The predominant social and cultural norms in Nigeria create images of “ideal” women and enforced gender roles on them. The roles placed on women in a family environment in Nigeria is that of bringing up the children at home and playing the kitchen role while the man source finance for sustaining the family. Nigerian ‘women’ (women here depicts female except girl child) because of the enforced societal gender roles and unequal opportunities to education, employment among others are often not economically empowered and are financially dependent on men. Access to good education is an essential ingredient for development and tackling poverty. Physical health consequences of domestic violence, especially on women, could include physical injuries like bruises, lacerations, fractures, internal organs injury, abortion following trauma and permanent disability.
What is domestic violence?
Domestic violence is a form of violence that occurs in a situation of intimate or family relationship. Females usually are often victims of this form of violence. it is the abuse of one partner within an intimate or family relationship. It is the repeated, random and habitual use of intimidation to control a partner. The abuse can be physical, emotional, psychological, financial or sexual. Therefore, domestic violence can be defined as an act of intimidation, physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional and verbal abuse between people who have at some time had an intimate or family relationship, Currently the scourge has become an epidemic everywhere.
Domestic violence is not new to the Nigerian society. Often, we have woken up to read of murder and violence. Domestic violence happens across all sectors of society. It cuts across the educated and the illiterate, the religious and the freethinkers, classes of career women and stay-at-home wives, the married and the single as well as all ages. In local communities, domestic violence is mostly perceived as what is due to women who nag, disobey or want to take over the seat of authority from the man, who is always revered as the head of the house. It is also known as a “therapy through which a man can conveniently vent his anger or frustration on a ‘lesser being’ who is his wife or children”. Many women now believe that physical abuse is most times justified. In this setting, most women bear the pain and grieve in silence believing that one day the man will have a change of heart and amend his ways. The stigma and the shame it will elicit also contributes to the silence. Women, whether married or single, condone various degrees of abuse for reasons such as no source of income, the fear of losing custody of the children, exposure to information, low self-esteem, stigmatization and many more. More often than not, the woman is prevailed upon to be forgiving regardless of the ordeal she undergoes daily or the scars she has tattooed all over her body. Most heart-wrenching is the fact that sometimes the physical trauma, the psychological torture and the emotional disenchantment transforms a once beautiful and loving woman into a recluse (that is a person who lives a solitary life and tends to avoid other people). To this end, many have died and many more are held in severe bondage they cannot easily escape from.
Knowledge of one’s rights is a prerequisite to seeking avenues for redress in cases of abuses. We have among other laws, Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act of 2015, applicable only in the Federal Capital Territory Abuja, and social media is an effective tool to use in tackling this menace in our society, as we can now observe. What constitutes physical, sexual, emotional and verbal abuses against women often times would be influenced by the socio-cultural norms of a particular society. The question arises of whether Marrying a woman exclusively as a house wife and preventing her from any form of vocation outside the domestic responsibilities even if the woman in question has the necessary skills and qualifications as often occurred in our locality constitutes domestic violence or not?’ A poser for your thought.
Women often face physical violence at the hands of their family members. The most common forms of physical violence include rape, murder, slapping, and kicking. Some of the reasons that were given for physical abuse include their husbands being drunk, financial issues, and the rejection of a partner’s sexual advances. Relationship inequality is also a strong indicator of physical violence. High levels of wife beating occur when the woman is making more money than her husband or partner is. This has been attributed to the lack of control the male partner feels within the relationship. Women also often link the perpetration of physical violence with husbands who are very controlling. Women who justify wife beating are more likely to be victims of physical violence.
Another form of violence which has received a lot of recent attention in Nigeria is acid baths. Acid baths are actions of violence where the perpetrator throws acid onto his or her victim’s body, resulting in disfigurement and possible loss of eyesight. Acid baths are a large issue for women that needs to be addressed. In 1990, a former beauty queen rejected her boyfriend’s attempts to rekindle their relationship. In retaliation, he threw acid in her face with the words “let me see how any man will love you now”.
