DOMESTIC VIOLENCE IN NIGERIA AND THE SILENCE THAT SURROUNDS IT.
Domestic violence is one of the biggest gender issues in the world.
It is generally defined as violence or abuse by one person against another in a domestic setting, such as marriage or cohabitation.
In Nigeria, the silence that surrounds domestic violence is as a result of our extremely patriarchal society that sees women as subjects under men's domination.
Back when I was a student of peace and conflict resolution, domestic violence was one of our compulsory courses. During one of our discussions, a boy in my class stood up and asked the lecturer why the perspective was focused on women when men were also victims of domestic violence.
"90% of the victims of domestic violence are women, therefore, women get the most attention about domestic violence" my lecturer responded.
My lecturer was right, women are more vulnerable to domestic violence, and my classmate was also right in acknowledging that men are also victims, but the question that lingered in my mind was, why don't we talk more about it?
Why does so much silence surround domestic violence in our society?
After some time pondering, it became clear to me that violence as a norm in our society, plays a huge part in it's re-occurrence. In Nigeria, too many of us unfortunately regard domestic violence as a natural part of growing up or being married. Most of us can cite examples of physical violence being used as a method of punishment as children, and also as adults. And thus, our culture is less harsh on husbands chastising their wives, and disciplining them with domestic violence.
This thought led me to remember a discussion I once had on the topic of bride price, a traditional custom that involves paying a sum of money to the family of the bride as a token of appreciation. I had argued that the existence of bride price creates a system in which the wife is regarded as a "property" of the husband, and thus is treated as that.
Exchanging a sum of money to marry a woman, is like purchasing a bag which becomes your property. You own it and you can do whatever you want with it.
Women in the Nigerian Yoruba culture are traditionally known to call their husbands "olowo ori mi", which literally means "my owner". By paying the bride price, it's common for husbands to believe they own their wives. This coupled with the fact that women have been brought up with the idea that they belong to their husbands, the act of marriage is seen to give the husband full ownership of the woman. She essentially surrenders her rights and her body to him. It is also for this reason marital rape is rarely regarded as a crime, the common misconception is that the husband is free to do whatever he wants with his wife.
Other factors that are linked to the frequency of domestic violence in Nigeria include, alcoholism, financial instability, higher earning wives and infertility. Another stand out reason, is the "failure" to give birth to a male child, a traditional expectation that has borne justified violence against women.
It is beyond clear that the silence that surrounds domestic violence, is fed by some of the traditional customs of the Nigerian society. The prejudiced ways in which our society typically operates, magnifies the male gender, causing harm to women and children.
To curb domestic violence, we need to create a system in which both genders live equally and are treated equally by our society. We must begin speaking openly about the implications of normalizing violence in our society. We also must speak up against traditions that lead to the maltreatment of women, like bride price, and teaching women that they are created to be properties of men. As women, we are the overwhelming victims of domestic violence, so we must work to dismantle any system that regards us as properties.
We must start to believe that our lives matter, and we must speak up and fight to protect it. Only then we will begin to end the silence that surrounds domestic violence in our society.
Words by Idayat Jinadu