‘I do not fear the law.’ Those were the words of a husband as he punched and beat his wife in front of their daughter and son. His daughter screamed for her daddy to stop. He ignored her. His wife covered her head with her hands, dropped to her knees, trying to protect her head from his fists. She failed. Her face would turn purple, black and deep crimson with bruises, blood shot eyes, blurred vision and severe headaches due to his repeated punches to her head after an argument.
Her name is Habibah. His name is Razak Toure. She did an interview describing what happened. Once the tv interview was posted on social media, it attracted hundreds and hundreds of comments. They included testimony from other women who had suffered beatings from the men in their lives.
Razak Toure also did an interview. In it, he confessed he had punched and beaten his wife. He blamed the devil.
The next video came from her husband in a car with a male friend, denying violence he had already confessed to committing. In the back seat were his other wives and their children. The two men gave a break-down of who this man was: he is an upstanding member of his community; he does counselling with youth and had a radio show. In the video, posted to Facebook, Mr Toure said: ‘I forgive her. I forgive everyone. ‘
A woman with blackened eyes, blood gushing from underneath one of them and a face covered in bruises and swelling goes to hospital and then presses charges. The man who committed that violence – her husband – admits it, then denies it. Absurd. And deeply problematic.
This offers us space to explore domestic violence in Ghana; the cultural issues and the legal reality.
Let’s start with the numbers. They tell a partial story.
According to UN Women, in Ghana 24% of women will face intimate partner violence in their lifetime. Habibah is 1 of that 24%. I say the numbers tell a partial story, because thousands of cases go unreported. So, these numbers hide violence unseen, unreported but ever present in communities all across our country irrespective of class, region, faith or status.
In Ghana, women dealing with domestic violence are embroiled in cycles of complicity from their communities. They are shamed, judged, silenced, disbelieved and challenged. The cultural pressure to protect the man who beat, bruised and battered them can be overwhelming. Women are told: don’t disgrace the family name, don’t jeopardize a marriage, forgive him, protect him.
Such messages are repeatedly communicated to women and men, to girls and boys via our families, places of worship and work, institutions of education and our government.
From friends, family and community, the messages of shame – overt and covert – are both painful and powerful. The judgment – if women find the courage to stand up against the abuse – is deafening; even as society admonishes – and also judges – women who stay.
What our society is saying is losing a woman’s life matters less than protecting a man’s abuse. I call this ‘Emotional Patriarchy’. That is when we centre, privilege and prioritize the actions, feelings, needs, harm of men no matter the cost or consequence for the women in their lives.
In an Emotional patriarchy – the judgement, the focus, the failures – they are all on women. There is no such cultural pressure on men. Society asks women: What did you do? Why don’t you leave? Society does not ask men: What have you done? Why don’t you stop beating her? Nor does it sanction and challenge the abuser in the same way it sanctions and challenges the abuse survivor.
And what about the legal?
In her interview, Habibah explained that during the beating, her husband said: ‘I do not fear the Law.’
Those words are prophetic and chilling. Given the status of Ghana’s Domestic Violence law, there is some – sadly – merit to a man’s lack of fear regarding the law when it comes to Domestic Violence.
Ghana has a Domestic Violence law. Indeed, it’s had a Law since 2007. 12 long years. Parliament passed it back then. It’s full name: Domestic Violence Act 2007 (Act 723) and the Domestic Violence Regulation 2016 (L.I 2237). And, in 2016, the government was sued by Mr. Martin Kpebu for the activation of the Domestic Violence Fund and what comes with that – free medical care for domestic violence survivors.
Indeed, when a domestic violence survivor reports to the police, she or he is given a medical form to seek medical attention in a public hospital or medical facility. The form is completed by a doctor stating sufficient details of diagnosis and injury. This form and the medical care that comes with it is imperative in receiving affordable medical attention, evidence gathering, and bringing a case. But, millions cannot afford this. No paid medical care. No evidence. No evidence. No case.
So, we have a law and a regulation governing that law. But you can’t use either. That is because although the Law and the Regulation both enable the creation of the Domestic Violence Fund – that fund is fund-less. No funding. No implementation. No useable law – even though it has been passed for 12 years.
Changing that and making funding and implementation happen should be a road smoother than the potholed horrors we all navigate in too many areas in our capital city, Accra. And yet the road is choked with lack of political will and inaction.
We have two realities in Ghana. A rule of law president who is also the African Union’s Gender Champion. With such an important accolade, it is bizarre that the Domestic Violence Law languishes unfunded and unimplemented by a government for which gender and its importance has manifest in so many speeches.
A law that is neither funded nor implemented is the equivalent of having no actual working law at all. It cannot do the crucial work of a legal instrument if it is not paid for. And, those for whom it is designed cannot actually engage it in the protection of their bodies, their families or their future.
I do not fear the law, Habibah’s husband said. He need not.
His lack of fear makes a law designed to make a case, and in doing so save life, a failure. That cannot stand.
This year’s International Women’s Day theme is ‘Balance for Better.’ Right now, we’re asking women to balance a black eye, a bruised body, societal pressure with a non-funded, non-implemented law.
That is not the balance that serves a nation. It only empowers men who beat women to continue to do so with impunity. And, it does that with the tacit complicity of a government unwilling to do the work of implementing what it claims via politicking; that is – we value women, we do so with our laws and with our leadership. Do you? Then, implement and fund the Domestic Violence Law.
Habibah suffered blurred vision and severe headaches. She ended up with huge lumps on her head, major swelling and she is in pain. There is also the trauma of what happened, the reality of her young children as witnesses to the horror. So, there is psychological care Habibah and her children need – in addition to the medical care. The medical bills are stacking up. The unusable law means Habibah must foot those medical bills for her husband’s fists in her face.
As he punched her again and again in her face and head, Habibah’s husband said to her: “I want to destroy your face, so no man will ever marry you again.”
A nation’s law continues to fail millions of women, like Habibah, and their families. It continues to make women pay for the violence and injuries inflicted on them by the men in their lives. It sends messages to men that your violence will go unchecked and unpunished. And that you will teach your sons what it is to be men that weaponize their fists and bodies against the women who brought them into the world, with whom vows were exchanged and commitments made. And that teaching will be assisted by an unfunded, unimplemented law that remains inactive due to a government’s inaction.
It need not stay that way. Mr. President, are you committed to a society where women are safe and thriving or one in which women remain vulnerable to violence? A nation is waiting. Fund and implement Ghana’s Domestic Violence Law. And let’s use it. This is a call to action.
The time is now.