Sexual violence in Nigeria largely goes unreported because of the burden of proof necessary for conviction as well as the social stigma it brings. Nigerian police have not been seen to arrest for sexual assault resulting in less reporting of the act. About 25% of women reported forced sex at the hands of either their current partner or a former partner. Furthermore, the 2008 Demographic and Health Survey (NDHS) showed that over 30.5% of married women have experienced at least one or more forms of physical, emotional or sexual violence in their marriage.
The social context of violence in Nigeria is based largely on its patriarchal society. Violence against a wife is seen as a tool that a husband uses to chastise his wife and to improve her. The common loss of women’s rights upon marriage in Sub-Saharan Africa and the implicit obedience and deference towards men is socially encouraged within their society. The Yoruba women refer to their husbands as “olowo ori mi” meaning “the one who paid my bride price”. In effect, marriage gives up a woman’s right to herself. In practices where a bride price is paid, it is common for the husband to believe that by paying the bride price, he now owns his wife. The act of marriage is seen to give the husband full ownership of the woman. She surrenders her right to her body to him as well as her agency. Other factors linked with domestic violence includes lower socioeconomic classes, substance abuse, couple age disparity, and unemployment.
Another cause of domestic violence is infertility. When looking at a study taken by infertile woman visiting a fertility clinic, many women reported some form of domestic violence- whether physical, mental, or emotional. There were also trends showing that the Yoruba tribe women were more likely to experience violence in this case.
The perceptions of domestic violence vary based on region, religion, and class. For example, the Tiv view wife beating as a “sign of love” that should be encouraged as evidenced with the statement “If you are not yet beaten by your husband then you do not know the joy of marriage and that means you are not yet married”. All the major ethnic groups in Nigeria- Yoruba, Igbo, and Hausa- have strong patriarchial societal structures that lead to the justification of domestic violence. However, the Hausa are more supportive of domestic violence and viewing it as an inherent right of a husband.
There are differences in the perceptions of domestic violence varying across reasons.
There are higher numbers for instances like neglecting the children or going out without telling the husband and less for refusal of sex or a mere argument. Many of the reasons that are viewed as acceptable for domestic violence are largely subjective to a husband’s interpretation. For example, common acceptable beatings among men are lack of respect for husband, stubbornness, imposition of will on husband, and failure of wifely duties. The 2008 NDHS did a study to view the acceptability of wife beating in Nigeria. They put forward five scenarios and asked both men and women. With women, there were trends found in viewing wife beating as more acceptable. It was viewed as more acceptable in rural areas, among married versus unmarried women, uneducated women, and poor women. The reason most viewed as justified for beating was going out without telling the husband. The relationships were about the same for men.
Women experiencing domestic violence have varying responses and differences in who they report their abuse to. In a study done in Ilorin, Nigeria, a large number of women reported their abuse to family and friends while not many decided to go to the police to file a report. The rationale behind not going to the police is various such as the fear of victim-blaming, acceptance of violence as proper reaction, and the lack of police action.
One major issue facing the domestic violence issues in Nigeria are the tendency for low reported rates. A study looking at domestic violence in southwest Nigeria found that only 18.6% reported experienced or acted violence between themselves and their spouse. However, the same study also shows that 60% of the respondents claimed to have witnessed violence between a separate couple. These statistics show that there may be a tendency for under-reportation which can occur for various reasons. One main reason for the high levels of under-reporting are that it is seen as taboo to involve the police in family matters. They view the separation of the two as important and the police force ascribes to this notion as well. Police hesitate to intervene even with lodged complaints unless the abuse goes over the customary amount usually seen in the region. Remember the notion, ‘what God has joined together…let no man put asunder.’ It’s applicability in this circumstance is an issue.
Experience of pregnant women
Pregnant women experience high levels of domestic violence in Nigeria. They are subject to violence not only from their spouses, but also from their in-laws. In a study, they found that the most common type of domestic violence was to be physically assaulted and then, also be victims of forced sexual intercourse.
