not passive victims: the long history of african women’s resistance against domestic violence

August 22, 2017
1.3K Picks
By Sandro Capo Chichi, AFROPUNK Contributor*

Although Africa is widely depicted as a stronghold of women’s victimization, historically, African women have often developed extensive strategies of resistance against intimate partner violence.

Domestic violence is a phrase that encompasses all types of violences occurring within a household. It includes intimate partner violence, which specifically refers to acts of violence committed by an individual against its intimate partner. In the Republic of Guinea, a recent study has concluded that 8 Guinean women out of 10 had been victims of domestic violence.  These alarming statistics may lead one to assume that African women have always been passive victims of this kind of violence and have resigned to it.

But our nannies were much more than passive victims.

In the Republic of Guinea, women have elaborate strategies of resistance against intimate partner violence. Traditionally, in the Susu ethnic group, for example, when a woman was abused by her husband, other women from the community gathered and publicly insulted the culprit by singing lyrics questioning his manhood to his face.

During the Guinean Revolution, women from Sekou Touré’s Rassemblement Démocratique Africain political party drew from these traditions in order to ridicule political rivals they were accusing of collaboration with the French colonial rule. The following song, which was composed during this period, was targeting Barry Diawadou and his father who were considered as corrupt collaborators of the French colonial government:

Barry Diawadou’s father’s penis

The saboteur’s father’s penis

Barry Diawadou left Conakry

He went to France

There he found his father’s circumcision

Sékou Touré is always in the lead !

In the forest region of Guinea, when a woman was a victim of abuse by her husband, other women from the community surrounded the house of the culprit and pounded it with clubs.

At these occasions, they dressed like males ready for war and were armed with sharp knives called ‘penis-cutters’.

This practice is quite similar to another one found in Nigeria among women from the Igbo ethnic group. When a woman had complained that she had been physically abused by her husband, women from the community converged on his house, insulting him with lyrics questioning his manhood and hammered his hut with pestles, sometimes even tearing its roof. The 1929’s Igbo women’s insurrection against British colonialism was in part rooted in these practices.

In a very moving photo-report, photographer Siegfried Modola documented how young women from the Pokot ethnic group of Northern Kenya are abducted from their homes in order to be forcefully married and undergo genital mutilation.

Still in this Pokot ethnic group, women traditionally resorted to strategies in order to fight intimate partner violence. When a woman was abused, other women launched punitive expeditions against the abusive husband. They abducted him when he was asleep, tied him to a thorny tree, beat him soundly with sticks, going sometimes as far as urinating and defecating on him, eventually threatening to kill him until the abused wife came to beg the other women to spare him.

As extreme as these practices may sound, they really illuminate the violence our female ancestors must have endured to retaliate in this way.

In memory of the blood shed by them, this same blood that still runs through our veins, we must, as both men and women, fight against intimate partner violence just as strongly.

References: Shirley Ardener / Sexual Insult and Female Militancy
Elizabeth Schmidt / Mobilizing the masses

*Sandro CAPO CHICHI is a graduate student at Université Paris Diderot, Linguistics Department. Studies Languages and Linguistics, African History, and African Traditional Religions.