•Nigerian cultures, traditions, religions encourage spousal abuse
•It’s legal to beat a woman for purpose of correction –Law
Violence is a regular experience most women go through in Nigeria, especially in homes they are expected to attain psychological uplift and growth. The home, which is supposed to serve as haven is now filled with fear arising from spousal violence. Even domestic violence is a violation of fundamental human rights which the Nigerian Constitution is against; there are still provisions in the books that legitmise violence against women. CHIJIOKE IREMEKA reports
he scourge of domestic violence as well as other forms of violence against women and men alike has eaten deep into the fabric of Nigerian society, creating a lopsided gender balance with the female gender being the greatest victim.
Violence has taken different forms ranging from sexual to physical and psychological as well as other forms. This degrades the humanity of the victims, especially women in our society.
Abusive partners and perpetrators base their actions on superior nature of the male, religion, law, custom, economic situation, family pressure, and their behavioural pattern.
It is believed that lack of a legal framework as well as trained law enforcement officers, promote violence against women in Nigeria.
Sunday Telegraph’s checks showed that the physical, sociological and psychological effect of violence against women is unquantifiable. To achieve a fair and balanced society, women must be valued, respected and supported and not battered either by stick or mouth (verbal).
To a Behavioral Psychologist, Dr. Gabriel Onwuraokoye, the provision of the Penal Code, which is applicable in the Northern part of Nigeria, encourages violence against women.
Citing Section 55 (1) (d) of the Penal Code, which was enacted in Year 2000 by 106 Senators and 360 members of the House of Representative, he said, “beating a wife for the purpose of correction is legal.”
The Code states that nothing is an offence, which does not amount to the infliction of grievous harm upon any person and which is done by a husband for the purpose of correcting his wife, such husband and wife being subject to any natural law or custom in which such correction is permissible.
He said: “Section 55(1) (d) of the Penal Code of Northern Nigeria, which provides that an assault by a man on a woman is not an offence if they are married, if native law or custom recognises such correction, is lawful.”
Also, the same law, which recognises beating a woman as a means of correction, provides in Section 353 that, any person who unlawfully and indecently assaults any male person is guilty of a felony, and is liable to imprisonment for three years.
Wondering why different punishment for the same offence, Dr. Onwuraokoye said, Section 182 of the Penal Code, also provides that there is no such a thing as marital rape, saying that a husband cannot rape his wife in Nigeria.
“This means under the Nigerian Criminal Law; a man cannot rape his wife, unlike many other countries in which a man may be guilty of raping his wife, if she does not give her consent,” he added.
Barr (Mrs.) Edoghogho Eboigbe, a Lecturer at the Faculty of Law, University of Benin, Edo State said domestic violence against women is a crime that has continued unabated at a very high rate in Nigeria.
She said: “There are very minimal records of such offences, particularly in developing parts of the world, Nigeria inclusive, where such incidents may be subtly encouraged by the culture and societal norms prevalent in the society in question.
“The increasing scourge of domestic violence against women in Nigeria continues at an astronomical scale, posing serious physical, mental, psychological and reproductive health challenges to women and girls in Nigeria, despite a plethora of legal and regulatory mechanisms proscribing all forms of violence in Nigeria.”
Also, she said that in 1985, Nigeria ratified the convention for the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. However, international treaties can only go into effect when Parliament puts in a corresponding domestic law, thereby limiting the international treaty to disuse.
“It is often said that the culture and traditions of people affect the way of their life and how women are being treated in the society and until these cultural practices have been addressed to respect all genders, the violence will not end,” she added.
Corroborating her, Prof, Olaitan Adeyemi, who defined culture as the traditions and way of life that are encompassed by a number of people living in a particular community, said the culture of a particular society affects their way of life to a large extent and this affects also, the manner in which women are treated and accorded respect in the family and community.
He noted that many customs in Nigeria believe that women are the lesser beings probably because of their feminine nature, soft attitude and lesser physical strength and assume that men should be reverenced by women at all times.
He said: “Customary practices across Nigeria generally hold that the man is the head of the house and has the greatest control and decision-making powers. Due to this fact, the woman is regarded as the property of the man and he is therefore, entitled to discipline her as he deems fit.
“The notion of subjugation of women is so entrenched that many people in Nigerian society tend to accept violence against a woman as justified.”
For Adeyemi, women, in some areas, are seen as property and this is evident in some areas whereby women are bundled off to their husband’s houses together with suitcases after her bride-price must have been paid.
“This is so unlike what happens in some developed countries where the couple drives off together, alone. The payment of bride price could also give an impression of women being under the authority of men.
“Some men feel because they paid such a huge amount as bride price, they can treat their wives as they wish,” he added.
According to him, in 2010, the traditional king of Akure physically and bloodily assaulted one of his wives, resulting in her death. At the urging of the public, the police made a statement that they would press charges. The case was dismissed in 2012.
Furthermore, Dr. Justin Achor of the Department of Addiction Services, Federal Neuropsychiatric Hospital, Enugu, Enugu State, said many intimate partners’ violence cases have been in association with alcohol, either as a trigger, or as a relief for longstanding emotional difficulties.
He said when it becomes associated with loss of status or decline in career and/or income, its effects on mental health could be overwhelming.
