Domestic Violence: Does the African Context Demand a Different Approach?

By: Victoria Breyer

How does the context of domestic violence in Africa differ from the United States? Even with severe underreporting in African countries, they have a larger amount of domestic violence. This could be due to “the persistence of formal notions of women as property” or background conditions such as poverty, economic devastation, social transition, and the state’s “incapacity to deal with the problem” (Bowman, 2003). In Ghana, only 5% of domestic violence victims report their injuries to the police, while South Africa had a report rate of 6%. Domestic violence victims in Africa “expect little from the police – in many cases with good reason” such as the Human Rights Watch reports that South African police delayed response to domestic violence calls and sometimes even counseled against the victims filing reports (Bowman, 2003).  

A main difference between domestic violence in Africa versus the United States is the number of suicides that result from domestic violence incidents. In the United States, half of the men who kill their wives end up committing suicide, while the author has “seen no reference to suicide by the perpetrator in the literature about femicide in Africa" (Bowman, 2003). Whether this is due to an increased feeling of guilt, emotional dependency, or prosecution that occurs in the United States, the absence of it in the African context says much about how the cultural differences affect domestic violence. African customary law traditions dictate a bride price, which makes it so that women are still regarded as property. Not built upon the marriage ideal of partnership, “the women’s reproductive capacity is considered ‘owned’ by the husbands lineage after marriage” and “some level of wife abuse – as ‘discipline’ – is still an accepted phenomenon in some African communities” (Bowman, 2003). In the United States, “the batterer’s need to control his intimate partner is explained…by his personal insecurity and deep psychological dependence upon his victim, [but] in Africa this conduct tends to be explained by ‘culture’”, domestic violence is “not regarded as abnormal or dysfunctional” (Bowman, 2003). Many African countries do not have the capacity to enforce domestic violence laws even if they did exist and even legal reform “may be ineffective if it contradicts deeply held notions of gender relations and masculinity” (Bowman, 2003).  

Domestic violence in Africa can be stopped through empowering women and having strong legal remedies in existence. Educating the population and the police force about domestic violence will also decrease rates along with increased educational and occupational opportunities for girls.

Bowman, C. G. (2003). Domestic violence: does the African context demand a different approach? International Journal of Law and Psychiatry, 26(5), 473–91. doi:10.1016/S0160-2527(03)00082-7