Monday, March 8, 2021
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 THE FAMILY AS THE MOST IMPORTANT INSTITUTION According to World Value Surveys highlighted by the UN agency named above, the family remains the most important institution, valued by the society, in particular in Latin America. Nevertheless, Governments do not invest in families in line with this societal perspective. Strengthening of family stability, and improving of communicational and behavioral skills of family members could contribute to developing individual and relational capacities, which would, in turn, have a positive impact on other areas of well-being and social life. Democracy doesn’t necessarily refer to the political choice of elections as practiced in representative democracies. Democracy also happens in family units, as in where couples agree on decisions and choices without circumventing unwritten rules of marriage as ordained by God. Democracy abhors bullying and autocracy at home. There is, therefore, a correlation between domestic violence and democracy.

Nelson Mandela argued that ‘’No country, no city, no community is immune. ‘’But neither are we powerless against it.’’ According to Mandela, ‘’Violence thrives in the absence of democracy, respect for human rights and good governance. ‘’Many who live with violence day in and day out assume that it is an intrinsic part of the human condition. But this is not so. ‘’Violence can be prevented. Violent cultures can be turned around.’’ And every so often, aggressors get away with these acts committed with impunity because of lack of enlightenment on the affected whose right is violated. The foregoing, therefore, makes it abundantly clear that domestic violence could involve one or more of the above descriptions. Victims don’t have to be beaten or assaulted physically for violence to occur.

DOMESTIC VIOLENCE What is domestic violence? It is important to note that violence is not committed only in the battlefields of where acts of aggression are recorded. Description could vary from one society to the other based on cultures, norms and beliefs. The most common forms of domestic violence are sexual or gender violence, child abuse, physical violence, and economic violence. The danger is that a personality, particularly in the Third World may be involved in acts tantamount to domestic violence without actually knowing the implications of the aggression being committed.

We must first understand what domestic violence means before addressing the effects. The dictionary describes violence as behaviour involving physical force intended to hurt, damage, or kill someone or something.  What could pass as a universal description is reflected in the records of an organ of the United Nations – The World Health Organisation that defines violence as:  “the intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community, that either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, mal-development, or deprivation.” One common feature of violence is that it could hurt victims psychologically, emotionally and physically. It could lead to suffering of untold inconveniences as well as loss of lives through suicide by the person being abused.

CIRCUMSTANCES Under what circumstances are these acts committed? Anybody involved in domestic violence could really be tagged a bully. An aggressor at-home attempts to coerce a victim into committing an act against his or her own wishes and without tacit approval or consent. A good example is the issue of rise in cases of domestic violence recorded globally in the first few months of the outbreak of CORONAVIRUS. UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres had to issue a public statement in which he described the development as it affected women and girls as:  “horrifying as many women under lockdown for #COVID19 faced violence where they should be safest: in their own homes.’’  Regrettably, domestic violence occurs in homes that are supposed to be nests of love and understanding in which family units cohabit in peace in furtherance of their common objectives of pursuing their legitimate interests. It is to be noted that aggression is not a function of gender. A female could be the aggressor in the home. The combination of economic and social stresses largely accounts for the number of incidents of violence recorded in homes.  Secretary-General Guterres disclosed that before the global spread of the new coronavirus statistics showed that a third of women around the world experienced some form of violence in their lives.

 VIOLENCE AS VIOLATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS The United Nations defines also “domestic violence” or “intimate partner violence” as a pattern of behaviour in any relationship that is used to gain or maintain power and control over an intimate partner. ‘’Abuse is physical, sexual, emotional, economic or psychological actions or threats of actions that influence another person. ‘’This includes any behaviours that frighten, intimidate, terrorize, manipulate, hurt, humiliate, blame, injure, or wound someone. ‘’Domestic abuse can happen to anyone of any race, age, sexual orientation, religion, or gender. ‘’It can occur within a range of relationships including couples who are married, living together or dating. Domestic violence affects people of all socioeconomic backgrounds and education levels.’’

UNICEF reports pinpoint violence in the home as ‘’one of the most pervasive human rights challenges of our time. It remains a largely hidden problem that few countries, communities or families openly confront’’ Violence in the home is not limited by geography, ethnicity, or status; it is a global phenomenon.  On the part of children, United Nations Commission on Human Rights points out that child abuse includes the ‘’physical, emotional, or sexual mistreatment of a child, or the neglect of a child, in the context of a relationship of responsibility, trust or power, resulting in actual or potential harm to the child’s physical and emotional health, survival and development.

