Women are often the target and victims of many heinous crimes. A fair percentage of women in Nigeria have had to deal with domestic violence, sexual assault, rape, emotional abuse, cultural barriers in one way or another.
Nonetheless, domestic violence stemming from couples who are married or in a relationship, makes top of the list. There are various stories of wives and girlfriends who are beaten or harassed daily, but they decide to stay in the shadow of their pain in order to protect the image of their partners, make their relationships work, or for the sake of their children.
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Intimate partner violence
A research article by BMC women health’s shows that intimate partner violence is an epidemic experienced by every one out of three women of reproductive age within Nigeria. Most of the cases reported often come from families who are low – or middle-income earners. However, the prevalence of domestic abuse is growing everyday within Nigeria because of the traditional and cultural norms that support male patriarchy.
In 2021, Daily Trust reported that the Lagos State Government recorded a total of 10,007 reported cases of domestic violence on young adults and children between May 2019 and August 2021, which include 4,150 cases of domestic violence, 177 rape cases; 255 rape/sexual assault attempts; 436 child abuse and physical assaults.
The Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice in Lagos State, Moyosore Onigbanjo, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), while speaking at the commemoration of the domestic and sexual violence awareness month, said that five deaths had also been recorded from domestic violence.
In 2020, the country was left to deal with both the COVID-19 pandemic and the increasing cases of domestic and gender-based violence around the country.
Due to the lockdown imposed by government to curb the spread of the virus, many of these women were left in enclosed spaces with their attackers. The Lagos State domestic and sexual violence respond team reported that between January 2020 and December 2020, 91 per cent of women within the state were victims of gender-based violence.
An investigation carried out by Premium Times told the story of a 22-year-old Halima Bulama who, on returning to her matrimonial home, was attacked by her husband in a fit of fury. In her husband’s defence, he said his rage was due to his wife’s “disobedience to marital ethics.”
The victim’s husband further said, “She has been travelling without my permission. But as matter of fact, it was out of anger that I did this. I regret my action.”
While recovering at the hospital, Halima had declared not to return to her matrimonial home as she was in fear of her life, she said that “If he can cut off my hand then he can easily kill me,”
In an interview with Daily Trust on Sunday, a survivor of domestic violence, Inemesit Akon said she had endured domestic violence from her husband for over 9 years. She recalled, “If anyone had ever told me that I would go through what I went through with my husband, I would have said they were lying.”
She said she was often hit and pushed, even in front of the children. And when she was pregnant, it was more of emotional abuse as he would verbally harass her and under appreciate her efforts to run the home in her condition.
“I remember that being pregnant, I was still making late night trips to Aba to buy materials to sell. The proceeds from my business were what I would use to feed myself and my husband. People often called me a foolish woman because the same man I was struggling to feed would be at a bar with another woman, spending money on liquor,” she added.
She said it was after receiving a blow that landed her in a hospital for a couple days and also rendered her unconscious that she decided to leave her husband.
“I was fed up with the man and his family members. But I thought of my children who had a relationship with their father, regardless of his monstrous acts. I didn’t know if they would be happy being away from their father. However, when I made up my mind and brought up the discussion with my daughter, she said they would follow me wherever I went.
“People who know me know how I survived. I don’t think I would have left if my children were not ready to leave. My biggest strength and courage came from them,” she added.
Offering advice to women who are going through a similar ordeal, she said, “It is a good thing that many young girls today understand the importance of being financially independent. I went into marriage without anything, and that was what kept me in that position, aside worrying about my children. Having your own finances will always make the decision of opting out of the union easier.
“No one is saying you should not fight for your marriage; just make sure it is one that is worth fighting for because, if something happens to you, your children will have to deal with the perpetrator and whoever will become his next partner.”
Every young Nigerian woman can categorically tell you that they feel scared when walking past a group of men, not because they are all predators but the fear that she could be harassed.
Young girls have been put in a position where they have to make sure they are security conscious at all times. Some young women have even begun to walk with pepper sprays, pen knives and gas lighters, all in a bid to safeguard themselves from a sexual predator.
In 2020, Daily Trust told the story of Vera Uwaila, the microbiology student who was raped and brutally murdered in Benin City. Her death was so brutally described that it caused the country to call out for justice on her behalf. The #justiceforUwa hashtag trended for months, with the whole country uniting as one to demand that her family received justice for the death of their daughter.
There was also the issue of a 12-year-old girl who was raped by 11 men, including a 57-year-old man, in Dutse Local Government of Jigawa. The suspects were, however, arrested.
There was also a similar incident where an 18-year-old girl was attacked and raped by five different men at Narayi, a small town in Kaduna South Local Government Area. Two of her alleged rapists have been taken into custody while three are still at large.
Daily Trust on Sunday reports that most victims of sexually-based violence don’t speak up. And this is linked to poor response from law enforcement agencies, and sometimes, even families. Oftentimes, victims who go to report their cases do not get the needed response.
Helen Nworie, who said she was once sexually harassed at her place of work, added that many young women are afraid to speak up because they have been trained or told not to do so. “During my internship, I was sexually harassed by one of the male staff in the office. After the incident, I went straight to my boss and laid a complaint.
“Her response was so cold that I began to wonder between her and the man who harassed me. She looked me and said, “As far as he didn’t touch you, I don’t see what the issue is here. Besides, do you have a proof,” she said.
The president of the International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA), Mrs Rhoda Tyoden, told Daily Trust on Sunday that although domestic and sexually-based violence cuts across all genders, women make majority of the victims. She said an underlying factor in domestic violence was usually the relationship between the victim and the perpetrator.
“In most domestic violence cases, you often see that there’s a power gap between the victim and the perpetrator. Most times you see that the victim is dependent on the latter, either physically, financially, emotionally etc, which makes it hard for the victim to walk away,” she said.
She also said some women stayed in violent relationships because of stigmatisation, fear of intimidation and reprisal attacks, poor response mechanism, poor implementation of laws protecting women, etc.
“Culturally, it is not usual for a woman to speak up in public so a lot of them suffer in silence. Even though women are becoming vocal, a few are still bound to that mindset. Most times, you find out that these perpetrators are working the streets free, so the tendency is there for them to keep attacking the victim when they haven’t spoken up.
“Also, if you have a male child who grows up in a home where a father hits the mother, he may grow up with the mindset that hitting women is normal. A girl who grows up in such a home will also consider abusive relationships to be normal and wouldn’t complain if she found herself in the same situation. The wife may also resort to violent, or in some cases, will be mute and depressed for a very long time.
“Violence is a cycle that needs to broken from one person to another,” she said.
Oftentimes, a lot of people have related sexually-based violence to the kind of dressings being worn by women. In this case, the concept of consent is being twisted to match the man’s ego. But Rhoda debunked the theory, saying, “Dressing half naked or exposing any part of your body is not an invitation to be raped. The only thing that leads to sexual assault is perversion of the mind.”