Exploring Domestic Violence, Child Abuse, & Male Tears with John Musinguzi

As shared with Liz Mweru

A Digital Manager with a leading advertising agency in Uganda, John Musinguzi blends his love for digital marketing with a passion for human rights for vulnerable groups especially children and women.

What’s domestic violence and child abuse from a technical angle and how does that relate with your personal definition?

John Musinguzi photoI think domestic violence is any form of physical and psychological harm that happens to people in a domestic setting, let’s say home, that infringes on their basic human rights. For instance, physical could be beating, psychological could be abusing people, treating them in a dehumanizing way, embarrassing them in front of people who ideally look up to them [if it’s between parents, embarrassing them in front of their children]. These situations are examples of child abuse as well since children are caught up in the conflict and their rights are directly or indirectly violated.  What’s worse is that children are very vulnerable and most of the time the people harming them are the same they look up to for protection which renders them helpless as their violators and protectors are the same person or people. It’s prevalent in many African settings because we have grown up validating violence especially in regards to reprimanding children in a form of physically hurting them with canes. It’s something I have had trouble getting my head around and always talk about whenever I get a chance. I discourage this and show others how wrong it is. There are countless alternatives and ways you can raise your child in both a loving but responsible way and they actually turn out to be very responsible people without you having to violate their rights.

What are some of the most popularly known forms of such abuse versus the less popular but equally destructive?

I think physical violence is the most popular as it’s what gets into the news after someone has gone to the police. Physical violence happens more often than we think and usually what we see on TV is when the violence has gone out of hand. Sometimes it has been extremely unfortunate and led to death but there are other forms of violence that are very subtle but extremely dangerous and they are not physical. Things like denial of children, not giving them attention like this father simply comes back home and the kids are sleeping and they don’t even know their father. They miss their father and sometimes they try to wait for him at night and they sleep off before he comes back. It’s in his power to come early but for some reason he’s irresponsible, chances are high he’s out drinking and chilling with his friends at the bar as these children are being denied the love of their father. Another has to do with, abuse, verbal profanity when parents get upset with children and start saying things that are really despicable and hurt them emotionally and some grow up to think it’s okay to verbally abuse someone but I think that’s something very wrong. Then of course among adults, it comes down to belittling your fellow adult and using their weaknesses against them. It’s common after you have been in love and you have shared quite a bit about yourselves then when disagreements arise you start belittling them based on weaknesses that were albeit supposed to be secrets you had to guard because this person trusted you with this information. Then of course depriving them of peace of mind. Some forms of violence destroy something very important, the mental health, which unfortunately very few people pay attention to.

We have come to believe that men are to blame for most of the violence and abuse. Do you feel this belief is justified or misinformed?

Yeah, men for the better part, I think are the biggest perpetrators of mostly physical violence in our societies and I think we can agree this has been documented and evidenced in the various circumstances and instances that have been happening but of course that has to do with the fact that we have a patriarchal kind of setting with men taking the lead and women for a long time have been taking the backseat. However, a lot of progress has been made along the way and women have been empowered to stand up for their rights. Although men have a fair share of the blame on the violence and abuse that happens in our society, they don’t hold the monopoly. Violence is not going to be addressed appropriately if we look at it from the perspective that it is only one gender that perpetrates it. We have heard of women who actually beat up men, we have heard of rape cases that have been committed by women, so that alone should show that men don’t hold a monopoly in as far as violence and abuse are concerned. We need to pay attention to the statistics and data available versus the things we see in society to address violence as it is and not how we conceive it. A certain gender may be doing it more but that doesn’t mean it’s the only one that does it and I feel that it’s not appropriate to help one gender and ignore the other because at the end of the day violence is violence.

Boys have been abused by girls and men have experienced some form of violence from women. At what point is it domestic violence or child abuse? Is it only when girls and women are victims, and why or why not?

