By Denrele Animasaun
“I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change. I am changing the things I cannot accept”- Dr Angela Davis.
We often use the word abuse so lightly and it had formed a mainstay in our everyday vocabulary that it has lost its true impact and sadly, up and down the country, physical and sexual abuse has reached an epidemic level and it shows no sign of reducing. It is of an epidemic proportion and every single day and in some cases, every minute and hour, another person dies or is seriously injured in the hands of their abuser. We as a nation can no longer shrug our shoulders and explain it away by mostly blaming the victim that may be, just maybe, the victim initiated the abuse by not being obedient enough, dutiful, pleasing, subservient and so on. This is the language of an abuser the very same an abuser uses to justify the violence and aggression towards the victim and lays the blame squarely at the foot of the victim.
We as a society have to take a stand as for every violence and aggression done physically, sexually, emotionally and financially or otherwise there are many more young people who are given a legacy of hate and intolerance, who are growing up convinced that physical violence is the only answer. There are more future victims and perpetrators, who have been made that is all right to talk with ones fists or implements and others who feel that they deserve to be humiliated, beaten to an inch of their lives, that the only way someone can show them affection is to beat them up, belittle them and isolate them from their loved ones. Of course, there are those who when told of the abuse, advise the abuser to “bear it” or where will that person go and who will take that woman with all the children. It is time to put a Big Full stop to domestic violence.
Only last week, a man killed his wife because she wanted money from her husband. The subject of domestic violence is an uncomfortable one, it is uncomfortable to discuss and, not just because of the nature of the violence but there is a wall of silence when it comes to getting people to talk freely about domestic violence. In National Demographic and Health Survey in 2008, the study showed that domestic violence cuts across all socio-economic and cultural backgrounds. 28 per cent of all women, almost a third of all women in Nigeria, have experienced physical violence, a significant number in a country of almost 160 million, where almost half are women. Up to 43 per cent of women thought that wife beating could be justified on the grounds of matters like, burning the food; arguing with the husband; going out without asking permission; neglecting the children; and refusal to have sexual intercourse. The statistics on domestic violence in Nigeria, according to National Population Commission (NPC) and ICF Macro 2009, Nigeria has one of the highest rates of domestic violence in Africa. I am quite sure that this is a surprise to many. It is said that as many as two thirds of Nigerian women are believed to experience physical, sexual and psychological abuse at the hands of their husbands.
Shocking is that majority of women in the study are convinced that wife beating on any of the above-mentioned grounds was justified. Domestic Violence is no respecter of education as educated women were more likely to have experienced it. Amnesty International calls Nigeria’s rate of domestic violence “shocking,” and has called on the local governments to do something to stem the violence that: “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.
Domestic violence affects not just the victim but indirectly all those who witness the violence; children, family, relatives and witnesses to the physical abuse and violence. It predisposes the children to trauma and other psychological problems throughout their lives and worryingly, they may learn to become future victims or abusers later on in life and hence the way the cycle continues. Incidences of Domestic Violence cuts across social and economic background and although women are mainly victims and men, mainly are perpetrators of Domestic Violence, women, are increasingly becoming perpetrators of domestic violence too.
According to the National Demographic and Health Survey in 2008, over a quarter of the population of all women in Nigeria have experienced domestic violence. This is staggering and shocking, the State’s Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2013, domestic violence “remained widespread and was often considered socially acceptable” in Nigeria. The Gender in Nigeria report 2012 also indicated that young women between the ages of 15 and 24 were most likely to have experienced physical violence. These figures give much cause for concern. This has got to be a top to bottom approach and many a time the reason why a victim dies and it was not reported is that they are ashamed, they feel that they cannot tell anybody their problems, and if they do tell, they are likely to be told, that it is the victim’s fault and they should bear the pain. People believe that there is prestige in a violent marriage rather the victim fleeing the perpetrator.
Of course there are the economic reasons why people stay; because they will lose a roof over their heads, financially worse off and that society does not value a woman who leaves her husband even if it is to save her life and those of her children. One out of four people in Nigeria has been a victim or is a victim of domestic or spousal abuse. Men become abusive because they have learnt violence in their families and mainly women tend to gravitate towards abusive men because they saw their mothers being abused. So the cycle is repeated unless there is a break in the cycle.
Let us be clear: spousal violence is not particular to Nigeria, no, it happens across the globe but the high level of violence towards women is not acceptable and we can no longer pretend that it doesn’t happen. The way we treat domestic violence is deplorable and disgraceful and it is high time, that there is a review and a robust public education aimed at households, universities, hairdressers, barbers, market-places, health centres, institutions, workplaces, communities and all public offices and office holders up to through ranks in government. We can all help. Let us promote open communication, be a role model to your children, think first and do not resolve to fisticuffs and violence toward spouses and children.
If we notice someone is a victim of domestic violence, be supportive, be calm and avoid being accusatory, support them and the faith leaders can hold open workshop to promote healthy relationships, supporting victims of domestic violence and send a clear message that under no circumstances is domestic violence acceptable If a family member is the perpetrator, address it and not condone the violence.