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Open Letter : Ministry’s Survey on Sexist Violence 

An Open Letter to you to help to articulate the present situation with the memory of past women’s struggles against patriarchal violence in the family; in particular with demands from the women’s movement, one of which being a call to make public the Thea Mendelsohn Report on Domestic Violence so as to complement the public debate on how to address the specific sexist violence within the family.

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Dear Madam,

The Muvman Liberasyon Fam as a national women’s organisation has had on its agenda during our 44-year history, inter alia, the struggle against patriarchal violence.

We are writing to you to request you to publish the Thea Mendelsohn Report on Domestic Violence commissioned by your Ministry and submitted in the 1990’s but, curiously, never made public.

We read with interest your opening speech at the training session of 30 field officers of the SILWF organised by your Ministry on 8th December 2021 to prepare the launch of a door-to-door survey on the prevalence of sexist violence, that you said (as reported in Le Mauricien 10-Dec-2021),

“La violence fondée sur le genre doit être abordée de manière holistique et nécessite plus que des cadres législatifs et institutionnels. Bien que la loi sur la protection contre la violence domestique soit sur le point d’être modifiée et que le Gender Equality Bill soit bientôt présenté à l’Assemblée nationale, ces mesures ne sont pas suffisantes, car la lutte contre la violence fondée sur le sexe nécessite une approche globale,” and that “comprendre la violence sexiste nécessite une compréhension mutuelle de la racine du problème.” And the article continued, “D’où l’importance d’une recherche fondée sur des preuves avant de déclencher des actions efficaces. Elle souligne également que l’enquête permettra par la suite de rassembler des informations sur les répercussions de la violence sexiste sur les femmes, les enfants, les familles et la société dans son ensemble. ‘Cela permettra aussi d’entendre et de considérer la voix des victimes de violences’.”

We agree with this.

In February 2015, the MLF wrote to the then newly-appointed Minister of Gender Equality, Child Development & Family Welfare, Ms. Aurore Perraud of the MSM-PMSD government. In the letter our Association put emphasis on priorities for women and we wrote on Violence Against Women:

“We suggest two immediate actions on the issue of violence against women, which has rightly been in the news a great deal over the past few years. As background, for your perusal, we enclose the Charter Against Violence Against Women, endorsed by the women’s movement.

“a) That your Ministry publish the Thea Mendelsohn Report on domestic violence. This could then be the point of departure for a national debate. The Report, which dates from the 1990’s, was the document used by your predecessors while preparing the 1997 Domestic Violence Act. It was our Association that called on the Ministry to get an expert in from Australia in order to advise on best practices from the State, on laws against domestic violence and on other measures against domestic violence. Her Report has never, however, been published, let alone debated. It is perhaps the “other measures” that have been left hidden “dan tirwar”. But whatever it is that has remained secret, we have no idea “why”.

“b) That your Ministry set aside resources in order, jointly with the Five Main Hospitals in Mauritius and one in Rodrigues, to campaign so that all women in the country know that, in cases of sexual assault, the first stop can be the Hospital, where there have been Sexual Assault Units for years. MLF in fact lobbied and mobilized for this, and we won it as a gain for women. Victims are thus cared for first – physically, psychologically, against STDs, pregnancy prevention, etc. Women and children who suffer sexual assault do not have to go to the Police first. And yet, the Hospital Sexual Assault Units keep falling into disuse for lack of the massive sensitization campaign about their existence that is such a crying necessity. (The Protocol concerned that was developed in the past with the Police, but never popularized, except by MLF with our limited resources, and [no longer now]seen on your Ministry’s site.) We still hear everyone on Radio, including the Police and other officers of the State, advising victims with all the conviction in the world to “go to the Police”. In fact, once a victim is in one of the Sexual Assault Units, then, should she wish to give a statement to the Police, a woman officer is invited into the caring atmosphere of the hospital in order to take the statement there.”

This is still largely true today.

In MLF 2014 Domestic Violence Challenge Charter and 2019 Women’s Common Platform for Emancipation which were presented formally to all political party leaderships and made public, we detailed our demands on the issue of patriarchal violence.

We quote from the MLF 4-point Domestic Violence Challenge Charter 2014 to put a stop to wife battering:

“The Muvman Liberasyon Fam calls on the leadership of political parties to take a stand, on 8 March 2014, to address the real causes of the increasing violence against women by their partners/ex-partners. Since 1 January (2020), four women have been murdered by violent spouses. Their murders were not sudden. They took place after a pattern of years of violence. One woman was violated even after her death, having her body chopped up into pieces. These murdered women represent the visible tip of an iceberg of male violence that exists in our ordinary social relationships. In memory of these four women, we call on political party leaders to address the long-term causes of this pattern of violence, and to address them politically. The solutions, like the causes, have little to do with the Ministry of Gender Equality. They need a proper political program. Solutions need to undermine patriarchy, the very cause of the misogyny that underpins this male violence. Our “Challenge Charter” will expose the hypocrisy of any political party leaderships that pretend to support women’s rights each year on 8 March.

