Verbal abuse a silent killer

Date: 04 Dec 2006
Self-esteem of women suffers at the hands of men with big egos Shocking rape and assault statistics are publicised during the 16 Days of Activism campaign, but a silent yet powerful danger rarely makes headlines: emotional abuse. Thandi Radebe (not her real name) has been with her husband for the past 16 years. He has never lifted his hand to hit her and is the kind of a man who looks after and cares for his children. But he is the man of the house, and his wife needs to do as he says. Her voice in the home doesn't matter, even though both of them bring home the bacon. "He is the man who would want the world to believe that he is liberal and democratic. At work he is respected, but at home he is the boss of the house and nobody challenges him," Radebe says. She says she knows her husband is a womaniser and he doesn't care much about what that does to her as a person. "Your self-esteem becomes low because you don't understand what you are not doing that other women are doing. You want to be supported and held, but the one person who you rely on just doesn't have the time." Radebe often hears things like "You are nothing, you are useless, what kind of a woman and mother are you?" - and "When you hear them over and over, you start believing that you are those things". She says she is a successful woman but doesn't have the guts to leave because she is worried about her children. "They are very attached to their father and knowing how it feels not to have a father figure around, you never want your children to go through the same pain - and I have to be honest, I still love him," she adds. Mbuyiselo Botha, general secretary of the Men's Forum, says both men and women are guilty of emotional abuse - and it sometimes leads men to kill their wives and families. "It goes unnoticed because there are no visible scars, but when a woman is emotionally abused, it can significantly translate to her children, because she becomes depressed and despondent, and unable to function." Tiny Moloko, clinical manager for People Opposing Women Abuse in Berea, Joburg, says women are also capable of emotional abuse, but "normally they are retaliating to what is happening at home, and they cannot fight back physically". She adds that Powa deals with between 20 and 30 cases of emotional abuse each month. Moloko says any form of abuse is coupled with emotional abuse. "When there is financial abuse or sexual abuse, it is always coupled with emotional abuse. Those negative comments are emotionally draining and many women suffer from depression, and other cases lead to suicide. "We encourage women not to retaliate by calling their partners names but to find help, because retaliating will not solve their problems," Moloko adds. Psychologist Janne Dannerup says many men feel threatened by the empowerment of women, because their traditional roles are being challenged. One of the things that can be done to address this is to promote gender equity in South Africa, she believes. By Lumka Oliphant The Star 02/12/06