Domestic violence: The shadow epidemic

August 24, 2021
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DOMESTIC violence is a form of gender based violence, and it has been said to be the shadow epidemic. This vice is a phenomenon deeply rooted in gender inequality, and it’s one of the most notable human rights violations. It is hinged on discrimination, oppression and an attempt to exert control and dominance over the victim by the oppressor. Domestic violence has always been predominant in most African societies due to the patriarchal nature of these cultures, which lays much emphasis on male dominance and superiority. Women are seen as being subservient to the men, and are brought up with the mindset that men are the head and should be obeyed in all things. With this stereotypical mindset most women whom are victims of domestic violence fail to speak up, and condone those acts on the false notion that they are second class citizens and therefore must bow to a man’s whims and caprices.

In recent times, and with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, domestic violence has taken an astronomical rise. According to the International Rescue Committee, almost three quarter of displaced women in 15 Africa countries reported an increase in domestic violence during the pandemic. Domestic violence has been labelled the shadow pandemic as it has become increasingly rampant. 73 percent of women have reported an increase in domestic violence, 51 per cent rise in sexual violence, and 32 percent increase in early and forced marriage during the COVID 19 lockdown, all these reports were culled from surveys taken across countries in East Africa, West Africa and the Great Lakes Region. The risk was already foreseeable as women and children were locked in with their abusers, also school closures, job loss, poverty and economic factors are among the reasons for the increase in violence.

Gender-based violence is on an all-time high and Nigeria has witnessed a lot of cases. It is said that one in three women will be a victim of gender based violence in her lifetime, and this is not a mere assertion. The Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women (DEVAW) adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1993 defines Violence Against Women (VAW) as any act of gender based violence that results in or is likely to result in physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, girls including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or private life.

The aim of every family and society is to raise productive, sound individuals capable of identifying and defending rights granted to them by the existing constitution and extant written laws. It is very pitiable that millions of girls around the globe and Nigeria in particular are incapable of recognizing or defending their basic rights. Most who know of these rights are hindered from enjoying them due to the patriarchal nature of the African society. The girl-child embodies the woman in all stages of her life- from childhood, old age and until death. According to Shirley Chisholm, “the emotional, sexual, and psychological stereotyping of females begins when the doctor says: “it’s a girl.” This statement is the genesis of gender inequality and the patriarchal system of oppression as prevalent in Nigeria. It is even more pronounced when there are four to five girls born into that same family, and the birth comes with much expectation from the father and fear and trepidation on the part of the mother. Her fear is hinged on giving birth to yet another girl child and facing the resultant ridicule and disdain from both the husband and her in laws.

The Nigerian society is generally a patriarchal one; there is the belief that men are the head of the family and superior to women. Therefore, to break free from all these forms of oppression the girl child needs to work twice as hard to take her place in the society, and prove to all that she isn’t useless or a mistake. Due to these peculiarities and discrimination, the girl child needs some form of protection from the law. The Violence Against Persons Act(VAPP) needs to be domesticated in all states across Nigeria, at present it is to my knowledge that only 12 states so far has done so. Marriage is a sacred institution and the actions that take place therein are at best private acts, however, violence is a crime, once it is committed, the state needs to step in and pull the full weight of the law on the perpetrator.

The practice of the Nigerian police in handling domestic violence cases as private/family matters needs to be stopped. When such cases are reported by the victim, the domestic violence unit in the police force needs to take over immediately and file a case to serve as a deterrent to others who believe they can commit such acts without being punished. Recently I lost a friend to domestic violence and I am yet to recover from the trauma. It is more painful because she was a lawyer and was aware of her rights and the protection the law offered her. But due to the inherent stereotype, religious proclivities and cultural orientation, she decided to stay back in a marriage that eventually took her life. Nigerian women need to wake up and pull off the wool over their eyes for centuries. Of course men are equally victims of domestic violence; however, due to the patriarchal nature of the Nigerian society, the cases of violence against women are more and growing at an astronomical rate. Perpetrators of violence need to be held accountable for their acts and face the full weight of the law.

Domestic violence is usually perpetrated by intimate partners. Society has always blamed the victims for not leaving when the clear signs of abuse are visible. Of course it is normally presumed that individuals during courtship must show up their violent tendencies; verbal abuse, being overly jealous or protective and at extreme cases lashing out at their partners physically. Domestic violence is not a small issue which should be swept under the carpet by the victims. It is better to speak out and not condone the act. Violent people usually have a certain pattern, they usually continue the act if they find out that their previous acts were condoned and forgiven without consequences.  The act of violence is normally prevalent because the victims refused to act when they should and chose to live in denial.

The stories of violence which has recently flooded our social media timelines show a certain pattern. These acts were usually preceded by prior warnings but the victims refused to act fast or report to security agencies to checkmate the violent behaviour.

There are some clear signs to watch out for by victims;

  1. When the victim doesn’t make the other party happy. It seems as if the presence of the victim irritates the aggressor.
  2. When they act like the victim is useless and does not add value to their life, business, career, and shut the victim out in all plans that affects the growth of the family.
  3. Clear signs of negativity and no form of encouragement. The aggressor sees the victim as a burden and does not encourage him/her to achieve his potentials and dreams.
  4. There is a lot of verbal abuse and putting down in public.
  5. There is a huge disparity and no consensus as the aggressor takes to keeping late nights, sleeping outside the home and cheating on the spouse.
  6. There is also lack of respect and it occurs repeatedly with no interest to help and non-reciprocity of acts of kindness and attention.

The major factors that give rise to domestic violence includes but is not limited to the following; job insecurity and loss, cultural and religious factors, patriarchal indoctrination, family and societal pressure, economic downturn, infidelity, and so on.

Women need financial and economic empowerment, and should resist total dependence on the male gender for all their needs. It is easier to walk away from a violent environment if the woman is financially empowered and productive. Finally I will lay emphasis on the role of religious organisations on the position of marriage, divorce and separation. I believe it is utterly distasteful and unpractical to keep telling the victim facing a violent situation to stay back and keep praying. There is a saying that he who eats with the devil should do so with a long spoon, this was further amended to not eating with the devil at all. Victims of domestic violence should leave to live. The victim can only help from a far; while most violent people are mentally unbalanced, most carry out those acts deliberately as an instrument of control. It is only someone who is alive that can tell the story, domestic violence should be handled as a crime and every victim must speak up and leave when they still can as it never ends well, in the long run it causes psychological damage to both the victim and the children of the marraige.

  • Ebubedike, a legal practitioner, writes in from Port Harcourt, Rivers State.

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