Orville Taylor | Gender-based violence … again
Maybe you believe that it is only the ‘man’ in emancipation that ended this myth that one person can have ownership of another and that somehow, if we put ‘wo’ before it, there is some type of certificate which says that she belongs to you.
Of course, we are horrified and shocked that men could be so cold-blooded to take the lives of their bed partners in whose ears they have moaned sweet nothings as their blood sugar rises during coitus.
Over the past few weeks, and a number of times over the past years, several women have lost their lives, or came close to doing so, at the hands of men who either promised to love them unconditionally or took the ‘til death do us part’ to a different level. In some cases, it is murder-suicide and my recommendation has consistently been that he should’ve found a way to do the suicide first.
Domestic violence, which includes spousal and inter-generational, such as from adult to child as well as adult to the elderly, is very difficult to measure statistically. Many cases go unreported because of fear, embarrassment and unfortunately a lack of faith in the system of justice, including police.
On the other hand, there are also cases where the claims are spurious and malicious, where the only thing which is abused is the pride of the victim. However, death is an irrefutable statistic and there is no space for argument as to whether or not a person died.
Statistically, women are a very small percentage of persons killed in Jamaica, and I thank my colleague and ‘bredren’ Dr Herbert Gayle for some of these statistics. Most murder victims, around 70 per cent, are young men of post-secondary age. Though alarming, women in Jamaica are fewer than 10 per cent of persons killed feloniously. However, 25 per cent of this figure is killed by their domestic partners.
True, in raw numbers, this places us in the top five per cent in the world. However, it is simply because we are a very homicidal society. Globally, our rates of uxoricides are in the lowest quintile. Yet, even one or two is too much, but as aggressive and homicidal as we are, only eight per cent of our murder victims are women and one per cent are girls.
In many nations and regions, the percentage of women being killed by their spouses ranges as high as 75 per cent. So, let us understand that in relative terms, we are killing fewer women than most of the other 200-plus countries in the world.
Indeed, it might be surprising to note that of the 240 women who died over a two-year period, some 32 were killed by gang members who are in war with their associates. Another 13 were murdered for being informers. And be shocked: eight per cent of them were ‘gungirls’, who ‘queng’ and ‘mash works’ as gang members and another 11 per cent were collaterals, being relatives of gang members. Thus, gang activities directly kill most of our females, 64 per cent, pretty much the same as youths.
Finally, and reminiscent of Buju Banton’s Dicky “look sweet, talk nice but dem a guineagog..” and Shabba Ranks’ Action Begin “one rush, one back off and the ice pick pop off and the next one blood up like a …”, a whopping 11 per cent were killed by their rivals in romance, ‘matey wars’.
Still, we are simply too violent and when jealous women kill other women around half the rate of the men, it says that something is wrong with both sexes, each of whom thinks that the other human is their property. Same-sex violence may give a clearer picture but there is a deep history behind this idea than one owns another. Many of the same people who defend spousal rights and argue using the Bible do not see the connection with their misapplication of Ephesians 5: 22-24 “Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands … so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.”
Rape is very close to murder and it is not a long step.
In fact, old British Christian common law supported spousal battery. In the 1874 London Quarterly Review of Legal cases Vol 136, Dr Marmaduke Coghill, judge of the Prerogative Court in Ireland, ruled in a divorce application where a wife was soundly beaten by her husband, that “with such a switch as the one he held in his hand, moderate chastisement was within the matrimonial privileges of the husband”.
MILES TO GO
We have come a long way but have miles to go.
Yet, it is not as simple as one thinks. It is not merely about whether or not the ‘victim’ has been generous with the property which God gave her and to which men have had usufructuary rights.
Jealousy, although the major cause, is not the only reason for spousal violence and murder. In a number of cases, it is about money and property. Greed on the part of the aggressor, where he simply wants to collect insurance or other money from some inheritance, has nothing to do with love or not wanting the partner to leave.
Similarly, there are cases where the victim had tried and maybe succeeded in robbing the killer or cheating him out of his investments.
Now, let me make it clear, this is not about a return on school fees or the clothes and car that he bought her. It is not even about him depositing his cash in the hirsute financial institution. Rather, it is about persons, who know that they did little or nothing to earn the property which the spouse might have owned before meeting them, and wish to take all when they honestly know that it is not theirs.
Nonetheless, we have to teach our children of both sexes empathy and equity. If we raise them to believe that the other person is an equal and must be treated according to the golden rule, we will have much less violence.
- Dr Orville Taylor is head of the Department of Sociology at the UWI, a radio talk-show host, and author of ‘Broken Promises, Hearts and Pockets’. Email feedback to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.