VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN IN NIGERIA: PROBLEMS, PANACEAS AND PROSPECTS


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If there is one thing that gives women shudders on a marital level, it is most likely thoughts of being victims of domestic violence. Before going into a relationship, young women tend to build their anticipations upon movie clich├ęs. Marriage, in its genuine sense, could be an epitome of fun, affection, friendship and so on. However, this dream usually gets ruined when domestic violence sets in. Imagine the agony that these women will go through when things take a turn for the worse, and their envisaged empire becomes a "hell fire". Imagine how hard it could be for them to adapt to a tyrannical lifestyle after being carried away by the euphoria of marital bliss in a commitment that probably would last for a lifetime. 



I once saw a woman on TV who claimed she had been subjected to so much torture by the father of her children. "He was the perfect husband when we first began our marital journey," she said, with tears in her eyes "but things turned quite awry six years into our marriage. He would beat me at the slightest provocation and rape me afterwards..." Her bleary eyes told a real tale of woe, and anyone that saw her could, to some extent, imagine what her pain was like. After all, we are humans. 

To eradicate all feelings of sentimentality, domestic violence also includes violence against men as it is in accordance with the definition given by the United States department of justice’s office on violence against women: "domestic violence is a pattern of abusive behavior in any relationship that is used by one partner to gain or maintain control over another intimate partner [1]." 

Nevertheless, women are much more likely than men to be victims of domestic violence. A report indicates that 32% of women who had ever experienced domestic violence did so four or five (or more) times, compared with 11% of the (smaller number) of men who had ever experienced domestic violence; and women constituted 89% of all those who had experienced 4 or more incidents of domestic violence. (Walby and Allen, 2004). It is a common knowledge and, as a matter of fact, logical to think that men are significantly more likely than women to be "repeat perpetrators" of violence. Come to think of it, what if women perpetrators are shaped from the violence they once experienced?

Domestic violence comes in different forms, the commonest of which are physical abuse and sexual abuse. A report by the World Health Organization indicates that, globally, 35% of women have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence, and the regions of the world with the highest reported rates of sexual and physical violence towards women are Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia [2]. Among others, domestic violence could also take the form of trying to make the victim financially reliant, intimidation and making the victim have a low sense of self-worth. However, many women are not aware of these and, consequently, do not know whether they are being abused or not. 

Apart from the lack of knowledge of whether or not one is being abused, culture plays a vital role in the prevalence of domestic violence. Taking Nigeria as a case study, UNICEF (2001) asserted that traditionally, as in many other African countries, the beating of wives and children is widely sanctioned as a form of discipline. This is because men are considered superior. Also many women do not report for fear of retaliation by the perpetrator, shame /embarrassment, the perception of being misunderstood, or the desire to deal with issues by themselves. According to a statistic on This Day (2011), staggering 97.2% of them are not prepared to report to the Nigeria Police.  The typical Nigeria police on the other hand will probably dismiss their complaints on the ground that it is a private or family matter. 

The effect domestic violence has on women cannot be overemphasized. Sadly, in Nigeria, a country where almost half of its citizens are women, the incidence of domestic violence is high and its prevalence unchecked. Many women are being brutally treated by their partners, which, in some cases, might lead to death. Most of these women have drunkards as partners, hence, the escalation of verbal to physical abuse. Also, in a case where the woman is pregnant, it might lead to the loss of that pregnancy. Agbo and Choji (2014) in the study carried out in Abuja, Nigeria, a mother of one narrated her ordeal in the hands of her husband who constantly was hitting and beating her whenever he was drunk, and she lost two pregnancies as a result of his brutality. They also reported a case of a 34 years old housewife, Mrs. Fatima Bankole, who had her face stitched 26 times, after she got battered by her husband, Alhaji Kamoru Bankole for taking a piece of fish from the pot to break her fast. Imagine such brutality. 



In addition, women victims who are forced to be financially dependent on their abusers have little or no money for survival, and are eventually compelled to remain in the relationship, enduring every bit of whatever pain there is left in store for them. Also, In a bid to maintain financial control, their abusers often deprive them of education, skill and whatever could later be a means of income for them. Among these women who are still living with their abusers are often faced with firsthand criticism, anxiety, stress and depression. On the long run, these victims are faced with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and may resort to self-harm or attempt suicide. 

As if that is not enough, domestic violence also has disturbing effects on children. Their exposure to domestic abuse will cause them to suffer from emotional and behavioural problems like increased aggressiveness, change in the way they relate with peers and other people and so on. Most likely, they will model the behaviour to which they have been exposed and may end up as either perpetrators or victims, continuing the vicious cycle of violence. In some cases, the abuser will purposely abuse the mother in front of the child to cause a ripple effect. It has been found that children who witness mother-assault are more likely to exhibit symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) (Lehmann, 1995). Now that the leaders of tomorrow are under threat, I wonder what the future of a country like Nigeria will be like. 

