A new report shows polygamy and alcohol are linked to abusive marriages throughout Africa

Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, and Zimbabwe are now tagged countries with high rates of domestic violence, also known as “intimate partner physical violence”, in the continent by a group of researchers from the American Sociological Association (ASA), following the Demographic Health Survey. This survey presented polygamy and alcohol as the major culprits of domestic violence in African marriages. Although these countries have been pinpointed, intimate partner violence is prevalent across the entire continent, as well as the entire globe.

Ethiopia reportedly has the highest rate of domestic violence against women in Africa, and two-thirds of Nigerian women in Lagos admit to being victims of domestic violence. In Egypt, violence against 80 percent of their women is even justified, especially when it concerns refusal to have sexual intercourse with their husbands. A common by-product of this kind of domestic violence is gender-based violence, which further positions women as the primary victims in such situations almost throughout the continent.

ASA however, is not the first organisation to make the link between domestic violence in relation to alcohol or polygamy. The World Health Organisation (WHO) published an Intimate Partner Violence and Alcohol Fact Sheet in 2011, affirming that alcohol left the abusers without cognitive or physical functions, and made it nearly impossible for them to have a non-violent conflict resolution in their relationships. As for polygamy’s role, according to one of the ASA researches, Christobel Asiedu, the institution itself already put the women involved in a powerless stance against their husbands.

Throughout the continent, women are often pigeonholed in their society roles. Women practically live their lives for their families or for society. Or at least, that is what is expected of them. It is not strange to hear of a woman being asked by her relatives and friends to return to her ‘husband’s house’, irrespective of what he might have done to her. The result of this ‘return’ often ends in death, near-death experiences, life-threatening physical injuries and mental health issues, all facilitated by the violent intimate partner. In some cases the victims try to speak up, while others just accept their ‘fate’, and live out a ‘lifeless existence’.

It is difficult to ascertain the actual number of domestic violence victims around the world, due to its occurrence in the contexts of different kinds of relationships, and also because of the silence of some victims. However, even though anyone can be a victim, the larger percentage of victims still happen to be women and any woman can be a victim regardless of her status or educational background.

According to a report on The Conversation, “It’s not the amount of alcohol consumed that’s important, but the pattern of drinking; heavy and binge drinking increases the likelihood of violence”. The report observes that women drinking alone in a relationship are less likely to act violently towards men.

The WHO makes suggestions such as reducing alcohol availability, regulating the price of alcohol, treating alcohol use disorders, and intervention in order to prevent the increase of domestic violence in marriages, all of which are good first steps, but do not necessarily provide a lasting solution to the problem.

This latest discovery linking polygamy and alcohol to  domestic violence is an impressive start which allows for clarity and creates room for understanding, both in marriages and societies. However, the objective in the long run should also include how to effectively put this information to good use, as well as exploring other ways to support the fight across Africa.

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