By Josephine Agbonkhese & Chris Onuoha
While domestic violence is a global problem, it has literarily taken residence in Africa with endless stories of pains and sorrow following it. In Nigeria particularly, the epidemic has assumed a disturbing dimension that even current penalties have not been able to serve as deterrent.
Although described as any violent confrontation between family or household members such as spouses/partners, relatives, children or wards, involving physical harm, wilful intimidation, sexual assault, psychological or emotional assault, women have remained the chief sufferers of domestic violence in Nigeria, with perpetrators claiming to be acting in accordance with tradition.
These perpetrators claim that traditionally, in Nigeria, the beating of wives and children is widely sanctioned as a form of discipline. Therefore, in beating their children, parents believe they are instilling discipline in them—the same way husbands beat torture their wives who are regarded as children who can be prone to indiscipline if not ‘disciplined’.
But is it truly cultural to be violent to women at the slightest opportunity?
Domestic violence is temporary insanity — Eze Oliver Ohanweh
“I see domestic violence as part of temporary insanity that occurs when someone cannot control his anger,” said Eze Oliver Ohanweh, the traditional ruler, Eziama, Isiala-Mbano Local Government Area in Imo state.
He said: “It is very inhuman to lay hands on a spouse. Domestic violence is sadly becoming more rampant now. In actual fact, some women do provoke their husband to anger but that must not translate to laying of hands as punishment of correctional measure.
In my community, violent cases between husband and wife or maltreatment of women are obvious, and as custodians of culture, we are trying as much as we can to change the practice.”
In Eze Ohanweh’s opinion, misinformation is part of the problem that leads to misunderstanding of culture which inadvertently leads to violence at homes.
“When a woman is being married, a customary bride price is paid on her as a mark of respect to her and she, in return is expected to respect the husband. That is where tradition and culture involves such submissiveness but that should not in any way lead to abuse of privilege or wife battering,” he explained.
Domestic violence it is not cultural — Ejima Akoh
Speaking as one who is verse both in culture and religion, Ejima Akoh, Personal Assistant to General Overseer, Watchman Charismatic Renewal Church, Headquarters in Lagos, told Woman’s Own that domestic violence is not cultural in any perspective.
“I come from the middle belt, Benue precisely. I would not say it is a culture of a particular people. Generally, many Africans practice it as a way of showing man’s superiority over woman. What I do know is that a man, as head of the family, does have some rights over a woman. Nature has made it so from the beginning but that does not justify beating or torturing her,” Akoh said.
It is a societal problem—Chidi Njoku
“Domestic violence is a societal problem and not cultural. There are lot of things happening at homes now and when people get angry, they use that opportunity to vent their anger at anybody available to them. That’s the kind of society we live in right now; which may be attributed to so many things, including economic hardship or even spiritual. There’s no cultural background to it in any way.
“However, it is equally biblical that a wife should be submissive to her husband and when a woman is submissive to a husband and the two are happy together, the element of husband beating up the wife will not arise,” Barrister Chidi Njoku, an easterner also said.
‘Any man who beats his wife is beaten in Yoruba culture’
Speaking from the Yoruba perspective, Gbenga Kola, from Ile-Ife in Osun State, said his own culture abhors violence against women.
According to him, any man who beats his wife gets beaten by his father or any elder in his family as a corrective measure. That is to tell you that it is not cultural to be violent to women since these people are highly knowledgeable culturally.
“I could remember my father slapping my elder brother many years back for beating up his wife even though he claimed she provoked him to anger. My father said he should have devised other means of addressing domestic issues, such as temporarily walking away from the scene. I practice that and it has been helping me avoid resorting to violent.”
‘In Edo, we respect women’
From the Edo perspective, Chief Patrick Ehigie, who hails from Benin City in Edo State, said anyone practicing domestic violence only does so on personal ground and belief.
Chief Ehigie said: “Our culture is not violent. In Edo land, right from the days of our fathers, women are respected and treated as queens. We can be harsh sometimes but being violent to our wives is not a dictate from our culture.”
The truth is, violence against women is not inevitable. The same way perpetrators and even societies choose to commit violence, they can choose to stop. Though no one-fit-all solution can apply as there is no one single reason for violence against women, the invaluable support of communities, traditional leaders and family elders in curbing the trend cannot be over-emphasized. This is because they constitute one of the most revered influencers of public opinion and lifestyle.
Teaching men and boys respect for the female gender is pertinent. As a long-lasting panacea, parents too must live up their roles as role models because the likelihood of any child becoming violent towards the opposite sex will be less if the parents rarely displayed such.
Above all, government, as well as law enforcement agencies and the judiciary, should live up to their responsibility of protecting lives by making sure there is improved access to justice and that perpetrators are brought to book.