It is rare to hear men publicly sharing their experiences about being physically and emotionally abused by their wives or girlfriends.
Yet 10 per cent of abused people in abusive relationships are men, according to a study by the Legal Assistance Centre (LAC).
This violence takes on different forms, which include verbal abuse, emotional abuse, psychological abuse, denial of conjugal rights in marriage, financial exploitation and at times even physical abuse by selfish female partners.
Statistics from the Gender Based Violence Protection Unit, formerly known as the Women and Child Protection Unit, indicate that from January to May this year, 88 men reported they endured abuse at the hands of their partners.
In addition, information obtained from the Lifeline/Childline Namibia indicates that less than five men report being abused by their partners.
Yet, according to senior counsellor at Lifeline/Childline Namibia, Dina Petrus, there are men who endure all forms of abuse, including physical abuse, in their relationships but they do not come out for fear of being ridicled.
But why is it such a taboo for men to openly come out and say they are abused by their partners?
“Many men suffer in silence at the hands of their women because there are no effective systems in place to protect men,” 55-year-old Mathias Maongo told New Era.
The soft-spoken petit man says he had been in an abusive relationship for a very long time before he parted ways with his partner of 20 years last year.
Relating how it all started, Maongo says his former partner who is also the mother of his eight children guzzles alcohol like there is no tomorrow.
The rather emotional Maongo, who wore dark sunglasses throughout the interview, said he endured verbal and psychological abuse from his sharp-tongued woman.
“She would insult me and say all sorts of disrespectful words about my parents,” Maongo says, adding that it broke him down emotionally to a point where he would retaliate with aggression and beat her.
It all started 20 years ago when Maongo moved to the city in search of greener pastures.
He left his traditional wife with whom he has three children at the village.
Although he would meet their needs, Maongo says he needed someone to share his life with in the city.
That is how he met the mother of his eight children.
Maongo says he told her he has a traditional wife at the village but the mother of his eight children in Windhoek nevertheless agreed to enter into a relationship with him. “She agreed to enter into a relationship with me even after I explained that I have another woman at the village,” Maongo says.
He admits that his partner was probably disrespectful towards him because she was not the only woman in his life.
“I told her that I would build a house for her and our children in the village but she refused,” says Maongo.
According to Maongo, a contractual worker who lives in Babylon informal settlement, “A woman should treat a man with respect and when he apologises for his wrong she should not constantly remind him of it.”
He does not deny the fact that there are men out there who also abuse women but adds, “Understanding is needed to have a successful marriage or relationship.”
Chief Inspector Cathleen Shirley Araes, the Head of the Gender Based Violence Unit, says most cases that are reported at the unit by men are those where men apply for a protection order against their violent wives.
This is mostly in the case where men are in the process of divorcing their wives.
“You sometimes find the wives bombarding and terrorising their husbands by showing up at their work place unannounced while the divorce process is ongoing,” Araes said.
There are those women who literally show up in the shadow of men to such an extent that the men can no longer put up with such behaviour, she adds. But, there are also men who just seek counselling on how to deal with their financially abusive partners, adds Araes.
According to Executive Director of the Women’s Action for Development (WAD), Salatiel Shinedima, verbal, psychological and emotional abuse, among others, have a negative effect on men.
“When a man’s authority is undermined it’s easy for him to act violently. Physical abuse is the manifestation of another form of abuse,” says Shinedima, adding that as long as abuse -emotional, verbal, psychological, financial – often perpetrated against men by women is not addressed, physical abuse perpetrated against most women is almost inevitable. “It will always come out as physical abuse,” maintains Shinedima, adding that women sometimes tend to be highly provocative.
“Women don’t understand that men are generally quiet people. When a man is quiet he is avoiding trouble even when the woman interprets that as disrespect,” adds Shinedima.
Gender activist Ngamane Karuaihe-Upi says, “Women have sharp tongues. They can nag you into the ground. To avoid being mocked, men keep quiet.”
Also, society has conditioned men to be strong so much so that they are seen as weaklings when they have to report abuse at a police station.
Furthermore, it is important for people to change with the times and get rid of cultural practices that may be detrimental to a relationship, says Shinedima, adding, “If we want to live in the past then the present will leave us behind.”
Karuaihe-Upi concurs saying tolerating abuse for a long term results in men responding aggressively towards women or themselves.
In other cases, men end up finding comfort in other women as well as neglecting their own children, adds Karuaihe-Upi. He also notes that men are conditioned by society to always appear strong even when they are in despair. “When in abusive relationships, men withdraw,” he adds.
Karuaihe-Upi also agrees with Maongo that there are no systems in place where men can comfortably seek help and encourages couples in troubled relationships should seek help.
Petrus is of the view that men mostly seek counselling when they can no longer bear the pain because they have been brought up to appear strong.
“They (men) must come out and seek for help because there is help for them. If they keep bottling up the pain they can explode one day,” says Petrus.