He explains: “The effects of alcohol on intimate partner violence may be accentuated by interaction with other social factors like unemployment, social isolation, and reduced income.
“Marital relationships characterised by increasing episodes of physical violence, threats of harm, recurrent intimidation, harassment, and stalking are actually doomed unless appropriate interventions are instituted.
“There is evidence that extreme controlling behaviour and stalking tend to precede most partner violence homicides. Abusive behaviour by male perpetrators could be triggered when the individual feels threatened, insecure, or trapped in limiting circumstances.”
According to him, deliberate self-harm can accompany many experiences of intimate partner violence, either alone or co-existing with other mental disorders like depression and anxiety disorders.
Speaking on the challenges of recognition of the psychiatric aspects of intimate partner violence, Dr. Chudi Ibekwe of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Faculty of Clinical Medicine, College of Health Sciences, Ebonyi State University, Abakaliki, Ebonyi State, said much of the burden of intimate partner violence presenting to clinicians go on unrecognised and untreated.
He said: “The re-enactment of the abuse and its associated conflicts exerts a deleterious impact on the self-esteem and coping capacity of the affected women and this further increases vulnerability to the psychiatric disorders and their impacts.
“Unfortunately, the negative impact of the mental health consequences of intimate partner violence worsens with the passage of time. These may adversely affect the quality of life and social functioning of the affected persons.”
He stated that the impact of abuse on the mental health and wellbeing of the woman increases with the duration and severity of the violence.
“The range of mental health sequece of domestic violence in the victims is broad and varied and may include depression, anxiety disorder and phobias, low self-esteem, post-traumatic stress disorder, somatoform disorders, and deliberate self-harm,” he added.
A recent study by the Ministry of Women’s Affairs and Social Development and the United Nations Population Fund (UNPFA), Nigeria with support from the Norwegian Government found out that 28% of Nigerian women aged 25-29 have experienced some form of physical violence since age 15, saying 1in 3 women in Nigeria has experienced physical or sexual violence.
Defining intimate partner violence (IPV) as sexual violence, stalking, physical violence, and psychological aggression perpetrated by an intimate partner, the study shows the prevalence of IPV range from 31 to 61% for psychological/emotional violence, 20 to 31% for sexual violence, and 7 to 31% for physical violence.
On the effect domestic violence on women, Dr. (Mrs.) Cynthia Okafor of Epe General Hospital, Lagos, said domestic violence is an issue which must be dealt with on time before it gets out of hand, saying that women’s lives are at risk when they reside in the same house with people who could end their lives just because of trivial issues or because they cannot control their temper.
She said: “Violence against women not only affects such women, but it also affects their children, their aged parents and the society as a whole. Women who constantly suffer violence cannot render any positive help towards the society.
“They cannot govern people and be at the helm of affairs of business, government and their own lives. Victims of violence and other forms of abuse might have reduced concentration and effectiveness at work or in life.
“More so, they cannot help their fellow women who have been widowed or who are less privileged. Nigeria needs strong women who have ideas that can be utilised to make this country better, emulating few women who are in decision making positions.
“Gender should not be a disadvantage, the law must reiterate this and bring erring men to book. Men with genuine psychological challenges must also seek help. Violence against women is a reality and we must act now and always to prevent our society from collapse.”
Women’s Rights Advocates for the Prevention of Gender-based Violence and the Protection of Women and Girls have made a demand of the government in this COVID-19 lockdown to ensure that the exercise does not worsen gender-based violence in the country.
Also, the Secretary General, Women’s Rights Advancement and Protection Alternative (WRAPA), Saudatu Mahdi and Country Director, Women’s International League or Peace and Freedom (WILPF) Nigeria, Joy Ada Onyesoh (PhD), said tensions arising from the economic impact of the lockdown such as reduced income and financial difficulties are contributing to this surge.
She noted that gender-based violence is, in some instances, a matter of life and death in Nigeria, saying: “Pre-existing economic hardships, where an estimated ninety- one (91) million citizens live below global daily survival benchmark, is already bad enough.
However, for those, who see Islam as an impetus for domestic violence, Imams Against Domestic Abuse (IADA) was set up to raise awareness of the dangers of domestic violence and also to clarify stereotypes on domestic abuse that people have, both in terms of the victims and the perpetrators.
An Imam, Abdullah Hasan, the co – founder of IADA, believes domestic abuse is present in all communities and that everyone has to take responsibility for tackling it.
He said: “There are a lot of misconceptions surrounding Islam and domestic violence. People who aren’t Muslims think Islam condones violence against women and that is simply not the case.
“When someone who happens to be a Muslim is convicted of abuse, it becomes about his religion; but in other cases that are not to do with Islam, religion is never mentioned. So in the eyes of the media, it is a Muslim problem, which isn’t the case.
“What we are doing is raising awareness and educating people in the Muslim community that violence and abuse are not acceptable in any circumstances.”
In the same manner, General Overseer, Vision of God Bible Church, Festac, Lagos, Rev. Victor Obiora said Christianity does not encourage spousal or gender violence as some religious practices allow for couple’s separation, not divorce, to allow the family court come into play, saying that violence is not a character of a child of God.