Domestic violence has become an endemic in Australia. It is now a serious societal issue that is affecting the lives of many vulnerable people. Quite often the first call of action is aimed at solving the damage that has occurred. Although it is a good place to start, it fails to address the cause of the abuse. A better approach would be to tackle the root of the problem and help provide a more holistic and progressive solution for the issue.
As an Australian of African descent I see how many African communities in Australia have been working hard to integrate into the Australian lifestyle and culture. The benefits of this integration is seen in the positive contributions Africans have made and continue to make to Australia’s rich multicultural society. However, integration into the Australian way of life is not without issues for many members of the broader African community in Australia. One of the issues is the culture of substance abuse and the violence that comes with it. The two are inseparable.
Many African-Australians struggle with substance abuse, in particular alcohol. Australia’s prominent drinking culture has been seamlessly integrated into the lifestyles of many Africans living in Australia. This culture of substance abuse is having a devastating effect in the African community and families are bearing the brunt of this worrying phenomenon. The devastating effects are visible in many ways and anecdotal evidence suggest that there is an increase in family breakups in African communities.
The issues are much deeper than just substance abuse. Even though in Australian culture it is acceptable to have a couple of drinks at social gatherings, the problem arises when the drinking becomes excessive, which is often the case. This leads to abuse in the home, especially in the form emotional abuse and domestic violence.
There are many reasons that lead people to drink excessively, including emotional and mental instability. In many African communities, there is a level of negligence of mental well-being. Many of us tend to ignore the importance of caring for our mental health. Mental health remains one of the biggest taboos in our communities and is rarely a point of discussion in our homes or within social settings. Consequently, it is my view that we have failed ourselves in this matter and it is about time we took bold steps to help undo much of the damage caused by the lack of proper and enlightened discussions on this critical aspect of family and community welfare.
How should we go about doing this? The issue is complex and there is no silver bullet. However, a good place to start is to stop the stigmatisation of mental health in our community. Many of us walk around beat down and broken and have no one to talk to about the pain we carry, because we fear being stigmatised. We tend to scoff one another and brush off our people’s cry for help even where things are evident. Hence, our homes and relationships are affected, Many of us are hurting inside and as a consequence, we end up hurting each other in return, and in the process our children become affected, given their vulnerability when exposed to violence and abuse in the family.
There are many of us turning to substance abuse to escape from the hardship of life, but a quick fix may not be the answer and may actually end up creating more problems than it solves? Alcohol abuse breaks down family relationships and leave them vulnerable to both emotional and physical abuse. This may cause mental instability of all involved, the perpetrators become emotionally unstable and unfit to care for themselves, let alone a whole family. This is one of the reasons why domestic violence is becoming such a common occurrence in our homes. We must take action to minimise substance abuse and domestic violence in our communities. The welfare of our families must a be a priority for all us including men, women, community leaders, faith leaders, social activists and service providers serving our communities.
Unia Juma (AMA contributor).