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This article participates on the following special index pages:
Index of articles surrounding the debate of the Domestic Violence Bill
Violence: A few lessons in the law
November 02, 2006
of articles surrounding the debate of the Domestic Violence Bill
Namate raises some issues which l feel need clarification. Violence
is violence and should be condemned whenever and whereever it occurs.
There is no argument there. However, the problem comes when dealing
with violence. Perhaps for Tony’s information, it is important to
explain how the law works. The law works in such a way that specific
laws are enacted for specific crimes. This is the reason we have
so many laws on our law books. So for instance there is a law that
deals with theft of livestock. This is not to say that theft of
a goat is not theft, but that law is a recognition that theft of
livestock is a peculiar kind of theft which needs to be dealt with
in a specific way. if one were to go by Tony’s argument and say
that theft is theft (like violence is violence) then there would
be no need for laws on stock theft. Indeed there would be no need
for laws that deal with armed robbery (because couldn’t we argue
that stealing is stealing? That does it really matter whether or
not you had a gun held to your had while someone was stealing from
you because the upshot of it is you were deprived of your belongings?)
The law recognises that a pickpocket who picks your cellphone from
your handbag while you are preoccupied with looking at the ever-increasing
prices of milk, and the thug who holds you up, roughs you up, puts
a knife to your throat or holds a gun to your head before making
off with your handbag are different species of criminal.
Banks are companies. If companies are companies (like violence is
violence) then one would assume that all companies would be governed
by the Companies Act. But no, there are a number of specific laws
that deal specifically with banking institutions, e.g. the Banking
Act. This is because the legislature recognised that there were
certain aspects of banking business that needed specific laws to
regulate them. The same institutions are also governed by the Labour
Act, which the legislature saw it fit to enact to deal specifically
with employer-employee relations, in the self-same banks, which
also happen to be companies. That is how it works. The point? All
manner of violent acts should not be lumped together in one Act.
Political violence is bad, but it is not domestic violence. We are
not putting them on a scale. They are different. They need to be
dealt with separately. This Bill specifically deals with violence
within the so-called private domain, that is the gap we want dealt
with right now.
Why? The Domestic
Violence Bill was enacted to cover violence which occurs within
a specific space- the private domain.At present we have a host of
laws which cover the public sphere. To illustrate the point;when
two men bash each other over a scud of opaque beer, it is treated
as assault. If one of them is badly injured in the process, it becomes
assault with intent to cause grievous bodily harm. If a man beats
up his wife, it is treated as a "private matter" to be
dealt with within the family. If he should break her ribs and dislodge
her teeth, it is treated as a matter for the family or perhaps the
pastor to deal with. Women who have been brave enough to lodge a
report have sometimes been told to go and bring the perpetrator
to the police station! How many times have we witnessed two men
fighting in public who soon get arrested? But how many times have
people folded their hands and watched while a woman was being beaten
on the streets by her husband or boyfriend? How many times have
we seen some man being dragged by the collar, by an incensed woman
and silently sniggered into our armpits? That is the problem with
the current state of the law, it does not specifically cover violence
arising out of intimate relationships.
A lot of the gaps
that Tony believes should be covered by the Domestic Violence Bill,
are already covered by a multitude of other legislation. I will
explain what l mean. The rights of widows are already provided for
by laws such as the Administration of Estates Act, the Admin of
Estates Amendment Act, among many others. The law already provides
for abortion under the Termination of Pregnancy Act, while the Infanticide
Act provides for "baby dumping". The Sexual Offences Act
criminalises rape, among other sexual offences, so again that is
covered. The situation of domestic workers, while worrying is already
covered by the laws cited above, including the Labour Act, as well
as the Sexual Offences Act, among others. If Tony believes they
need strengthening, then that is a different matter.
I am happy that
Tony problematises the shortage of trauma/counselling and shelter
facilities. The Bill tries to address that aspect in Part IV. In
its former format, there was a Schedule which would have strengthened
further this protection, however, in its passage through the corridors
of power and patriarchy, some of these provisions have been dropped.
I get worried
when people try to introduce apparently unrelated topics in a discussion.
One has to wonder whether it is ignorance or the motives are mischievous.
As a wise person observed, there are none so blind as those that
refuse to see. Tony raises the issue of dressing. Asserting that
some forms of dressing by women are a form of violence and these
women should be arrested for violating people’s sensibilities. Tony
has to explain to all of us how exactly dressing can even begin
to compare with the battering to death of a girl or the murder of
a woman or the loss of sight by a person whose partner threw acid
over them.? How exactly does he even compare forced marriage to
"offended sensibilities"? It boggles the mind. This comment
sounds familiar. Can someone remind me what Mubhawu said in Parliament
about women’s dressing?
Notions of decency
are notoriously difficult to define. Who gets the privilege of setting
the standards for decency for society? Allow me to explain. During
Victorian England, the exposure of a woman’s legs was considered
indecent exposure in much of the western world. Around about that
time, in Africa, most of us were still in our animal skins. Exposure
of women’s legs was par for the course. There was nothing indecent
about it. The settlers who came to Africa were coming from Victorian
England and they imposed Victorian notions of decency. Gone were
the animal skins, in came the voluminous dresses and skirts (totally
inappropriate for the weather, one might add!) So successful was
this process of inculturation that a lot of people (Mr Namate included
it seems) are still advocating for this mode of dressing, long after
its chief proponents have realised its folly and moved on!!
What exactly is
decent? In Zimbabwe it is perfectly ok for a woman to breastfeed
a child in a public place. In fact if a baby is crying (say on a
bus) everyone on that bus is likely to be heard asking the mother
"madii mayamwisa mwana?" (Why don’t you breastfeed the
baby?) Interesting then that in some states in the US, laws have
had to be enacted to specifically protect nursing mothers from harassment
by people on the basis that exposing a breast while breastfeeding
is indecent exposure as some people find it offensive to their sensibilities?
What exactly is
decent? In some parts of Pakistan, exposure of all parts of an adult
woman’s body is considered indecent, except for the hands and feet.
While in Afghanistan under the Taliban, no part of the woman’s body
was permitted to be seen, so women had to wear the burqa, which
covered them from head to toe, including the mouth and eyes (there
would be a mesh to enable sight and breathing). Where exactly do
we draw the line and who draws it?
It is not an accident
that Mr. Namate raises this issue and he is not the only one. It
is only interesting that in a lot of things traditionalists will
clash with Christians for example. But when it comes to issues of
women’s rights, we get avowed traditionalists quoting scripture,
avowed Christians will begin talking about "our culture",
avowed atheists will suddenly dredge up a long forgotten scripture
from the deep recesses of their memories, that will support their
point of view regarding the proper place of women. Suddenly you
get a resurgence of Christian fundamentalism, together with a resurgence
of cultural fundamentalism. As l always say, strange bedfellows!
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