Violence against Women in Nigeria…. Myth or Fact?

by Golda Olanrewaju

March 8th , 2013 was the International Women’s Day and the theme this year was :

“A promise is a promise: Time for action to end Violence against Women”

“There is one universal truth, applicable to all countries, cultures and communities: violence against women is never acceptable, never excusable, never tolerable.” UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
This statement seems to echo the thoughts of everyone and the 140 leaders as to the plight of women and domestic violence. I was shocked when I found out that according to a United Nations report:
Up to 50% of sexual assaults are committed against girls under the age of 16.

Globally, 603 million women live in countries where domestic violence is not yet considered a crime.
Up to 70% of women report having experienced physical and/or sexual violence at some point.
Over 60 million girls worldwide are child brides married before 18.

This is a staggering statistics…… “Surely, this would not happen in my country Nigeria” I thought.

I am a Nigerian and this article is not to berate Nigeria, but to shine a light on this epidemic. It’s very easy for us to assume these things are not happening, but all we have to do is watch our Nigerian movies and we would see how this is portrayed and indirectly celebrated. Any form of violence against women and girls should not be encouraged at all whether in the form of humor or making some quick money.

My cry for help is neither for my sisters nor my mothers living in Lagos, Ibadan or any of the urban areas rather it is for those women who live in the rural areas. Growing up in Nigeria, I recalled my dad building his house far outside the city because he couldn’t afford to buy parcels of land in Bodija or Ring Road, so he decided to build his home in a remote and rural area. This was where I personally witnessed domestic violence and abuse amongst the women and girls. It was a common experience to hear very early in the morning women crying out from being hit by their husband for a simple offence like not having his bathing water in the bathroom or not having his food ready at the right time. These are the people I am speaking out for. Those women who never had the privilege of having an education, the ones given out at an early age to marriage THESE ARE THE ONES WITHOUT A VOICE AND WHOSE VOICES NEED TO BE HEARD. It is estimated that of Nigeria’s population, 64% is mainly rural and 44% urban and of this, 54% live below the poverty line. These are the ones I am speaking for in this article.

In an article by Advocate for, it was recorded that Violence against women is a widespread problem in sub-Saharan Africa. Surveys conducted in sub-Saharan Africa reveal that 46 percent of Ugandan women, 60 percent of Tanzanian women, 42 percent of Kenyan women, and 40 percent of Zambian women report regular physical abuse.

In a Nigerian survey, 81 percent of married women report being verbally or physically abused by their husbands. Forty-six percent report being abused in the presence of their children. Nigeria was ranked 110 out of about 135 countries in the 2012 Gender Gap index, (the Gender Gap Index was developed in 2006 by the World Economic Forum to capture the magnitude and scope of gender based disparities around the world).

My intention is not to start a Women’s Liberation Movement in Nigeria, my goal is to make us aware of issues related to women, address them and find solutions to them. Let us empower our women at the grassroots level so that they would know that any act of violence against them is wrong!

We need to develop programs aimed and targeted towards improving women’s standard of living. Education is a major key. Educate a woman and you’ve educated a nation. It is a cycle with a ripple effect. There should be a reform aimed at overhauling our educational system. Education should not be a luxury rather a necessity.

At the age of 18, I became a single mom but thankfully I had a good support system and a family who strongly believed in education. Dropping out of school was not an option, so I had my son, graduated from University of Ibadan and my son ultimately graduated from same university. It’s apparent we do not have government policies aimed at single moms. I would advocate that our government invest in that. We cannot continue in a path of continuous intergenerational poverty and expect things to change. Women account for half of any country’s potential base and a nation’s competitiveness in the long term depends significantly on whether and how it educates its women.

In high-income settings, let’s incorporate school-based programs to prevent relationship violence among young people (or dating violence).

In low-income settings, gender equality training and community-based initiatives that address gender inequality and communication and relationship skills should be introduced. We can take advantage of our culture. Nigeria has a communal culture, let’s get our elders involved, involve and engage traditional leaders, men and boys in violence against women and girls prevention initiatives.

Recently, in the United States, The house passed a violence against women act to be signed into law by President Barack Obama. This act has been credited with sharply reducing the number of domestic violence incidences over the past twenty years. The President in his speech said it was:

“An important step towards making sure no one in America is forced to live in fear”

Can our government follow suit and pass a similar bill on domestic violence in Nigeria? We can promote awareness and sensitization training. Train our police, military, judicial, religious, cultural and communal leaders on women rights.

Violence has a significant impact on the health and life expectancy of women. The World Bank estimates that rape and domestic abuse account for 5% of healthy years of life to women of reproductive age in developing countries.

Children in abusive households also suffer from the effects of domestic violence, whether they were physically abused or not. Studies show that children who witness domestic violence may experience and exhibit emotional and behavioral problems such as depression, aggression, disobedience, poor school performance and also continue in the same pattern of abuse.

Lastly, our entertainment industry (NOLLYWOOD) needs to stop propagating films that celebrate violence of any form on women. Our mothers, sisters, aunts should be celebrated in a positive manner and not negatively. Our goal and objective should be targeted at enabling positive cultural practices of respect and non-violent relationships in families, schools, community and public institution.

Ending violence against women and girls is not an option rather a priority, our goal is to propagate a zero tolerance to it and END IT. We owe that to our future generation.

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