Woman, you are not a victim

(By Chima Mmeje)

Ifunaya works with one of the branches of First Bank in Lagos. She was a victim of domestic violence for more than 10 years, and nobody knew what was happening because she always covered her bruises well. She stayed in an abusive relationship for so long in the hope that her husband would get out of his violent character and become the man she had married. When she realised that was never going to happen, she wrote a letter to her husband, dropped it on the coffee table took her children and left. She got a new flat, changed her children’s school and got sole custody of her kids. Her husband can only see the kids several times a month and the visits must be supervised because Ifunaya insists that a man who hit her for 10 years in front of their children will not be left alone to interact with them until he gets counseling for his problems.

I RECENTLY saw the movie adaptation of Alice Walker’s book ‘The Color Purple’ directed by Spike Lee and Starring Whoopi Goldberg, Oprah Winfrey, Danny Glover among others. In the movie Whoopi Goldberg’s character Celie Harris has been a victim of abuse all of her life. By the time she was 14 she already had two children by her father and they were taken away from her at birth. She is forced against her will to marry a rich local widower Albert who beats her when he thinks she falters, turns her into a maid for his house and a nanny for his over-pampered children.

In the long run Celie becomes submissive, silent and accepting her fate at the hands of Mr. Albert. On the other hand Sophia who marries Albert’s son Harpo is a spitfire who refuses to take violence from the men in her lives. When Harpo asks Celie what he should do to make Sofia more submissive and respectful of him she tells Harpo, ‘Beat her’. Sofia finds out that Celie gave Harpo this wrong advice and has this to say to Celie:

“All my life I had to fight. I had to fight my daddy. I had to fight my uncles. I had to fight my brothers. A girl child isn’t safe in a family of men, but I have never thought I had to fight in my own house! I love Harpo, God knows I do. But I’ll kill him dead ’fore I let him beat me. Now, you want a dead son-in-law, Miss Celie? You keep on advising him like you doing.”

Celie represents the higher populace of Nigerian women who see domestic violence as a part of life, the type of norm that I preach against, while Sofia represents the strong, independent, self-evolving black woman who refuses to take abuse and stands up against her partner to protect herself, Sofia is the type of woman that I hold up in this piece.

Nneoma and Aloy are a young married couple of six months. Nneoma’s family wanted her to marry a young man who had a promising future and would be willing to support with the upkeep of Nneoma’s family. Two months after they got married, Alloy slapped Nneoma over a minor argument; she let it pass with the thoughts of it being a onetime action. A month later, Aloy beat her up so badly, her injuries could not be covered up. The fifth month into their marriage, Aloy beat Nneoma again, only this time she had to be rushed to the Intensive Care Unit of a nearby hospital.

Her brothers beat Aloy, got the police to arrest and lock him up for two nights. When Nneoma got better, she went home with her parents to recuperate but only after a week her father told her she would have to return to her husband’s home. She begged her father to let her stay because she was afraid of Aloy and what he could do to her. Her father replied by telling her that no one forced her into marriage so anything she had to face in her marriage was entirely her cross. With fear, trepidation and resigned to her faith of misery until death, Nneoma returned to her husband.

Keere is a 300 level student in a Nigerian university in the middle-belt region of Nigeria. She has been dating her boyfriend Lawrence for seven months. No one knew Lawrence had a mean streak of violence in him until Keere moved in with him; and the violence began. Lawrence would come home from lectures to an already prepared meal of Semo and Egusi soup with large a chunk of meat, he would stare at the food in anger, throw it all away, lock the doors and beat Keere up for reasons that are still unknown to me.

I remember one time when I heard Keere screaming; Lawrence had locked the doors, and was hitting her with everything he could find in sight. Her friends were crying outside the door begging Lawrence to let Keere go. When Keere emerged, she looked bloodied, scared worse than a chicken at Christmas and emotionally stripped of her dignity. I found a way to speak to Keere the next day and I pleaded with her to leave Lawrence, she told me “Chima, he will change, he is just acting out in the spirit of his youth”. Three months later, when Lawrence graduated, he took Keere home to his family and introduced her as the girl he wanted to marry.

Ifunaya works with one of the branches of First Bank in Lagos. She was a victim of domestic violence for more than 10 years, and nobody knew what was happening because she always covered her bruises well. She stayed in an abusive relationship for so long in the hope that her husband would get out of his violent character and become the man she had married. When she realised that was never going to happen, she wrote a letter to her husband, dropped it on the coffee table took her children and left. She got a new flat, changed her children’s school and got sole custody of her kids. Her husband can only see the kids several times a month and the visits must be supervised because Ifunaya insists that a man who hit her for 10 years in front of their children will not be left alone to interact with them until he gets counseling for his problems.

My mother told me about a friend of hers, Chizoba who got married at the age of 22 to a young man who was extremely jealous and incredulously possessive. He would lock her up in the house when he was going to work and would only open the doors for her to step out when he came home. He beat her up if his meals were late and apologised with six yards of hollandaise wrapper. Chizoba ran away two years later from a marriage that had become a prison. She had no university degree, no job, no vocation, no money, but she had her life.

The Nigerian constitution is a huge joke and a shameful fallacy. That much is a fact. The 1999 Constitution guarantees equality for all persons in its fundamental human rights provision in Chapter IV. I cannot over-emphasise how little lives are valued in Nigeria. There is nonchalant attitude of the government to critical matters and the blind eye of the public to problems that stare us in the face— a key social problem that occurs every day in Nigeria but seems to be without government attention or public empathy. The law says one thing but another practice exists in reality. Women rights are not regarded as important and are infringed upon all the time. The problem is further compounded by a patriarchal legal system that governs the country and a Sharia system in the North that places women as subordinates whose rights are not properly defined in regulations. My focus here is on domestic violence suffered by Nigerian women in the hands of those who are supposed to love and cherish them and the betrayal from the people who should protect them.

According to a research carried out by Think Africa Press two-thirds of Nigerian women are victims of domestic violence in their homes. This type of abuse can be physical, sexual or psychological. Although men too can be victims of domestic violence women suffer disproportionately.

Questions seeking answers for include:

Why is domestic violence on the increase in Nigeria? How effective are the police in attending to cases of domestic violence? What framework has the government put in place to criminalise domestic violence? Why do a large mass of the Nigerian public turn a blind eye to this issue? How can women seek justice as victims of domestic violence? What do women who have been abused need to do to move on from the tag ‘victim’?

• 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.”

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