that levels of gender-based violence are very high in the area and that protection orders do not act as effective deterrents. Detailed probing of the circumstances surrounding women’s early lives, their relationships and entry into marriage, their struggles within their marriages and their challenges to sustain them, their needs to bring up the children and live good lives – revealed a number of primary and secondary factors that could be viewed as contributing to the emergence of violence and the dissolution of their marriages. The primary factors that women cited were: extramarital affairs (of their spouses), men’s culturally defined need to be the dominant partner in the relationship, men’s sense of the ‘normality of wife battering’, economic constraints of the household and the opportunistic offering of support for a man by his birth family despite knowledge of him abusing his wife (and children). Secondary factors that trigger tension, discord and eventually violence include: suspicions that a partner is being unfaithful, feelings of jealousy, and women’s financial dependency on men.
These factors illuminate the argument that women, despite changes in the Constitution and the introduction of gender-sensitive protective legislative measures, find themselves disadvantaged by the combined effects of cultural and patriarchal constraints. Their abuse can be explained in terms of men’s views that ‘disciplining women’ is part of the cultural norm. These practices have been culturally transmitted and would require concerted action and unity on the part of women if they have to be addressed and transformed.
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