Although perpetrators of domestic violence are mostly men, with women always being the victims, there is growing concern that women-to-men abuse is actually a very big problem in Zimbabwe.
There is not much data to confirm the actual figures of men who are being abused or treated violently by their partners because most of these cases go unreported.
Men suffer in silence because they have been socialised into believing that they are strong and that they should not cry.
So reporting that his wife or partner has beaten him is a big dent on a man’s ego and he decides to keep quiet about it and prefers to suffer in silence.
The topic on gender-based violence took centre stage at a local hotel where journalists from local media houses met for an HIV media briefing organised by SafAids, a local NGO that deals with documentation and dissemination of information on the topic.
Male colleagues argued that there were men who were being subjected to psychological and physical abuse by their partners but these cases are never highlighted.
A journalist also argued that there weren’t many organisations that supported men’s needs and yet the actual psychological damage inflicted by women is so much greater than the actual physical harm inflicted by men.
The only local organisations that come to mind for representing men in as far as gender-based violence is concerned are Padare/Enkundleni Forum for Men and Varume Svinurai Men’s Forum.
“Most men are subjected to emotional abuse which unfortunately is not visible to the ordinary eye.
It is unfortunate that we only see results of this abuse when a man reacts violently to his partner,” explained one journalist.
“Police will ridicule men who report such cases and hence we suffer in silence.”
So emotional was the debate that SafAids programme officer, Beatrice Tonhodzai-Ngondo who was also facilitator of the media briefing, had to stop the debate.
Emotions were rising and that unveiled an untold story, a real life story which needs to be researched and highlighted.
Equal Justice Foundation (EJF) a US based organisation reports that some professionals have observed that mental and emotional abuse can be an area where women are often “brutal” than men.
Men on the other hand are quicker to resort to physical abuse and they are more capable of physical assaults that are more brutal — even deadly.
Very little attention has been paid to domestic abuse and violence against men — especially because violence against women has been so obvious and was ignored for a very long time.
EJF says: “There are many reasons why we don’t know more about domestic abuse and violence against men.
“First of all, the incidence of domestic violence reported men appears to be so low that it is hard to get reliable estimates.
“In addition, it has taken years of advocacy and support to encourage women to report domestic violence. Virtually nothing has been done to encourage men to report abuse. The idea that men could be victims of domestic abuse and violence is so unthinkable that many men will not even attempt to report the situation”.
The dynamics of domestic abuse and violence are also different between men and women.
EJF said that in most cases, the actual physical damage inflicted by men is so much greater than the actual physical harm inflicted by women. The impact of domestic violence is less apparent and less likely to come to the attention of others when men are abused.
“For example, it is assumed that a man with a bruise or black eye was in a fight with another man or was injured on the job or playing contact sports. Even when men do report domestic abuse and violence, most people are so astonished men usually end up feeling like nobody believes them.
“There are no absolute rules for understanding the emotional differences between men and women. There are principles and dynamics that allow interpretation of individual situations. Domestic abuse and violence against men and women have some similarities and differences.
“For men or women, domestic violence includes pushing, slapping, hitting, throwing objects, forcing or slamming a door or striking the other person with an object, or using a weapon.”
Domestic abuse can also be mental or emotional.
“However, what will hurt a man mentally and emotionally, can in some cases be very different from what hurts a woman. For some men, being called a coward, impotent or a failure can have a very different psychological impact than it would on women. Unkind and cruel words hurt, but they can hurt in different ways and linger in different ways.
The incidence of domestic violence against men appears to be so low that it is hard to get reliable estimates. But how do we make men realise that the Domestic Violence Act actually also protects them from this abuse?”
The Domestic Violence Act in Zimbabwe defines domestic violence to include physical, sexual, emotional, verbal, psychological and economic abuse, as well as intimidation, harassment, stalking, forcible entry and property damage, access to property and the removal of household assets.
The definition also includes harm resulting from traditional practices such as forced marriage, child marriage, wife inheritance and female genital mutilation.