“Male violence against partners is often linked to the fact that individual males are themselves violently trapped. While patriarchy dictates that a man “provides for his wife and children consistently and forever”, capitalism-in-crisis deprives men of the wherewithal to do so. Mauritian society increasingly offers men, at all levels, jobs on short-term contract only while repayments on housing and household expenses have to be paid every single month.

“If this general set-up is not enough to engender rage in the men in our society, what is?

“So what does the women’s movement propose?

“1. Housing for single women at prices we can afford

“Is your party in favour of providing housing for women at rents that corroborate with women’s incomes? Yes or no? And do not reply with semi-intellectual statements like ‘housing must be profit-based’! When Mauritius was a poor country, the State could afford to provide housing in the form of ‘lakaz vev’ and even some whole ‘site vev’ for women with a violent partner or without a partner. Are you and your party in favour of re-instating this kind of social housing, or better still, improving on past best-practices invented under Central Housing Authority (CHA)? If you are not, you are colluding with the patterns of violence that women end up suffering simply because of being unable to escape from the initial violence at its first sign, whatever the cause and whatever the pretext.

“Social housing for women simply rescues men from an unfair patriarchal obligation, thus removing a direct cause of the generalized violence. It also, on an ‘ideas’ level, decreases the hold of patriarchy in general.

“2. A Regular Income for Women through Paid Work

“Is your party in favour of creating jobs for women so that we have a regular income on which we can live? Yes or no? Is your party in favour of social security for women with children too young to leave at home on their own? Yes or No? If you and your party are not in favour of women being able to survive without relying on violent partners, clearly you are colluding with this on-going murderous violence.

“Proper jobs for women also spares men an unfair patriarchal obligation, thus removing another direct cause of misogyny while also decreasing the hold of patriarchal ideas.

“3. Society as a whole must Pay for Children abandoned by Fathers

“When a violent male leaves his wife and children, this is a blessing. He has acted wisely. He has turned away from his violent role. He should not then be called a criminal. The law of 1998, which criminalizes men who abandon their families or don’t pay their alimony, was passed at a time when the State was washing its hands of social responsibilities in the wake of the Thatcher-Reagan counter-revolution which rolled back ‘caring behavior’ by society as a whole, represented by the State. We therefore call for the immediate repeal of the law which criminalizes men who abandon their wife and children. This law perpetuates male violence. Social Security must once again take its responsibility. Income tax on the rich can be increased to cover the cost.

“4. Publish the Thea Mendelsohn Report At Once

“On an MLF demand, Ms. Sidaya, Minister of Womens’ Rights at the time, commissioned the Thea Mendelsohn Report. It was the basis for the Domestic Violence Act. However, her other proposals have never been made public. We call for your party to take a stand to remove this Report from the “tirwar” and debate its contents.

“5. Political Parties Must Stop Colluding with Male Violence at all Levels

“Wife-beating is one form of male violence that benefits from constant cover-up. It is related to other more insidious forms of male violence and misogyny that are even more covered up. This impunity must stop. All male violence must be denounced. For example, politicians and other men, who lead double-lives and thus cause wives, mistresses and children untold suffering must be made to resign from office and clean up their acts. Is your party in favour of this? Or will your party continue to mask male violence by referring to ‘private lives’, as if lies and hypocrisy, on a long term basis, are normal? As if women and children can be hidden away in the shadows like illegal slaves? Just as men still think they can beat women as part of their ‘private lives’? Take a stand!”

We quote point no.1 from the 2019 10-point Women’s Common Platform for Emancipation:

1. Housing for every woman!

“Given that:

“- women suffer domestic violence in part because we have nowhere to go if we abandon a violent partner, and violent partners know this,

“- in the past, the Central Housing Authority rented affordable “lakaz vev” to single mothers until the agency was closed down in 1992 after which women have suffered untold misery from the lack of housing as a right,

“- and given that women suffer because of living in “heirs’ housing” that grown-up children, often now with children of their own, later refuse to move out of because it is “their own” by future inheritance, and that this engenders endemic violence, and a significant number of murders,

“and given that:

“- sugar estate land, Mauritius main agricultural land, is being squandered on golf courses for rich adults to play on and is being sold off to millionaires, and this with immense Government subsidy,

“that therefore your Party

“– undertakes that it is the State’s responsibility for all single mothers and all families to be assured housing they can afford, including a rental option, and that you will ensure this transition from the present system to one more like the ex-CHA, and use land that is being wasted on golf courses and real estate speculation for housing and social amenities that give respect to all the people.”

In the context of the survey by your Ministry, analysing the limitations of the Domestic Violence Act, considering the women’s movement demands over the years, and adding in the public debate on any other measures proposed in Thea Mendelsohn Report, will all help to avoid the limitations of single-issue campaign and looking beyond the legal framework and institutional framework to move towards a more articulate and holistic approach to addressing the issue of patriarchal violence as a society.

We have taken the step of making our letter to you an “open letter” so that we can contribute to the debate not moving backwards, but taking past struggles against patriarchal violence forward. These demands on domestic violence must, we believe, be taken in unison with the demands we have put forward in our 2019 book on the subject of Sexual Assault, which we submitted to your Ministry at the time.

Yours sincerely,

Rajni LallahSecretary Muvman Liberasyon Fam

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