‘Man strangles wife over sex’; ‘Husband butchers wife over denied sex’; ‘Anal or No Sex ….Husband Demands’ and other headlines like these capture the horrendous instances of sexual violence, a form of Gender-Based Violence (GBV) in Ghanaian homes over the years.
As defined by the United Nations, sexual violence “is any sexual act, attempt to obtain a sexual act, unwanted sexual comments, advances or acts to traffic or otherwise directed against a person’s sexuality using coercion by any person regardless of their relationship to the victim in any setting.”
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), violence against women, particularly intimate partner violence and sexual violence, remains a major public health threat and a violation of women’s rights.
It is estimated that one in three women (30 percent) worldwide are subjected to physical and or sexual intimate partner violence in their lifetime with almost one-third of them aged 15-49 years (27percent) who have been in a relationship reporting of being subjected to some form of sexual violence by their intimate partners.
Intimate partner violence refers to a behaviour by an intimate partner or ex-partner that causes physical, sexual or psychological harm, including physical aggression, sexual coercion, psychological abuse and other controlling behaviours.
“It includes rape, defined as the physically forced or otherwise coerced penetration of the vulva or anus with a penis, other body part or object, attempted rape, unwanted sexual touching and other non-contact forms.”
Sex in marriage:
In Ghana, estimates from the Domestic Violence and Victim Support Units (DOVVSU) indicates that averagely, 35 percent of women have experienced some form of physical, emotional, psychological or sexual violence in the form of an intimate partner violence.
These acts are largely driven by socio-cultural norms, economic conditions and the religious factors among others, which supposedly makes the woman more or less a ‘sex slave’ in a relationship.
In marriage, sexual intercourse is one of the major ingredients for healthy intimacy although the union imposes other duties and responsibilities on each spouse.
For the Christian, marriage is a sacred institution; “wherefore a man shall leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife and the two shall become one flesh. So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has put together, let no man put asunder.” (Mark 10:7-9).
The Apostle Paul exhorts further that married couples refrain from refusing “sex to each other unless they agree not to have sex for a little while, in order to spend time in prayer. Thus, Satan won’t be able to tempt them because of their lack of self-control. (1 Corinthians 7:5).
A victim’s account:
It is reverence of these doctrines and the honouring her marriage vows that 30-year old Yayra (not her real name) endured sexual intercourse with her husband in her menses; an incidence which was later to be a regular feature in her three-year old marriage.
Now separated from her husband, the once active member and singer in one of the renowned orthodox churches in the country recounted with pain how she was always overpowered by her husband try as much as she could to resist such acts.
“I dread those moments and although we are not legally divorced, I no longer live with him neither am I interested in the marriage. I feel humiliated not to talk of the emotional and psychological trauma I have been through,” she shared in an interview with this writer.
Asked whether she reported the matter to church leadership for the needed advice or redress, she said; “I haven’t had the courage to open up on that although we have been invited on several occasions for counselling by our church elders in order to fix the marriage. I have been able to speak on all other challenges I faced in the marriage except for our sexual acts.”
Laws on sexual violence:
Ghana’s Domestic Violence Act, 2007 (Act 732) drafted in sync with tenets of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) to promote the rights of women prohibits force within marriage under section 4 of the act.
“The use of violence in the domestic setting is not justified on the basis of consent”, it states making it possible for husbands to be prosecuted for marital rape should they proceed to have sex with their wives without their consent.
The Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, popularly known as the Maputo Protocol, of which Ghana is a signatory, enjoins states to enact appropriate national legislative instruments that ensure that “women and men enjoy equal rights and are regarded as equal partners in marriage.”
Articles 4, 6, 12 and 13 of the Protocol demands that state parties work to eliminate Gender-based violence (GBV) and promote economic empowerment of women.
For instance, article 4, clause 2 (a) asks member states to enact and enforce laws to prohibit all forms of violence against women, including unwanted or forced sex whether the violence takes place in private or public.
The church role/way forward:
A major stakeholder in curbing SGBV, admits the Executive Secretary of the Ghana Academy of Christian Counsellors, Mr. Frank Owiredu-Yeboa, is the church.
According to him, the Christian faith abhors and condemns all forms of violence and “much as the bible frowns on divorce, we advise victims to take steps to protect themselves and separate from their attackers once there is a threat of life.”
In reference to sex, the Executive Secretary explained that sexual pleasure “in the eyes of God should edify the body and not defile it” (Heb. 13:4), as such, consent during intercourse was crucial for mutual satisfaction.
Mr. Owiredu-Yeboa said it was important that churches intensify sexual education “on the pulpit” to allow people make informed choices on their sexual preferences as well as strengthen pre-marital and marital counselling to guide couples into “building functional, godly families.”
Churches, he advised, must have qualified professional pastoral counsellors certified by the Ghana Psychological Council and other relevant bodies in place to effectively handle issues of violence in marriages.
“When such provision is available, members are more confident to voice out on such matters and together we can fulfill Gods purpose for marriages,” he said.
Sharing similar sentiments on how the church could help reduce SGBV, Project Officer at the Gender Centre for Empowering Development (GenCED), a non-governmental organisation, Esther Darko Mensah, decried slow implementation of the DV Act due to lack of funds.
“Since the initial seed capital of GH¢50,000, twelve years ago (2010), there has been no further allocation to the Domestic Violence Fund and that has delayed care for victims and pursuing justice for some.”
She called for an all hands on deck approach to address SGBV in the country.
Available statistics indicates that 70 percent of the Ghanaian population are Christians and although the bible is not explicit on Domestic Violence, should the church uphold love which is an underlying principle of the faith and encourage its application in all spheres of life, Ghana should be on its way to eradicating this canker.
BY ABIGAIL ANNOH
This article was produced with the support of the Africa Women’s Journalism Project (AWJP) in partnership with the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) and through the support of the Ford Foundation.