A study in the nation’s capital, Abuja, carried out over a course of 3 months in 2005 showed physical, sexual, and psychological abuse among pregnant women. One third of the female respondents reported experiencing domestic violence. They found psychological abuse to be the highest type of abuse followed by physical and then sexual. Women who experienced psychological abuse also experienced physical abuse. In terms of the physical abuse, about 20% of the women required medical treatment due to the abuse and the most frequent medical complication reported was premature labor. A big issue across many African countries, not just Nigeria, is the poor reproductive health systems women are provided with. Most of the women in need are women who have been exposed to sexual violence and rape, yet the country isn’t able to provide them with the aid they need.
Overall, the trends of domestic violence against pregnant women permeate across different ethnic groups and Nigerian states. The trends are consistent with other parts of Africa and the attitudes towards violence against pregnant women are in conjunction with the aforementioned trend viewing domestic violence as permissible under certain circumstances. It takes us to the next question, whether domestic violence permissible, if Yes, under what circumstance.
Experience of HIV positive women
In Nigeria, there is a correlation between being HIV positive and domestic violence. Women who are diagnosed with HIV are at high risk for intimate partner violence (IPV). With HIV, there is also a tendency to stay in abusive relationships. In a study of 652 HIV positive pregnant women in Lagos, 429 women reported being the victims of violence. Of those reporting violence, 74% of the respondents said the abuse occurred after the disclosure of her HIV status. Women reported verbal abuse, threat of physical violence, and sexual deprivation once they disclosed her HIV positive status.
Psychological abuse was the most commonly reported version of received violence.
Predictors of violence were women’s age, marital status, disclosure and partner’s educational status. The highest levels of IPV among HIV positive were found in the age group 25–33 years old. Among the husbands, the highest levels came from those with an educational attainment of secondary school. More of than not, they were in a polygamous marriage. Women who are victims of domestic violence are also at a higher risk of contracting HIV through various mechanisms. It becomes more difficult for them to adopt safe sex practices especially in the case of sexual abuse and forced sexual acts. The trauma of the domestic violence also ends up impacting later sexual behaviors.
While domestic violence is a violation of fundamental human rights, which the Nigerian Constitution is against, there are still provisions that make it legal to engage in domestic violence against women. The provision of the Penal Code applicable in the Northern part of Nigeria specifically encourages violence against women. Underneath its provisions, the beating of a wife for the purpose of correction is legal. see section 55 (1) (d) of the Penal Code. Nigeria ratified the convention for the Elimination of Discrimination against Women in 1985 but international treaties can only go into effect when Parliament has put in a corresponding domestic law thereby limiting the international treaty to disuse.
Nigeria has some non-profit organizations and non-governmental organizations that attempt to provide support for victims of domestic violence. The Women and Child Watch Initiative is a nonprofit providing support to women and children who are victims of domestic trials such as violence and forced marriages. They also organize training programs for female lawyers to defend women’s rights in domestic violence in court. The “Unite to End Violence against Women” campaign was initiated alongside the declaration of “16 days of activism against violence against women”. This campaign was especially important in Nigeria when calling attention to the issue of brutality against women. In 1985, Nigeria validated the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, otherwise known as the CEDAW. The organization works with the sole purpose of abolishing discrimination against women.
Levels of risk factors on Domestic violence
In view of Carrasco- Portino et al  submission, associated or potential risk factors for being perpetrators and victims of domestic violence would be discussed using the ecological model for understanding risk factors for violence, it will also serve as identifying the causative factors. The World Report on Violence and Health [Krug et al, 2002] identified risk factors at different levels which were referred to as ecological model to help put in place prevention strategies at these levels. The model identified risk factors at four levels which are;
c. Community, and
d. Societal levels.
Individual level: At this level, it is believed that personal history and genetic or biological factors influence how individuals behave and predict the likelihood of becoming a victim or a perpetrator of violence. This include early developmental experiences, demographic characteristics (age, education, income), psychological or personality disorders, substance abuse, a history of behaving aggressively or having experienced abuse as a child. At individual level, personality disorders, psychological problems like depression (Keenan- Miller et al, 2007), propensity to anger following frustration, alcohol and other psychoactive substance misuse had been identified as risk factors for domestic violence against women. Alcohol misuse among men had particularly been identified as associated risk factor for wife beating in Nigeria (Fawole et al, 2005). Women who engage in harmful use of alcohol and other psychoactive substances are also likely to be victims of domestic violence. Higher rate of domestic violence experience had also been found among women who were carrying unwanted pregnancy (Kishor and Kiersten, 2004). A possible explanation for unplanned pregnancies among women is act of sexual violence and unsafe sexual practices.
