This Man Sued The Government In Ghana To Help Victims Of Domestic Violence, And Won

Now this is what you call keeping government accountable! Lawyer Martin Kpebu has won a major court case in Ghana, by suing his government for failing to take action on its commitment to help victims of domestic violence. In 2007, the Ghanaian government signed the Domestic Violence Act, which would bring about harsher penalties for perpetrators of the violence, and establish a fund to help the victims get back on their feet and get the support they need.

This funding was supposed to be a central pillar of the policy, as it would contribute to the medical bills of the victims, as well as set up shelters that would allow women and children escaping relationships to have a safe place to go to. The third important aspect of the funding would go toward training police officers to better deal with cases of domestic violence.

But none of this ended up happening, and Martin took action. In 2016, he won his case and the government, headed up by President Nana Akufo-Addo, now has until October to start putting the wheels in motion and set up the fund. In a feature interview with’s Women & Girls column, Martin spoke about the domestic violence problem in Ghana, and why this cause is so important to him.

He cited statistics which state 17,655 cases of domestic violence were reported in 2014, and 15,749 in 2015, and emphasizes that these were the ones actually reported, many others do not.

“In Ghana, we have cultural habits that inhibit reportage of such cases, so the number is actually far higher. In order to keep the marriage going, you may have to endure some cases of domestic violence. If a woman was to report all the acts of domestic violence [she suffers] to the police authorities and her husband gets prosecuted, that would be the end of the marriage,” he said.

The case was initially brought before the court in July 2016, but the government did not respond, much like the lack of action taken after the Domestic Violence Act was initially implemented. It wasn’t until April 2017 that the court finally ruled the government had failed to follow through on the commitment of the law, and ordered them to set up the funds. Now, if they fail to have an infrastructure in place by October, the case will go back before the court.

Martin cited poverty in Ghana as one of the driving factors behind high rates of domestic violence and gender inequality, and the strong cultural resistance to changing attitudes toward women as the driving force behind him taking up this case.

“For a woman, and for children who depend on their parents, when they are affected by domestic violence, they are unable to report it. Because if you report your father for domestic violence, he may end up refusing to take care of you, [and] you’ll become an outcast. If you report your dad to the police and he gets sent to jail, who is going to take care of you? Women tend not to report because they want to save their marriages. We can’t hold these people accountable for their crimes, so that is why I thought I should take up this case,” he said.

A report on this issue from in 2016 found that many women would rather silently put up with abuse in order to save a marriage, then report the violence, no matter how bad it was.

“They told me they were brutally raped repeatedly when they refused to have sex with their husbands. Some women say they are subjected to starvation for several days for minor issues, ranging from failing to fetch water from a distant stream to refusing to sweep the yard or cook,” wrote reporter Maxwell Suuk.

Some of the women say they would much rather their community chiefs resolve the problem, rather than get the police involved.

“Should I report him and leave my marriage just because he has been beating me? It is not a good idea. We can’t support this call. Our chiefs and elders are there if there is a problem. They should settle it, not the police,” said one woman.

The perpetuated cycle of violence is certainly aided by deeply-ingrained attitudes of women not being equal to men, as seen in some of these statements not just from the wives, but also the husbands.

“If my wife takes me to the police, it shows that she is more powerful than me. So I will let her go,” said one farmer Majeed Zakaria.

Saving even a toxic, abusive marriage, rather than a wife protecting herself or her child from witnessing such violence seems to be the norm, which makes what Martin did in court all the more important. Other women’s rights advocates and organizations are all too familiar with the problem of domestic violence in Ghana.

In 2015, profiled a woman named Manu Yaa who has been working for 8 years in her town of Brong Ahafo with a team of other advocates to help bring down the rates of violence toward women. She is the founder of COMBAT, which stands for Community Based Anti-violence Team, run entirely by volunteers who tackle violence by training squads on human rights, social welfare, and support for survivors of domestic violence.

Manu herself hosts information workshops at churches, mosques, schools and even her own house, educating people on how best to fight domestic violence.

“We discuss the issues. I do a lot of counseling. I teach people how to handle violence, how to make a report to the Domestic and Violence Victim Support Unit and the Commission of Human Rights,” she said.

While it remains to be seen whether the government will take action and disperse the funds necessary to help victims, and help break the cycle of continued violence, you can be sure Martin Kpebu will not rest until he sees this through.

“If the government puts up the funds and begins to disperse the funds to the victims and build the shelters, then we will be affording better protection to the population…This fund is going to help increase accountability, people are going to be accountable for their offenses,” he said.

You can hear him speak more about his case and the issue of domestic violence in the news video below:


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