I think the way we are addressing this situation is skewed as people feel all the interventions are trying to turn the genders against each other and yet I feel like it would be very or more productive if we actually addressed it based on the unity and the things we share in common as human beings and not necessarily paying attention to “this is a man”, “this is a woman”. Whoever it is, it doesn’t matter if it is a boy, a girl, a man, or a woman for as long as they feel that a certain aspect of their human rights has been violated then it doesn’t matter who did what. It is violence no matter who perpetrates it, the only qualifier is who has done what [person not gender], and what human right has it taken away from their victim? It doesn’t matter if it’s a he or she in my opinion, for as long as it is violence, we need to see it for what it is.

Have you or someone you know (a boy or man) experienced some form of violence and abuse from a girl or woman before? How did you feel or how were you affected?

John Musinguzi photoOkay to be quite honest, I think I have been very lucky enough to be in spaces where people respect each other. There’s no remarkable incident I can remember of a personal encounter with violence but maybe I can speak from a rather very interesting bit that I believe every child in this country or at least the biggest majority of children in this country have had to encounter and that is violence from adults when they were young.  Part of the reason why I hate the Ugandan school system is because I think it’s a very violent environment for any child. I have been a victim of that although intervention was never sought. Someone violated my rights because I was a child and throughout school it was normalised as some form of bringing up children or a form of instilling discipline. On the brighter side though, am glad to say I grew up in a loving home [with some beating from my mom]. As a child I was helpless and was made to think it was okay and as I grew up, I realized how messed up that was and it’s not okay. I think we need to get our act together and stop it.

What held you back? What kept you from not seeking some form of intervention to address the beatings experienced at school and home?

I was a child, helpless, and worst of all thought it was a normal way of adults disciplining us as children. Obviously, that thinking has changed because am grown now, I have been educated, I know my rights, and I know it was a wrong thing to do to me. Fortunately, am not a violent person. I feel privileged to know better not to do those things to any other person because it’s not normal.

Society and culture have taught us that men are the powerful gender, they don’t cry, it’s not manly to cry or show weakness. How true is this and what effect has it had on men or you in particular?

I for one, kind of believed that at first because I never knew the effect of not expressing your emotions in the best possible way you can, just simply because you think society will judge you. We live in a very patriarchal society that is very macho, men are supposed to be “hardguy” but there’s a reason why God created us with tears and there are times when those tears are useful. Personally, there are times when I have cried, I have cried for love, I have cried for my loved ones who have passed, I have fully expressed myself through crying but I don’t think I do it as often. By the time I cry, it’s extremely overwhelming. I can’t take it. But I think whenever I am overwhelmed or if something is extremely sad, I can cry and I have since learned that it’s okay to cry. I rarely do it in public because am still very much aware that society still judges us, nonetheless, because you are a man you should not cry, I can only afford to in my privacy, in my house, or my bathroom but there are circumstances where public crying is extremely normal these days especially when you have lost a loved one and everyone is crying no matter the size, status or gender so you can cry. I feel that maybe our societies and cultures are starting to embrace crying as a form of expressing your emotions and I think it is the most emotional you could get. I have seen men cry but nonetheless, I don’t think we are doing it as much as we should and it is still a stigmatized form of emotional expression because of the macho and patriarchal kind or nature that our society is.

While many won’t admit to it, it’s obvious that men and boys experience violence and abuse whether at the hands of women or fellow men. How fair is it that advocacy groups, initiatives and campaigns rarely put in place intervention and support services for these male victims?