Relationship level: It has been found that personal relationship such as family, friends, peers, intimate partners may influence the risks of becoming a victim or perpetrator of violence. For example, having violent neighbours may influence whether an individual engages in or becomes a victim of violence. At this level, childhood experience of domestic violence or constant witness of domestic violence acts in childhood could also be a risk factor. In addition, Kishor and Kiersten (2004) identified a number of risk factors associated with domestic violence against women that can operate at level of relationship. Their study revealed that women who had married more than once, divorced or separated tend to report experience of domestic violence more than those who had married only once. Women who married at a young age and those who have larger family size with many children were likely to have higher rate of domestic violence experience. Also, women who were older than their husbands were more likely to experience domestic violence. Decision making within the household was also identified as associated factor, with women that make household decisions jointly with their husband less likely to report experience of violence compared to women whose husbands or they make household decision alone.
Community level: This refers to environments in which social relationships occur, such as neighbourhood, workplace, schools among others, these may also influence violence. Risk factors may include the population density, existence of booming trade of drug of abuse and arms, unemployment among others.
Societal level: There may be various factors in a society that influence whether violence is encouraged or discouraged. These include economic and social policies that maintain socioeconomic inequalities between people, social and cultural norms such as those that promote male dominance over female as experienced in various African sub-cultures and also cultural norms that endorse violence as a normal method to resolve conflicts. At community and societal level, Kishor and Kiersten (2004) identified living in urban households as compared to rural households an associated risk factor for experiencing domestic violence among the women studied. Receptive attitude to domestic violence, which often is a function of societal values and practices as signified by a woman justifying it right for a husband to beat his wife, was also identified as a positive correlate of domestic violence experience. Dominance attitude among men, a common disposition among men from African sub-cultures as shown in controlling behaviours had also been identified as a positive predictor of domestic violence acts among men. With detail psychological and Individual social investigation of the victims and perpetrators of domestic violence, various risk factors can be identified at these four levels. This can help in putting in place strategies aimed at preventing or curtailing domestic violence.
Important/Special notes to be taken about Nigerian Laws on Rape (Damilola Abayomi, 2017)
Rape is a universally recognized crime against humanity. This is because it is a crime that is committed against a person which in turn affects their view of the opposite sex, sexuality and life in general. Rape is commonly referred to as unlawful sexual intercourse committed by a man with a woman not his wife and against her will. But as can be noted, this definition is too restrictive on the basis of gender, consent and what constitutes the crime of rape.
Let’s examine laws on rape, punishment, factors that can be considered in sentencing on a conviction for rape and what should be done when a person has been raped.
The offence of rape and its punishment are found under the criminal laws of Nigeria mainly the Criminal (Southern) and Penal (Northern) Codes. Each state is then meant to domesticate these laws. Our focus here will be the Criminal Code Laws of Anambra State CAP 36 (particularly sections 308-311). In addition to these, is the Child Right Act of 2003 promulgated for the protection of children and young persons and very recently the Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act, 2015 applicable only in the Federal Capital Territory Abuja.
What constitutes the offence of rape? The traditional criminal laws (Criminal and Penal Codes and the various state versions) define rape as:
1. Unlawful carnal knowledge
2. Committed by a man on a woman
3. Without her consent or forcefully or fraudulently obtained consent or misrepresenting to be her husband.
4. Complete upon penetration.
Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act 2015 (VAPPA).
This law applicable only in Abuja is a breath of fresh air. It accommodates the changing nature of perverted and modern forms of unnatural intercourse. For one thing, it expands the definition of rape to include any person (male or female) as offenders, also widen intercourse to include oral and anal sex and any other form of intercourse.
Child Right Act 2003.
This law promulgated for the protection of the Nigerian Child also expands the scope of the offence of rape. Under this law (already ratified by two-thirds of states in the country), the crime of rape accommodates both male and female offenders and on any child (male and female). Consent is also not a defence hence making liability for the crime very strict to protect innocent minors.
