An Overview of Gender-Based Violence in Nigeria
Despite the increasing advocacy and protection of human rights all over the world, Gender-Based Violence, GBV, is one phenomenon that has refused to go away in Nigeria. Women are yet to be seen as having the same dignity as men in many countries of the world, including Nigeria. Although the 2018 Demography and Health Survey says there has been a miniscule of improvement in how women are now treated in Nigeria, many of them are still victims of GBV. Why women are the major victims of violence is due to their vulnerability in a society that is dominated by men. That is why the issue of GBV should be met with strong indignation.
Violence against women in Nigeria includes intimate partner violence, domestic violence and physical violence. According to the same 2018 Demography and Health Survey, 31 per cent of women in Nigeria between ages 15 and 49 have been a victim of GBV at one point or another. This includes the 9 per cent of them that have been victims of sexual violence and 6 per cent of them that have been victims of physical violence during violence.
In the same Survey, it is reported that 36 per cent of women who have ever been married have experienced violence from their partner. This violence include physical abuse such as slapping and punching, sexual abuse such as forced sexual intercourse when they are not in the mood and emotional abuse such as deliberately talking down at. The injuries some of the women sustained during their physical abuse include cuts and bruises, fracture and dislocation. Some even die as a result of constant abuse. Many women also suffer irredeemable low self-esteem because their husbands never approve of anything they do. They die with their creativity because they were afraid they would never get approved. Add these to the fact that 1 out of 4 Nigerian girls is sexually abused before they turn 18 according to the United Nations Children’s Education Fund, UNICEF and you will see that Nigeria still has a long way to go before women could attain any form of equilibrium in economic activities, social equality and political representation.
Men’s violence against women is one of the hallmarks of a patriarchal society. As it has often been in patriarchal societies, it is men that rule over the affairs of women, children and even animals. The society gives men enormous control over women that many times the latter is seen as a mere property to be acquired by the former. It is that feeling of control that men believe they have over women that fuel some of their acts of violence.
Many men in Nigeria still beat their wives whenever an argument ensued. Instead of setting their intellectual capabilities in motion, they use physical force to quell the argument instead. Many men fear women that question their decision and pose as an intellectual threat to them. For those men, such women are dissidents. Beating them is to prove to them that they are not in charge of theirselves. Some men also beat their wives when they leave the house without approval, refuses to have sexual intercourse or neglects the children.
The patriarchal system extols violence against women as a means of correcting them while religion underscores that violence by preaching the submission of a woman to her husband in all things. Thus, when a man abuses his wife or a random woman as a way of correcting her, it is often because of the inherent belief that men are divinely superior to women and could do anything, including beating and verbal degradation, to put them in check. Then religion praises any woman who endures such as a ‘virtuous women’ and encourages her to pray so that God could change her husband. This is expected since many religious books call women weaker vessels, unclean and puts them below men in all things.
Unfortunately, many women believe that wife-beating is justified. One of their excuses is women’s propensity to go out of control if their behaviour is not checked. This is a sad tale of women in Nigeria. When someone said women are sometimes the problem of women, he’s not far from the truth. When men prone to violence against women see that they have a modicum of support in the women’s circle, they are encouraged to continue.
Another reason GBV has continued is that many of the victims are quiet about it. Seven out of ten cases would most likely go unreported because the victims have a poor attitudinal response to their sad plight. There are many reasons for this. Some women fear breaking away from an abusive relationship would make them lonely. Thus, the fear of being alone makes them endure the violence. Some women even blamed themselves for the violence against them. They reasoned that it was them who moved the man into provocation and it was only natural that he reacted that way. Besides, many women are economically incapacitated that they cannot survive without the economic contribution of their husbands. These women would do anything and endure any form of abuse to make sure they did not go out of the economic coverage of their husbands.
Thus, instead of speaking out and seeking help so the violence could be stopped, many of them chose to be silent for as long as no one else noticed what they are going through. This silence empowers their abusers. The silence is a recipe for an unending circle of abuse and violence. Unfortunately, the society also frowns at separation and divorce. Thus, many women are forced to endure various forms of abuse and violence in the name of marriage.
The stigma that comes with being a victim of any form of GBV also forces women who are abused in one form or another to bury their heads in their laps and stay gagged. It is enough that the society also blames them as much as they blame themselves for putting themselves in a position that made them a victim of GBV due to their poor character. But it stigmatises them when they dare speak up. At times, even members of their families don’t believe their stories. The belief is that men are always right in relationships and the woman is to be blamed when any of them beats or rapes her. When the abuser ought to be shamed for his action, it is the victim that suffers the shame instead. The society has innocently trained women to be silent and subservient to men so they would be socially acceptable. That has not augured well for women. It has only put them at the mercy of chauvinistic men.
The ancient Greek belief that a woman should only be seen but not heard is unfortunately still at work in modern Nigeria. Many times, even the most culturally exposed and intellectually certified women suffer from the suffering and smiling syndrome to keep up their social status as people that have it all, seen but not heard in matters that concern their health. They smile on the inside but forced a healthy smile outside. Being a woman and being forced to be silent about uncomfortable events in your life is indeed difficult.
To curtail GBV, so many actions need to be taken. The first place to begin is the mind of women and their perception of GBV as a justifiable act. Women need to know that violence against them for any reason is not justifiable. They should know they deserve better than to be battered by a domineering male. And they should seek help whenever they found themselves as victims of GBV. When women themselves see violence against them as something that should not be condoned, then the advocacy to end all forms of GBV would have a strong footing.
After that, there is need for further advocacy for women’s rights. Women should be enlightened about their rights GBV cases are taken seriously. Although many women are now standing up to the occasion, more still needs to be done in dealing with violence against women. Women need to encourage one another to champion this fight. It will not be an easy task in a patriarchal society but it is better than doing nothing.
Also, there is a need for women to be empowered. That starts from ensuring that they were educated to the level where they could recognise their inalienable rights and strive to have it entrenched. After that, women should be supported to have a considerable level of economic freedom so that when they are abused, they would have the strength to walk away from without suffering severe economic implications. In addition to this is the need to enforce stricter penalties for people that are guilty of GBV so it could serve as deterrent to others who feel their victims are helpless against them. Every man needs to know that when he commits any form of violence against women, there is a punishment waiting for him.
Lastly, all societal and religious norms that support violence against women should be frowned at. This should be done by supporting innovative social norms aimed at shifting harmful social norms perpetuating GBV and inequalities to promote positive behavioural change. Religious organisations should preach about the evil of GBV and not only the submission of women to their husbands. Cultural practices such as Female Genital Mutilation and early/forced marriage should be legislated against across the federation.
Our women deserve better than being subjected to abuse because they were born as women, something they didn’t choose for themselves. If tables turn, how many of these men would want to be slapped or kicked because he erred due to his imperfect nature? You see, we can do better with the way we treat our women. And we should start doing better.