Kate Henshaw, a notable Nigerian actress speaks: “I was once a victim of domestic violence. The relationship lasted for about three to four years”. I didn’t know who I was then. I was so timid, I almost stopped smiling and laughing but there was this inner strength in me that helped me rediscover myself. In fact I had no self esteem then. I wanted to change and be who I was not, l based on the ill treatment and violent nature of my man then. He was constantly abusing, beating and battering me inside the house and in public places… during those turbulent periods; I was ashamed and couldn’t tell anybody. In one of the beatings, he broke my ankle”…
Monalisa chinda speaks: “my failed marriage was far from being normal; it was not a normal union. I will be foolish if I do not admit there were several cases of violence and assault on me…”
These are just two cases in a plethora of cases of women who are subjected to domestic violence. Not to be gender biased, it is appropriate to mention that men also experience domestic violence, not just as much as the women folk.
Domestic violence can be said to be a pattern of behaviour which involves the abuse of one partner by the other, especially partners in an intimate relationship. It could occur in a marriage, co-habitation with partner, a courtship or dating relationship or even within one’s immediate family. Domestic violence isn’t always in the physical form; it could come in the form of emotional, psychological or even sexual abuse. This trend occurs much around the world, the laws on domestic violence however vary from country to country depending the level of the society’s development and the acceptability of the phenomenon. For instance in 2010, the United Arab Emirates Supreme Court ruled that a man has the right to physically discipline his wife and children as long as he doesn’t leave physical marks. The societal acceptability also differs from country to country. In most developed countries, domestic violence is considered un-acceptable.
According to UNICEF progress for children 2007[attitudes towards domestic violence] survey, the percentage of women from ages 15-49 who were of the opinion that their spouse is justified in hitting or beating his spouse or partner under certain circumstances are as follows MALI 89%; GUINEA 86%; SIERRA-LEONE 85%, ZAMBIA 81%, ETHIOPIA 81%, UGANDA 77%; CONGO 76%; UZBEKISTAN 70%; VIETNAM 64%; NIGERIA 65%, NICARAGUA 17%, HONDURAS 16% and so on and forth.
Domestic violence still remains an issue in Nigeria as “the country’s discriminatory laws and dismissive police compound its particularly high rates of domestic violence. There exist an urgent need to challenge the social prejudices and institutional structures in order to protect its women not just from danger but also from ridicule, fear and isolation” [Leonie Taylor]. According to Stephen Mikala, deputy director of Amnesty international; said: “on a daily basis, Nigerian women are beaten, raped and even murdered by members of their family for supposed transgressions which can range from not having meals ready on time, to visiting family members without their husband’s permission” adding that husbands, partners and fathers are responsible for most of the violence. It is quite sad that domestic violence in Nigeria is seen as a necessary corrective tool for women, at best a part and parcel of one’s married life.
Many factors could contribute to the perpetuation of domestic violence. It could be the inability of many women to escape violence and domination due to their disadvantaged economic status as most women if married depend on their husbands financially, and those who are not married depend either on their boyfriend(s) or father for financial support. Another crucial factor is the culture of silence we all have imbibed which stigmatises the victim rather than the perpetrators.
The question to be asked now is, what steps can we take to alleviate domestic violence?
First of all the legislature should revise its legal policies on the issue of domestic violence. In early 2007, Nigeria’s national assembly rejected the domestication of the international law of CEDAW (the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women) despite having ratified it in the 1980’s without reservation. It has been said that in 2007, the Lagos state House of Assembly passed a law to provide protection against domestic violence, the law has however been rarely tested by victims of domestic violence [funmi falana_ chairwoman of women empowerment and legal aid].
Men and women all over the world, especially Nigeria have no small task ahead of them in challenging the sexism that puts women at disadvantage in the society and as such it is our collective responsibility to ensure that domestic violence is reduced to its barest minimum.
In conclusion, domestic violence affects the health, education and well being of both women and children who experience and witness domestic violence. In the context of gender in equality women’s response to abuse reflects their relatively fewer options to change or leave the relationship and their assessment of how best to protect themselves and their children (if they have any). Putting a stop to domestic violence requires the adjustment of attitudes that permit such abuse, developing legal and policy framework to prohibit and put an end to it, improving women’s access to economic resources and increasing the female access to education.