By Ife Bamidele – BBF Volunteer
“One in three women may suffer from abuse and violence in her lifetime. This is an appalling human rights violation, yet it remains one of the invisible and under-recognized pandemics of our time. Violence against women is an appalling human rights violation. But it is not inevitable. We can put a stop to this.”
– Nicole Kidman
The campaign for the elimination of violence against women has increased in tempo around the world, considering that this is when concerned persons speak up for the elimination of violence against women by marking the International day for the elimination of violence against women, the 25th of November, however this day is not enough in view of the damaging effect of violence against women in our society. We might ask, what is violence against women? Why separate a gender?
The statistics are clear, one out of three women may suffer abuse in their lifetime and in Nigeria, West Africa, one of three women aged 15-24 have been victims of violence (DHS 2008). Violence has become endemic in the system, as a research conducted showed that a high number of women who were victims of violence thought they deserved it (Gender in Nigeria Report 2012).
Okemgbo et al in their research on violence against pregnant women in Igbo communities in Imo State of South East Nigeria, reported that 78% of women who participated in the research had been battered by their partners or husbands, 58.9% were being battered or had been battered in their current pregnancy and 21.3% had been forced to have sexual intercourse with their partners during the pregnancy. This data shows that violence can come in different forms. When violence against women is mentioned, it is easy to assume it is an act of beating, kicking or slapping alone, however violence can be classified into various forms. Violence can be in form of Verbal abuse, Economic violence (Economic Violence to Women and Girls is it Receiving the Right Attention: Olufunmilayo Fawole,2008), Physical abuse, Threat of violence, Forced sex, Workplace violence and other forms of violence. Although honour killing is not popular in Nigeria, a situation where family members kill a member of their family who they think has brought dishonour by not conforming to social norms, culture and tradition, is also a form of violence. Female genital mutilation which is still prevalent in Africa is also a form of violence against women that must be eradicated.
The Nigerian Law has not helped the cause against elimination of violence against women as only a few states have signed the ‘Violence against Women, Prevention, Protection and Prohibition Act 2002. The ‘Gender in Nigeria Report 2012’ by the British Council shows that only four states, Ebonyi, Jigawa, Cross Rivers and Lagos states have signed this into law in a country that has 36 states and also an Act that prohibits Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) has only been passed into law by six states, Enugu, Bayelsa, Delta, Cross Rivers and Ogun states. This shows that there is still a lot of advocacy to be done in ensuring a legal framework for elimination of violence against women. A major form of violence against women in Nigeria and across the globe is rape as this form of violence is often introduced by physical abuse, leading to sexual abuse and leaves the victim with emotional and psychological damage. However Nigerian criminal law has not helped the fight against rape. Although it is a crime,(Criminal Code Act, Part V, Chapter 30) with a punishment of a possible lifetime in jail, and fourteen years for an attempt to rape however many factors have made it very unlikely that a rape case will see the light of the day. The criminal code governs Southern Nigeria while the penal code governs Northern Nigeria and a major concern of the penal code in relation to rape is the role of a witness in a rape case. Majority of rape cases do not take place where there would be witnesses and where there are witnesses which is in very rare occasions, they are unwilling to testify in the court of law.
Some researchers have suggested that Section 55(4) of the Penal code which approves of ‘corrective beating of a child, pupil, servant or wife as long as this does not cause grievous hurt’ as the licence for men in some parts of Nigeria to batter their wives. It is reported that most violent men do not start with physical abuse but with verbal abuse before moving on to shaking, slapping, kicking, battering, attacking with a weapon , trying to strangle and sometimes murder.
Widely reported in the Nigerian news (Nigerian Tribune and Vanguard newspapers 27th June 2012) was Titilayo Arowolo, a banker and 27 year old mother of one who was suspected to have been murdered by her husband who is currently on trial in court. However late Titilayo is not alone, although she is dead and the courts are aiming at serving justice, everyday there is another Titilayo Arowolo. We do not know the story in full, neither do we have Titilayo to tell us how long she had battled with one form of violence or another before her life was taken by another violent man. On the 7th of October 2011, in Port-Harcourt, Nigeria, Deane lost one of her eyes permanently to a quarrel with her heartthrob Sylvester Emezi who pierced her eye with a sharp object, He has since been arrested and we can only hope the law will take its course but her eyes are gone forever. Such and many other are the daily occurrences of violence against women leaving scars on the bodies of women and on their hearts, leaving bitterness, resentment and anger.
Another form of violence which is matrimonial rape is not recognised by the laws in Nigeria as of today and there is no talk about it, however one-fifth of women in a research of women who have been victims of violence in South-South and South West Nigeria state that forced sex ranked as one of the highest forms of violence against them.
“Violence against women is an everyday reality, act now, always and forever before it’s too late”- (Anonymous)
We must not only empathise with victims of violence, we must act now and always. Women and men must ensure they put pressure on state legislatures to pass the Violence against Women, Prevention, Protection and Prohibition Act 2002 as well as the law against Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). Also rape cases should be handled by a special court with knowledge and high discretion as well as confidentiality that will protect victims and witnesses. ‘Unheard voices Violence against women in the family’ an Amnesty International Nigeria report, in an interview with a victim of violence in the family named Folake, she stated that although the magistrate in this case saw a blooded pant and other signals to show an abuse occurred, he stated there must be corroboration and that even her mother’s testimony was not enough as corroboration. It had to be by someone who witnessed the violation. In Angola a new law was passed recently which provides safe houses, medical treatment, financial and legal help as well as confidentiality for anyone who reports violence. The government of Nigeria as well as other developing countries must take note of the challenges women in violent relationships face and provide support. Also 99% of women who have been battered were not ready to report as they were not sure of what would happen next.
Women should be encouraged to report any form of violence and seek professional support from any of the forms of violence highlighted above and any other identified form. The courts must seize every opportunity it has to show that justice frowns at violence against women in any form or by any member of society without exclusion of social strata. Lawmakers in Nigeria must continually be pro-active in protecting women in a bid to eliminate violence against them and lobbyists must not rest on their oars. Health practitioners must be willing to report to concerned authorities suspected cases of violence and be willing to testify in courts. Trained counsellors and non-governmental organisations should rise to this challenge as well as the police who play a direct role in salvaging the situation and also enforcing the law. Film and music must be used as a tool of protecting women from violence as the media is a very viable tool in social reconstruction. Actors and actresses as well as other artistes must ensure their works reflect a stance against violence against women, if you keep slapping women in movies then this violence will not be eliminated. The girl child must not be deprived of education, and the educated ones must show a strong resentment against violence. Reports (Obi and Ozumba 2007) show that unmarried women in Southern states are most frequent victims of violence. In a region that is deemed as most educated, it is unexplainable. It is either an improvement from under-reporting to a more open gesture compared to the north or a lackadaisical stance against violence. Both single and married women must kick hard against violence and must be supported by men.
Amnesty International, Nigeria (2006) Rape: The Silent Weapon
Kudirat Initiative for Democracy (2009) Women in Peril- A research report on Women and Girls’ Experience of Gender-based violence in Lagos State
Criminal Code Act, LFN 1990
O.C Ezechi, BK Kalu, LO Ezechi, CA Nwokoro, VI Ndububa and GCE Okeke , Prevalence and pattern of domestic violence against pregnant Nigerian women. Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, 2004, Vol 24, No 6.