Mon | Feb 24, 2020

Michael Abrahams | Men: Women need our help

Published:Monday | January 27, 2020 | 6:13 AM

Violence in Jamaica is a perennial problem. Our murder rate is consistently in the top 10 globally. During the first half of the first month of this year, about five times more people have been murdered in Jamaica than were killed in Singapore, whose population is about twice ours, during the entire year of 2017. 

The majority of murder victims in Jamaica are men, who are usually killed by other men. Our women who are murdered are not only mostly killed by men, but by men who had been their intimate partners prior to, or at the time of the murder. Not surprisingly, our femicide (the killing of a woman or girl, in particular by a man and on account of her gender) rate is horrendously high. As a matter of fact, we have the second highest femicide rate in the world, beaten only by El Salvador.

In any struggle where vulnerable groups are being oppressed, allies from outside the group are essential in their quest for justice, fairness and equality. For example, the civil rights movement in America in the sixties benefitted from white allies, and LGBT communities in many countries are bolstered by their straight allies who will defend them. 

Similarly, our women need us as allies if we are to conquer the monster of intimate partner abuse and violence that is prevalent in our society. Of course, there is intimate partner violence in same-sex relationships, and men are sometimes the victims and women the perpetrators. But in the overwhelming majority of cases, it is women who suffer at the hands of men.

One of the most important things we can do to address the issue is avoid impregnating women we have no intention of being around. Research has shown that men who abuse women are more likely to be fatherless, and girls who grow up without fathers are more vulnerable to end up in relationships with abusive men. Also, If we do stick around, we must do our best to be loving and affirming to our children and set good examples for them. 

But, apart from taking parenting more seriously, we need to approach, call out, reason with and counsel other men who abuse. Our silence is of no help to our women. We may be reluctant to get involved but doing so may literally save a life. I must admit that I have been somewhat lax in this department, and on reflection recently, realized that it would be hypocritical of me to be offering advice which I myself do not follow.

So recently I decided to break my silence.

Andrew* has been my friend for many years. He is a very intelligent man with a great sense of humour and has always been supportive to me. But Andrew has a problem. He has a history of abusing women, both emotionally and physically. Several years ago, a mutual friend of ours related an incident to me where he allegedly roughed her up. I asked him about it, and he brushed it off, saying that she was crazy and had issues. But since then, I have heard more stories from other women.

So, out of the blue, I called him, and after greeting him and enquiring about his well-being, asked him a direct question: “Why do you hit women?” There was no beating around the bush, by my tone was not judgemental. The conversation that followed was refreshingly open and honest. He did not try to claim innocence and stated that the last time he actually hit a woman was over 10 years ago. 

He spoke of incidents where he became physical after being goaded, such as one where a woman told him to suck a certain part of his mother, laughed and dared him to hit her. But he admitted to having an anger management problem, which he has sought professional help for. I asked him about his childhood, and we spoke of issues there, some of which may be contributing to his torment today. Rather than being defensive, he welcomed the conversation and at the end of it told me that he hoped this kind of dialogue would not be a “once a year thing”. 

When I approached Andrew, I did not know what type of response to expect. But he was open to talking about the issue and has no aversion to counselling. As men, if we claim to love women, we must look out for them and protect them. A great part of this is reaching out to our brothers who we know abuse members of the opposite sex. By looking the other way, we enable behaviour that hurts those we claim to love.

*Name changed to protect anonymity.

Michael Abrahams is a gynaecologist and obstetrician, comedian, and poet. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and michabe_1999@hotmail.com, or tweet @mikeyabrahams.