UNICEF documents assert that ‘’Violence against children is everywhere: it affects children at all stages as they develop from infancy through their early years and adolescence, and takes place in all settings where childhood unfolds.’’ Child exploitation, neglect, sexual and psychological abuse, and other forms of maltreatment occur and affect both boys and girls in lower middle and upper-middle-income countries. Others that may be involved in domestic abuse are people engaged as household workers who attend to the requirements of family units, and others engaged as employees of households.

DOMESTIC ABUSE AS INTERNATIONAL PHENOMENON Records have proven that domestic violence is an international phenomenon. It is not restricted to any part of the world, and can, therefore, not be only the result of only cultures, religions and levels of education.  The issue affects both developed and poorer economies. Studies conducted by UN agencies indicate that anyone can be a victim of domestic violence, regardless of age, race, gender, sexual orientation, faith or class. The following points are noteworthy:

  • Victims of domestic abuse may also include a child or other relative, or any other household member.
  • Domestic abuse is typically manifested as a pattern of abusive behavior toward an intimate partner in a dating or family relationship, where the abuser exerts power and control over the victim.
  • Domestic abuse can be mental, physical, economic or sexual in nature. Incidents are rarely isolated, and usually escalate in frequency and severity. Domestic abuse may culminate in serious physical injury or death.

UNITED NATIONS INTERPRETATION OF DOMESTIC ABUSE A UNICEF report gives examples of physical abuse as: ‘’slapping, shaking, beating with fist or object, strangulation, burning, kicking and threats with a knife. Sexual abuse includes coerced sex through threats or intimidation or through physical force, forcing unwanted sexual acts, forcing sex in front of others and forcing sex with others. Psychological abuse involves isolation from others, excessive jealousy, control of his or her activities, verbal aggression, intimidation through destruction of property, harassment or stalking, threats of violence and constant belittling and humiliation’’

DEATHS UN-sponsored reports indicate that violence is among the leading causes of death for people aged 15–44 years worldwide, accounting for about 14% of deaths among males and 7% of deaths among females linked to lockdowns imposed by governments responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.  And that report is only for the period recorded in the first few months of the lockdown.  As earlier pointed out, it is possible, particularly in the developing world where awareness about human rights is low for the act to be committed flagrantly without the aggressor knowing the implications and the consequences. Here are the signs to look out for by people engaged in domestic abuse:

  • Embarrass or make fun of you in front of your friends or family?
  • Put down your accomplishments?
  • Make you feel like you are unable to make decisions?
  • Use intimidation or threats to gain compliance?
  • Tell you that you are nothing without them?
  • Treat you roughly—grab, push, pinch, shove or hit you?
  • Call you several times a night or show up to make sure you are where you said you would be?
  • Use drugs or alcohol as an excuse for saying hurtful things or abusing you?
  • Blame you for how they feel or act?
  • Pressure you sexually for things you aren’t ready for?
  • Make you feel like there is “no way out” of the relationship?
  • Prevent you from doing things you want – like spending time with friends or family?
  • Try to keep you from leaving after a fight or leave you somewhere after a fight to “teach you a lesson”?


  • Sometimes feel scared of how your partner may behave?
  • Constantly make excuses for other people for your partner’s behaviour?
  • Believe that you can help your partner change if only you changed something about yourself?
  • Try not to do anything that would cause conflict or make your partner angry?
  • Always do what your partner wants you to do instead of what you want?
  • Stay with your partner because you are afraid of what your partner would do if you broke up?

HEALTH CHALLENGES As earlier indicated, cases of domestic abuse are more prevalent in the female gender than the male. A third of women around the world experienced some form of violence in their lives. Research by the World Health Organization (WHO)details disturbing impacts of violence on women’s physical, sexual, reproductive, and mental health: women who experience physical or sexual abuse are twice as likely to have an abortion, and the experience nearly doubles their likelihood of falling into depression.  In some regions, they are 1.5 times more likely to acquire HIV, and evidence exists that sexually assaulted women are 2.3 times more likely to have alcohol disorders. 87,000 women were intentionally killed in 2017, and more than half were killed by intimate partners of family members.

Shockingly, violence against women is as serious a cause of death and incapacity among women of reproductive age as cancer, and a greater cause of ill-health than traffic accidents and malaria combined.  Nearly a quarter of female college students reported having experienced sexual assault or misconduct in the United States, whilst in parts of sub-Saharan Africa, partner violence to be a reality for 65 percent of women.

FAMILY BOND: Domestic abuse has a negative impact on family bonds. Children who witness parents and adults disagree and abuse themselves feel the negative impact in terms of outlook and this weakens family units.