Of course, it’s not fair that the different initiatives that have been put forth to address the issue of violence and abuse prefer the girls’ and women’s angle although to be fair, it has to do with the source of funding. Am speaking from experience based on my time working in that space of advocacy and the non-profit world. I feel like most of the initiatives or most of the causes that these groups work on are in most cases dictated by the source of funding. We are a low-income country and most of these projects are funded by people from the Western world who perhaps just see things on the news and small research on specific initiatives. We need to address this whole thing without focusing on the money because I don’t feel there’s a lot of money that should be involved in addressing something albeit a big problem but it is supposed to be a very basic problem to solve. It’s very sad that we have to teach people that it is wrong to beat someone, it’s wrong to harm someone physically, it has a lot to do with our cultures and all but ideally, it has to be in the fabric of how someone is brought up, the environment they grew up in and all that kind of stuff. It should not depend on what amount of money is allocated to addressing violence and abuse. Maybe if you see it from the broader perspective of the environment, we may not have to focus much on gender but simply address violence as a general problem. It doesn’t matter which gender it happens to but for as long as it happens it affects all of us. If a mother is beaten in a home the children are affected and they are both male and female. If a father is beaten or most times doesn’t have peace of mind, maybe the wife is denying him some of his rights or deny him food trying to settle scores then this person may not take care of the family very well or he can simply run away from his own home and as a result, the children are not going to school. At the end of the day, you see violence irrespective of whom it happens to and ends up affecting everyone irrespective of gender and therefore should be addressed holistically.

Everyone would like to see men do the noble thing and protect girls and women. How do you think men can best be motivated to do this? Considering that they need support first for their own depression, trauma, stress and low self-esteem.

John Musinguzi photoThis brings me back to a very interesting aspect of mental health. Mental health has been ignored in our society and it is affecting us to the core. If anything, it could be the reason why some people are violent because they are not mentally fine. Someone is going through some depression and they are reacting the wrong way, the violent way, so maybe you first treat that depression, and this person will be less violent. It may not worsen to someone being admitted to a mental facility but that certainly doesn’t mean they are not suffering, that they are not sick and need to be helped. I think self-awareness, knowing when you are mentally unwell, like the mere acknowledgment of “am stressed”, is enough for you to start the healing process. As we are less aware of mental health and the need to prioritise it, we ignore the signs and it gets worse. So I think for us to provide, protect, procreate [the 3 p’s of a man], it goes without saying that you need to be helped, supported, in more ways than one for you to be able to be a productive person and that has a lot to do with your mental health so I think we should be paying more attention to our mental health than we are doing.

In your thinking, how can we get girls and women to be sensitive to the emotional and psychological state of the boys and men in such a way that intervention is two-way to achieve a sense of healing and mutual respect between genders, among different age groups, in our homes, relationships, workplaces, and society as a whole?

First of all we need to reinforce the aspect of equity and gender parity. We need to demystify these things of “am a man”, and gender appropriations [I do this and this because am a man or because am a woman]. These things compel people to see things in a narrow sense that is counterproductive at the end of the day.  When we think that because this person is this or was created this way there are things that they do or they are supposed to do and when this person doesn’t do them it creates a spark and before you know it, the situation is violent. There’s nowhere it was written that a woman is the only one supposed to cook in a home. Just as there’s no law even in the constitution that says it’s only a man supposed to pay school fees. There’s no law that says it’s the girl child supposed to fetch water. There’s no law that says it’s only the boy child supposed to graze the cows and milk them. These are simply gender appropriations that we embrace based on our cultural norms but we have to know that the times have changed, the world has moved on from gender appropriations. The world has moved on such that a woman can have a job that’s more demanding than yours, you can’t expect that same woman to come back home every day and cook for you, you have to go into the kitchen and cook for your family as a man. Because you have more time than your wife it doesn’t hurt for you to go and cook. It doesn’t make you any less of a man. The same applies to a woman, it doesn’t take away from you to dig into your pockets and get out some money to take care of your family. It’s your children, it’s your husband, it’s your home. It doesn’t have to be a husband to do certain things simply because of his gender.

Any last thoughts on domestic violence, child abuse, mental health challenges among men, and gender appropriations?

I feel like gender appropriations should be busted and people should do things based on capability, based on mutual respect and on understanding. I will give you an example, my boss is a female, she is my leader. I take orders from her. That alone should show you that the world has moved on, you don’t have to be a certain gender to do certain things. So, I feel like the only problem we need to solve first for us to co-exist as a human race, not as male and female, set against each other is busting the gender myths and misconceptions and gender roles and appropriations. Do things because you can, and not because you are this or that gender, as simple as that.