Under the Criminal Code law (section 309), the VAPP and Child Right Act, the punishment for rape is life imprisonment but the under the Penal Code it is a maximum of 14years imprisonment.
Attempted rape under the Criminal Code is 14years imprisonment. Gross Indecency under the Penal Code is punishable with 7years imprisonment.
Under the Criminal Code, a male under 12 is incapable of rape. He can only be charged for indecent assault. However, VAPPA states that offenders less than 14years can be sentenced to a maximum of 14years imprisonment.
VAPPA provides specific punishment for gang-rapist. It is a minimum of 20 years without an option of fine.
VAPPA also stipulates punishment for any person who exposes their body parts indecently and who sends indecent pictures to another for the purpose of inducing them to have unlawful sexual intercourse. The punishment is imprisonment of not less than 1year or a fine not exceeding #500,000.00 (Five Hundred Thousand Naira). This provision is becoming very pertinent in the face of increasing cyber indecency and social media abuse.
Rape in Marriage.
The general law is that a man cannot rape his wife and vice versa. Example, the Criminal Law of Lagos State specifically states that intercourse between a man and his wife cannot be unlawful. Hence, a man cannot in the eye of the law rape his wife. What then is the fate of a woman whose husband forcefully and violently has sexual intercourse with her? Proof of physical assault or sexual intercourse occasioned by violence is a ground for applying for separation or divorce.
Below are some factors the courts will consider in determining the appropriate punishment on conviction;
1. Age of the offender,
2. Being a first offender or not,
3. Pleading guilty to the charge,
The first three mentioned above may all sustain a plea in mitigation of sentences, i.e. reduce the severity of the punishment but
4. The fact of previous conviction
5. The prevalence of the offence
6. The seriousness of the offence,
7. The non-repentant attitude of the offender,
8. The complexity of the offender’s plan to commit the crime and
9. The adverse effect of the offence on the victim are factors that can aggravate sentence.
We have seen so far that Nigerian laws needs to make a departure from the traditional concepts of rape to accommodate the changing nature of this societal menace. The VAPPA which is a more modern and progressive law is only applicable in Abuja. It is pertinent to note that it is only a fraction of rape cases that are reported. Many victims are too scared to open up as sadly, most perpetrators are persons very well known to them. There’s also the fear of being stigmatized as being victims of rape. The point though is that the culture of silence does not help anyone. Rather it shields the rapist and emboldens him/her to simply look for the next victim. What then should be done of one is faced with the danger of being raped?
1. It’s ok to scream! The last thing a rapist wants is to be caught. Hence, drop all sophistications and scream! They will more often stop and run away.
2. It’s ok to defend yourself. Although it may appear difficult, putting in some defence may be the critical element needed to buy time before help comes.
3. In the unfortunate event of a rape, do not keep quiet. As with most crimes, there’s the ‘golden hour rule’ i.e. the first hour being the most critical to gather sufficient evidence, track down a criminal and get adequate medical care. So, contact the police, the state designated rape assistance unit, the several organizations and private support centres.
While we await more progressive laws to combat this crime, each and everyone has a role to play in combating this societal menace. We must also learn to give support to victims and stop the stigmatization.
Mitigating domestic violence against women in Nigeria – The way forward
To mitigate violence against women;
1. There is need for continuous public education with the aim of raising awareness among Nigerian populace.
2. The use of television, radio and newspaper media can go a long way in improving the masses knowledge on gender based violence.
3. It is also important to put more efforts into empowering women through equal educational and employment opportunities.
4. Promulgating laws that will protect women and children against violence and abuse would stem the magnitude of the problem, but punitive approach without adequate education and counselling of perpetrators and victims of domestic violence may not yield the desired results.
5. Perpetrators of domestic violence against women may need more social and psychological help rather than punitive measures than previously thought.
6. There is then an imperative need to establish facilities for this purpose.
About the author
Udeoji Noel Nwabueze, FICMC, DRS. is a legal practitioner, a human rights activist and a distinguished legal researcher and writer. He writes from Anambra State, Nigeria.
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