ECONOMIC CONDITIONS: Domestic violence causes a combination of economic and social stresses and may result into lack of confidence in a society housing the abused due to inability to fulfill personal and social obligations.


  • Loss of self-esteem by the abused
  • It breeds feelings of inferiority complex and
  • The abused could suffer depression and end up not fulfilled. World Health Organization (WHO)says violence affects women’s physical, sexual, reproductive and mental health
  • EFFECT ON CHILDREN: A UNICEF report says that conservatively, ‘’as many as 275 million children worldwide are exposed to violence in the home; but millions of more children may be affected by violence in the home. There is the likelihood that violent teenagers have been exposed to extreme domestic violence and have imbibed wrong conduct from their parents.
  • STIGMATIZATION & DISCRIMINATION: Measures must be in place to prevent, protect and mitigate the consequences of all forms of violence, stigma and discrimination, especially those against women and girls during quarantine and self-isolation processes and procedures.
  • THE LARGER SOCIETY: Domestic violence has a negative effect on the larger society since family units are microscopic units of the larger society. The cumulative effect results into underdevelopment of a defined territory in terms of both human and material resources.
  • COMMUNITY: Family units are microscopic parts of the society. Multiple factors such as development, academic functioning, coping skills and relationships are also negatively impacted.

ARRESTING THE TREND — UN DEPUTY-SECRETARY-GENERAL – MS AMINA J. MOHAMMED  In an interview with the UN News, Ms. Amina J. Mohammed, the UN Deputy-Secretary-General stated that: ‘’Before this pandemic broke out, statistics showed that one in three women will experience violence in their lives. In Papua New Guinea, where I commemorated International Women’s Day last month, the rate is even higher, at two in three.  My concern today is for all women across the world who are suffering even more now due to the extra-economic and social stresses caused by a radical shift away from normal life. This stress is leading to an increased danger of violence. It’s clear that when women and girls are ‘locked down’ in their homes with abusive partners, they are at much greater risk than ever before.

This upsurge in violence is not limited to one country or one region. Media reports are documenting an increase in violence across the globe – from Argentina, to China, Germany, Turkey, Honduras, South Africa the United Kingdom, and in March of this year as they were in the same month last year. The United  States to name just a few. In Malaysia, calls have doubled and in France they are up 32 per cent.  When women and girls are ‘locked down’ in their homes with abusive partners, they are at much greater risk than ever before.  And the worry is that these figures only reflect reporting. Domestic violence is typically grossly under-reported. In the case of restricted movement and limited privacy, women are finding it difficult to phone for help. So, the likelihood is that even these figures represent only a fraction of the problem. They are also reflective of countries that have reporting systems in place. The availability of data is not the same everywhere, particularly in developing countries.

A COMPLEX SITUATION   We are seeing not just a huge increase in the number of women and girls being abused but also a greater complexity to the violence being perpetrated. Women who are suspected, however erroneously, of exposure to the coronavirus  are faced with being thrown out onto the street in the midst of lockdown. Abusers are taking advantage of isolation measures knowing that women are unable to call for help or escape. All of this is happening against a backdrop of health and social services that are overwhelmed, under-resourced, and have shifted to manage the implications of the virus. All actors have a responsibility to act, from individuals to governments, from the UN to business and civil society. Addressing gender-based violence must be at the center of all domestic plans on COVID-19 response.

There are innovative actions being taken that should be both commended and replicated. In Argentina, for example, pharmacies have been declared safe spaces for victims of abuse to report. Similarly, in France, where grocery stores are housing pop-up-services and 20,000 hotel room nights have been made available to those women who cannot go home. The Spanish government has told women that they are exempt from the lockdown if they need to leave the home because of abuse and both Canada and Australia have integrated funding for violence against women as part of their national plans to counter the damaging fall-out from COVID-19.

Where the UN is providing humanitarian support, which includes some of the poorest and most unstable parts of the world, it is prioritizing protection services for women. It is advocating with governments for the measures mentioned above to be integrated into all national response plans. Lastly, the UN is building on the Spotlight Initiative, a large-scale partnership with the European Union to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls.  Through the Spotlight Initiative, UN Country Teams, hand in hand with relevant partners, are shifting programming to the current context: moving services and campaigns online, scaling up support to civil society organizations on the front line of response, ensuring that domestic violence shelters can stay open, and developing online and text-based peer support and chat programmes. The Initiative is also aiming to increase core support to women’s organizations providing services and who are at risk with the shift in funding priorities. In this unprecedented and unpredictable global crisis, the United Nations remains committed to protecting and supporting women, wherever they are in the world.

With reports by UN agencies

Pix credit – UN News

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