Throughout the ages, women and children have always been the primary victims of both emotional and physical violence. This abuse is found throughout every race, religion and socioeconomic sector of society. South Africa experiences an exceptionally high rate of Gender based violence and the current stats do not accurately represent these high numbers due to victim under-reporting, but it is estimated that 1 in 5 women over the age of 18 have experienced physical violence. In recent times, due to the high profile deaths of certain women in our society, South Africa has had to face the fatal outcome of this unabated violence against women. The Muslim community in South Africa is not safe either from the effects of violence against women and children, despite certain protective factors that are evident.
Islamic Careline has found that Muslim communities experience far lower rates of physical abuse within families than the overall demographic. This, however, does not discount the fact that Muslim communities still experience very high rates of emotional and verbal abuse. Reasons for the lower prevalence of physical violence are speculated to be due to the lower intake of alcohol and drugs due to religious prohibitions.
Emotional and verbal abuse, however, are not seen as serious forms of abuse and many victims view it as a normal aspect of relationships. Parents are known to justify this form of abuse as a form of discipline. In this way, abusive behaviours are passed down through the generations without any acknowledgement of its detrimental effects.
Women in Muslim communities find it harder to report abuse due to the stigma attached to being divorced as well as the fear of being blamed for their husband’s behaviour. Very of ten, families of Muslim women will encourage the victim to return to the abusive relationship and “make it work”. Women who are married to abusers who are high profile members of the community face far more discouraging challenges. These high profile men are often protected by their community, who will either disbelieve the victim’s claims, stigmitise and blame her for his behaviour or turn a blind eye to the abuse. For this reason, these instances of abuse are often kept a secret.
It is clear that the challenges faced by Muslim communities with regards to abuse need to be addressed by both educating the community as well as empowering the victims to seek assistance. It needs to be made clear that regardless of race or religion, victims need to understand that if physical violence has been perpetrated against them, for their own safety, they need to leave the relationship. If more women felt supported when trying to leave a violent partner, there would be fewer fatalities linked to gender based violence.
Islamic Careline, a confidential counselling service based in Fordsburg, offers a variety of services to both the victims and perpetrators of abuse. Services include individual and marital counselling, play therapy and trauma debriefing for victims of recent violent attacks. Media coverage in the form of radio programmes and newspaper articles are regularly released to raise awareness in the community.