Continued from yesterday
THE first problem with domestic violence is that it is seen as a private matter to be dealt with at home. In poor neighbourhoods of Lagos where I live, nobody interferes when a man is beating his partner because it is accepted as a normal means of punishment for an offence, which the wife/girlfriend may have committed, thus the need for physical discipline.
The motivation for this write up came to me when my neighbour locked the doors to his flat so he could properly ‘discipline’ his girlfriend, who was seven months pregnant, she had the nerve to ask him to sell his small generator so she could use the money to buy clothes for the unborn baby. I saw him when he emerged, walking with his shoulders taller, a look of pride for his actions and I wondered why this short 5ft 5 inches guy did not look for someone his own size to pick on! If the woman is brave enough to go to the police, she is looked at with scorn and told to go home and resolve her problems. Unless she is affiliated with a civil rights group or comes from a family of affluence, the husband is in this case arrested, locked up for a couple of days and released.
The constitution is not clear on punishments for domestic violence, so men with a penchant for beating women can do so without fear of arrest or jail term. The police do not have specialised institutional framework that can deal with cases as sensitive as women suffering abuse in their homes. You put a police officer whose highest qualification is a secondary school leaving certificate behind the counter of a police station and expect him to have the intellect and psychological capacity to deal with a woman who is hysterical, wounded and emotionally broken!
According to Amnesty International, many, believe that a woman is expected to endure whatever she meets in her matrimonial home, to provide sex and be obedient to her husband who has the right to violate and batter her if she fails to meet her marital duties. The penal code in Northern states allows the correction of child, pupil, servant or wife as long as it does not amount to grievous harm (Section 55).
Furthermore, marital canal assault is excluded from the definition of rape under state-level Sharia penal code in Northern states and under the criminal code in Southern states. Specifically, Section 295 of the criminal code recognises “the resort to some degree of violence for correctional purposes.”
Think Africa Press, the Muslim Family Safety Project contradicts the above with this statement “Forcing a wife to have sex without her consent is a crime called sexual assault and a person charged with a crime cannot use religion or culture as an excuse or legal defense”. The reason I stated the foregoing is because the Sharia law, which is supposed to be a guideline for the way of life for Muslims in the North, while also executing punishment to erring members, has no clear cut defined laws on domestic violence. It does not associate rape in marital home as violence or abuse neither does it state clear punishment for men who abuse their wives. The masses are also guilty for turning a blind eye every time an incident of domestic violence happens around us.
The government has not been firm enough in its bid to institutionalise legal framework that criminalise domestic violence or protect women from abuse in their homes.
Most women in Nigeria cannot escape violence in homes because of their poor economic status. A large number of women who are victims are those who have no jobs and are full housewives. Thus they put up with the fear of loss of financial support offered by the male and the constant threat of eviction from their marital homes.
This is not limited to uneducated or poor women because a Global Press Institute study shows that 65 per cent of educated women have been beaten by their husbands or boyfriends. Another reason why domestic violence is on the increase is that
victims do not speak out due to the fact that those who do receive poor treatment. The real figure of Nigerian women who are victims of domestic violence is unknown because most women are reluctant to report domestic violence. This is not Europe or America where government rises up to socio-political issues regarding safety of its citizens. Sadly, this is Africa; to be more precise, this is Nigeria where anything goes. A country where the government is blind to the needs of the masses except those of its own, where bills take five years to become laws, where archaic practices detrimental to human lives are still in effect because they refuse to accept that change is the only reality that must occur for a pro-creative development to be achieved.
So while we wait for the government to save us, why do we not find ways to survive and redeem ourselves? The most important factor is to recognise the victim is a woman who is beaten all the time by her partner; she takes it in her stride without seeking redress and accepting abuse as a part of her life. The woman who lives as a victim lives a life of fear, anger, hate, frustration, discontentment and an unfulfilled life that ends in misery. We need to be stronger than we perceive ourselves to be because we are not minors. By taking abuse in silence we grease the engine of sadistic men who feel that the only way they are in charge is when they use violence to solve problems with their wives.
We must achieve economic empowerment before we tie the knot with a partner. Insist on getting an education before marriage so that you have something to fall back on when you need a way out. If you cannot get an education, find ways to start a trade or get a job even when you are married so that you are not completely redundant and dependent on your partner for all your needs. A man will treat a woman with a measure of respect if he knows she can leave and sustain herself without his help. The days of divorce not being an option are far-gone. If your partner refuses to change, leave him and rebuild your life elsewhere especially if you have children. If you let your children see you live the victim’s life, your sons will think it is okay for them to hit women and your daughters will believe it is a part of marriage for a woman to be physically abused.
Damola almost lost her life and that of her unborn baby in the hands of her boyfriend who took out his frustrations on her, Celie was a victim of circumstance who saw domestic violence as a part of her life, Nneoma married the wrong man but is unable to escape thus she lives in misery and fear. Keere hopes that her abusive boyfriend who batters her when the mood strikes will change when they get married.
Chizoba, a prisoner in her own home and a puppet to her husband ran away with nothing, Ify got away and has moved on with her life accepting her mistakes as what they are while forging a pathway for her children’s future in the comfort of her new home.
Most of these women have been my neighbours at some point in my life, I have watched them suffer, watched them cry, and seen the fear in their eyes, the regret etched on their brows, trapped in a constant state of unhappiness. You are not a victim; you are a woman with a life to live and a purpose to serve. If anyone who is supposed to love you and cherish you makes your life a living hell you have every right to seek happiness where you can find it. The choices we make are ours but the decisions to adjust our lives when we make mistakes are what make us greater. I aspire to be like Sofia, a woman strong in the face of despair, unbroken in a society where women are supposed to be submissive and to fight for the ideas I believe in, though not with violence.
Speak out against domestic violence now!!!
• Mmeje Chima, an unemployed graduate, lives in Abuja.
“Opinion pieces of this sort published on RISE Networks are those of the original authors and do not in anyway represent the thoughts, beliefs and ideas of RISE Networks.”