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BOOK REVIEW: GENDER-BASED VIOLENCE AND FUNCTIONAL LITERACY

 By Namwanja Margaret Chikwabi

Gender-Based Violence and Functional Literacy  (2019) is a book written by Sunday Mwape (PhD). Dr Mwape presents Gender-Based Violence (GBV) as one of the most disturbing and growing public health issues of the 21st Century and that it cuts across social class, ethnicity, religion, age and geography.

The book is based on a study Dr Mwape conducted in parts of urban and rural Central Province in Zambia, though reference is made to global trends on this issue, too. The gist of the book is presented in the following chapters: the impact of gender-based violence on women’s health, causes and forms of gender-based violence in Zambia, why functional literacy works, factors that influence gender-based violence, interventions to curb gender-based violence in Zambia, among others.

In outlining what gender-based violence (hereafter GBV) is, the author uses the United Nations’ definition as follows: “Any act of violence against women (or men) that results in, or is likely to result in physical, sexual or psychological harm, or suffering to women (or men), including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivations of liberty, whether occurring in public or private spaces.”

These acts of violence are further categorised into five areas with examples given: sexual abuse (rape, child sexual abuse, incest); physical abuse (assault, trafficking, slavery); emotional and psychological abuse (humiliation, abuse, confinement); traditional and cultural abuse (honour killing, female genital mutilation, early marriage, denial of girls’ education); socio-economic abuse (social exclusion, obstructive legislative practices).

A sad picture is painted when statistics reveal that in Southern Africa, Zambia has the highest cases of GBV, followed by Botswana, Zimbabwe and Mauritius at the bottom of the list. Additionally, one in every three women has been battered by her close relation, husband or boyfriend. The forms of violence most prevalent in Zambia against women and girls include battering (domestic violence), murder, sexual abuse and exploitation, rape, defilement, incest, forced prostitution, sexual harassment, sexual cleansing, and assault.

Chapter Four of Gender-Based Violence and Functional Literacy highlights the myths around GBV. In other words, the way society regards and reacts to violence against women and girls is considered. One myth is “Women allow intimate partner violence to happen to them and if they want to, they can leave their abusive partners”. Dr Mwape rightly emphasizes that a perpetrator often uses control and abuse to make it difficult for the woman to leave. Paradoxically, a woman who seeks to leave an abusive partner for her own and her children’s safety faces an increased risk of experiencing the violence again. Feelings of shame and guilt, lack of safe housing, or the belief that divorce is wrong for the children are some of the deep-seated cultural norms that prevent a woman from leaving an abusive intimate partner.

Other myths the author touches on include conflicts and discord are a normal part of any relationship, domestic violence happens only to a certain type of person, men and women are equally violent, a man cannot rape his wife, domestic violence is a private matter, and women should tolerate violence to keep the family together.

Dr Mwape submits that functional literacy plays an important role in employing critical and reflective thinking skills to curb violence between the genders. He believes that functional literacy is a tool that can help lessen some of the problems which arise from violence against women and children. He proposes that the theory called Social Learning Theory has relevance in the fight against GBV. Social Learning Theory means that everything we do has been learned including our values, morals, beliefs and norms.

In relating Social Learning Theory to GBV, Dr Mwape makes the case that children are heavily influenced by what is presented before them as they are growing up. They copy the behaviour they observe from the people around them in their immediate environment. To create the desired outcome of no violence against women and girls, Dr Mwape proposes producing age-appropriate literacy packages designed to de-emphasize the supremacy of male figures over female ones.

In Gender-Based Violence and Functional Literacy, Dr Mwape has provided copious information for anyone interested in the issue of tackling and understanding GBV. The case studies presented give valuable insight into the thinking and attitudes of perpetrators, victims, prison wardens, witnesses to gender-based violence and police officers. Some of the factors that influence GBV in the public and private spheres are well-tabulated and cover war and armed conflict, legal frameworks in various countries, social norms and culture, and individual risks.

Abuse of males by female intimate partners is also noted in the book. For example, reports indicate that in Kenya, at least five men are battered every week by their partners. In the USA, police records in New Jersey State show that male abuse is a reality and black husbands are at greater risk of spousal homicide and victimisation than white husbands.

As mentioned earlier, Gender-Based Violence is one of the most disturbing and growing public health issues we are experiencing. We need both men and women to fight this good fight. Parents, counsellors, teachers, child advocates, lawyers, clergy, police officers, women’s rights activists, and any interested person would greatly benefit from the book Gender-Based Violence and Functional Literacy.   

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