It is no longer a news that domestic violence is on the increase in Nigeria, and considering its daunting effects, there is an urgent need to curb it. As a matter of fact, domestic violence is a violation of fundamental human rights, which the Nigerian constitution is against. However, there might be loopholes for perpetrators. For example, in section 55 (1) (d) of the Penal Code applicable in the northern part of Nigeria, the beating of wife is legal. Although it comes with a condition, it still provides a source of escape for perpetrators. For this reason, there is need for the amendment of the 1959 penal code. Governor Kashim Shettima of Borno revealed that the northern states governors were concerned that many categories of new crimes that have either cropped up recently or become more menacing in recent times are not adequately captured in the Penal Code. These include insurgency, terrorism, RAPE, kidnapping and cattle rustling [3]. 

Also, Nigerian government should make more attempts to battle the issue of the discretion, corruption and inactivity of law enforcement agents (especially the police) as they pay little or no attention to complaints of domestic violence. Even when they seem to pay attention and the cases finally get to court, they are usually stagnant. In 2010, the traditional king of Akure physically assaulted one of his wives resulting in her death. At the urging of the public, the police made a statement that they would press charges. The case was however dismissed in 2012, and the rule of law defeated.

In reality, domestic violence does not always end when the victim escapes the abuser or tries to terminate the relationship. Often, it intensifies because the abuser has lost control and may resort to stalking, harassing or threatening the victim. This is more reason why law enforcement agents need to hold abusers accountable for the abuse they inflict. To ensure effectiveness, hotlines should be provided for report of domestic violence.

Leaving an abusive relationship can be more difficult for younger and financially abused victims due to lack of funds or sometimes, age-related criteria for public housing. As a result, these victims may be left unassisted, forced into homelessness or elect to remain in the relationship. For this reason, government should work with non-governmental organizations like the Women Right Advancement and Protection Alternative (WRAPA) and so on to provide houses for victims in such category. Other social amenities like good roads and medical centers should also be installed, especially in rural areas to provide access to important support networks. 

To put an end to the issue of domestic violence, all other stakeholders have to work collectively with the government - the communities, religious groups and institutions. Since media, schools, families and religious groups have a strong and lasting influence on people, they have a lot to do in the counsel and campaign against domestic violence. This could be done through seminars and workshops, religious teachings, premarital counseling etc. If rightly done, their inputs would go a long way in enlightening people (victims, abusers and people who are neither abusers nor victims) on the dangers of domestic violence and also prevent any future act of abuse. 

Taking a deeper look at the incidence of domestic violence in Nigeria, we would realize that it threatens our existence as Nigerians, regardless of whether one is a female, male or whether one realizes it or is directly affected by it or not. This is because Nigeria is our collective idea and keeping it safe and better lie in our hands. We dream of a Nigeria where the rights of every citizen is protected; where people enter relationships without the fear of being abused. To achieve this is, definitely, not going to be easy. As a result, we need to work tirelessly to put domestic violence in check. 

LET'S WORK TOGETHER TO CURB DOMESTIC VIOLENCE. CLICK HERE TO SPREAD THE NEWS ON FACEBOOK.

References
1. What is domestic violence, http://family.findlaw.com/domestic-violence/what-is-domestic-violence.html
2. World Health Organization: Global and regional estimates of violence against women: prevalence and health effects of intimate partner violence and non-partner sexual violence. 2013, World Health Organisation, http://www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/violence/9789241564625/en/ (accessed 5/10/2013) Google Scholar
3. Reviewing the North's penal code. Daily Trust. 2012
UNICEF (2001) Children and Women’s rights in Nigeria: A wake up call assessment
 and analysis. Edited by Hodge. Abuja: National Population Commission and UNICEF.
This Day (2011, September 20). Domestic violence: When law fails to protect.
 http://www.thisdaylive.com
Lehamann, P.J. (1995). Children who witness mother-assault: An expander posttraumatic stress disorder conceptualization. (Unpublished M.A. Thesis.) Wilfred Laurier University.http://scholars.w/u.ca/etd/193
Agbo, C. & Choji, R. (2014). Domestic violence against women: Any end in sight? From
 Leadership/news/382501
Walby, Sylvia and Allen, Jonathan (2004) Domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking: Findings from the British Crime Survey (London: Home Office Research, Development and Statistics Directorate)


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