The claim made by the 2013 Mauritius MDG status report that goal 3 – that of gender equality – has been achieved is rather misleading. Gender inequalities remain pervasive, women are increasingly being disempowered rather than empowered. It is not the extra numbers of women here and there that can bring change and improve the woman’s condition. There is a need for more relevant indicators and measurements in the country. Central to this is the capacity for gender analysis but the latter remains so very lacking in the country.
Gender analysis is about the ability to make connections which are not always apparent. As Professor Naila Kabeer, leading scholar of gender studies, at the London School of Economics notes : “One set of connections relates the linkages between production and reproduction, between economic growth and human development. A second set of connections is between the different levels of analysis : micro, meso and macro (and increasingly to global). A third set of connections is between different domains of society… public policy can and should play an important role…. in offsetting these disadvantages as well as actively helping to transform the institutional norms and practices which gave rise to them…”
Gender based violence exists both in the public and private sphere. It should certainly not be dismissed as mere “crimes passionnels” and therefore not an affair of the state. The latter has the responsibility to protect its citizens. True, we have the Domestic Violence Act but clearly legislations are necessary but not sufficient.
Implementation remains poor and inadequate. No wonder the household budget survey (2010) of the Central Statistics Office (Statistics Mauritius) tells us that out of every 100 households interviewed, 80 felt that the level of crime has gone up in the country. Some can easily argue that this is only a perception but the latter is frequently informed by reality.
 The four recent cases of women battered to death are real and speak volumes about gender relations in ‘paradise’ island. The violence with which these acts have been undertaken highlight the fact that Mauritian society is producing human beings who harbour anger, frustration, resentment, jealousy and hate in themselves. The reasons for this are often a complex interplay of cultural, social, economic and psychological factors.
Domestic violence is not specific to any particular socioeconomic group in society. It cuts across class, age group, ethnicity and gender. Domestic violence is caused by the misuse of power and control within a context of male privilege. Domestic violence can be seen as a consequence of the inequality between men and women, rooted in patriarchal traditions that encourage men to believe they are entitled to power and control over their partners. The causes of domestic violence are multiple – intergenerational transmission of violence, alcohol abuse by partners, women’s lack of financial autonomy.
It can also be hypothesised that women who witness their father beating their mother often grow up with an increased acceptance of violence and might be more likely to condone such violence as compared to women who grow up in non violent households. This can perhaps also explain why so many cases go unreported.
A study carried out by Gender Links in 2012 states that 24% of women in Mauritius have experienced some form of gender based violence (GBV) and 23% of men have admitted to being perpetrators of GBV. Bearing in mind that these 23% are not the partners of the women interviewed, one can imagine the magnitude of the problem.
Another study in 2010 on the ‘Extent, Nature and Costs of Domestic Violence to the Economy’ pointed to the fact that DV is costing the economy some Rs1.4 billion rupees annually and this at a time when the country struggles to cut down its budget deficit.
Prevention programmes
In 2012, the Minister of Gender equality announced a ‘Victim Empowerment and Abuser Rehabilitation Policy, ‘ but when victims are murdered and cut into pieces, it would be very difficult to ’empower’ the victim. Abuser rehabilitation is of course necessary but what the country needs most urgently is PREVENTION. Reflections on domestic violence and what is happening to the daughters of our soil begs some questions :
(1) What is the percentage of the budget that goes to prevention programmes ?
(2) What are the specific prevention programmes that have been adopted and if so, has any evaluation taken place ?
(3) How many perpetrators have actually been arrested over the last 10 years and what is the exact punishment meted out to them ?
(4) How can we tighten up the laws against violence and ensure a more effective implementation ?
(5) Is the Domestic Violence Information System announced by the Minister in 2012 operational and how can it help to address the problem. Is it cost effective ?
(6) Is the police force sufficiently trained on how to deal with domestic violence ?
(7) Is there a multistakeholder approach to the problem of domestic violence – what efforts have been made for instance by the Ministry of Youth, Social Security and Education ?
Education is key in fashioning the kind of society that we live in. But have you heard of primary schools teaching little boys and girls the need to respect and treat the ‘Other’ as equals. If anything, research shows that our schools tend to reproduce gender inequality with ‘male dominance’ continuing to be the order of the day.
The questions posed above point to some recommendations. There is also an urgent need to engage men and boys and reach out to all parts of society, to use the media to massively campaign against gender-based violence. As Ban Ki Moon, the UN secretary general aptly puts it : ‘Violence against women is a heinous human rights violation, global menace, a public health threat and a moral outrage. ‘ We need to work together to wage war against the war that exists in many private spaces. Stop being silent and let’s denounce this grave injustice being done to our daughters, sisters and mothers. We certainly do not wish to see our grandchildren grow with the physical and emotional scars of gender based violence.