Gender-Based Violence And Religion, Exploring.The Effects Of Religious Beliefs In Abusive Marriages


Gender-based violence especially in marriages, is the most pervasive phenomenon that cuts across every stratum of society and life in general. It is the most endemic and dangerous form of violence against women in Nigeria, often invisible, shrouded in a lot of silence and secrecy until perhaps permanent disability and psychological trauma are inflicted on the victim or even death occurs.

It is an issue of global concern. Women are often in great danger in the place where they should be safest: within their families.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 1 in 3 women has experienced gender-based violence in their lifetime . For many, the home is where they face terror and violence in the hands of somebody close to them, somebody they should be able to trust.

The need to address this issue which is threatening the safety of spouses and their fundamental right to human dignity has prompted this study.

Accordingly, this study shall explore the effects of religious beliefs in abusive marriages. Particularly, this study shall narrow its focus to gender-based violence against women in marriages based on the understanding that although women can also be violent, but their actions account for a small percentage of gender-based violence.

In fact, according to a UNICEF report, violence in the domestic sphere is usually perpetrated by males who are, or who have been in positions of trust, intimacy and power.

Therefore, it would seem permissible to focus primarily on violence against women. In the final analysis, this paper shall proffer practical suggestions to this malady.

Recently, following the death of Nigerian gospel singer, Osinachi Nwachukwu, whose death was revealed to be caused by persistent abuse and controlling behaviors from the husband, a religious leader, the Internet went agog on the influence religion has on abusive marriages.

While some citizens opine that religion is a protective factor in this regard and serves as the safest harbor for women as well as veritable orientation platform for men, others averred that its effect is insignificant and pointed instead to factors like economic and cultural power dynamics that gives men proprietary rights over women, cultural definitions of sex roles, customs of marriage (bride price/dowry), acceptability of violence as a means to resolve conflict, general patriarchal stereotypes such as the belief in the inherent superiority of males and women as acquirable properties.

However, the fact is that although the social context of violence in marriages in Nigeria is related to the traditional African patriarchal society that defines the gender power structure, religion plays a profound role, if not the highest role, in fanning its embers. This it does through the following ways:

Patriarchal-Induced Interpretation of Submission:
Religion is a reflection of the society and has wrongly inherited a society that has been wrongly taught the roles of men. Our patriarchal culture has been introduced into our interpretation of the scripture specifically the scriptural definition of submission.

The Ephesians five verse 2 stipulation that “wives should submit themselves unto their husbands as unto the lord” , as been chauvinistically interpreted to mean dominance or rulership.

A mechanism that was biblically put in place to ensure mutuality of respect in marriage and prevent leadership conflict has been erroneously construed to render women as chattels.

This shows how religion has been a tool in oppressing women. Religion exercises enormous influence over not just the teeming millions of devotees, but across every sector of the society, including legal lines.

For instance, section 55 of the Penal Code which operates in Northern Nigeria allows men to chastise their wives by reasonably caning or beating them (a provision that is founded on Islamic religious practices as erroneously interpreted from Ayah 34 Surah 4 of the Quoran).

More so, rape is still committed in marriage beds due to this patriarchal cum religious belief. And it is sad that long after the Bill of Rights, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, the Violence Against People’s Prohibition Act, and the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (which upholds the right to human dignity of all citizens in section 34), the narrative is still the same.

Stringent Religious Preaching of Forgiveness and Hope:
It has been said that marriage is the combination of two good forgivers, but this should not apply to grave domestic violence marital settings, especially where the violence is persistent.

The risk of violence in Nigerian marriages is normalized because rigid concepts of religious beliefs in forgiveness and perseverance become more stringent. Religious leaders are often quicker to counsel a complainant that forgiveness is an endless religious journey and remind the victim of Christ’s directive (in Matthew chapter 24 verse 13 and chapter 18 verse 22) respectively of forgiving one’s offender “seventy times seventy times” and how “the one who endures till the end shall be saved” than they are to give recourse to the victims plight.

A survey of 5,700 pastors found that 26 percent of pastors ordinarily would tell a woman being abused to continue to submit and to “trust that God would honor her action by either stopping the abuse or giving her the strength to endure it”.

while 71 percent of pastors would never advise a battered wife to leave her husband or separate because of abuse. Many individuals have met their waterloo in marriages as a result of this belief.

Formerly, it was believed that partners stayed in abusive marriages because of lack of economic power, fear of been alone, and prioritization of the welfare of their children, however, late Osinachi Nwachukwu is a furnishing instance of how damaging the tendency to stay in abusive relationships due to spiritual principles is.

Fear of Religious Ostracization:
Closely related to this is the fear of cultural and religious ostracization, Religion as a reflection of culture condemns divorce.

One of the tenets of religion is that marriage is an everlasting divine conjunction that can never be put “asunder” except in the event of death. Even contemporary educated, working class women that has all it takes to beat cultural and societal norms and shades in this regard are also victims of domestic violence because of religious beliefs in the sinfulness of divorce even where the marriage has by law and fact, irretrievably broken down.

They choose to suffer and smile for fear of being religiously condemned or stripped of their leadership position(s) in the church or fear setting the wrong example to non-believers.

Promotion of the Culture of Silence:
As already stated, abuse thrives in the place of secrecy, sadly, religious authorities have for a long time viewed domestic violence as a private issue on the premise that the sanctity of the domestic circle weigh against external involvement in domestic affairs.

Usually, the attitude of religious leaders is to stay on the sidelines and offer prayers and faith counsels to the victims, and rarely to the perpetrator, but is faith without work not dead? Thus, religion and religious beliefs scarcely protect victims of spousal violence, for by encouraging them to pray and hope for change instead of teaching them to speak up, domestic violence is enthroned. Again, Osinachi Nwachukwu is a furnishing instance.

For an effective balance between religion and healthy marriage, it is imperative that religious leaders learn to view gender-based violence from human right lenses rather than from the spiritual.

They must understand that the right to human dignity is a basic right that goes beyond religious beliefs. This can be achieved through sound ministerial trainings, workshops and outreaches.

Also, the concept of submission must be redefined to meet scriptural intent. Religious authorities should teach that being the head does not mean to dominate over or rule indiscriminately, but to lead with mutual respect, selflessness and love “as Christ loved the church”.

Furthermore, breaking the culture of silence can go a long way in changing the narrative, therefore, victims must be taught to speak up. All religions emphasize justice and advocating for the oppressed. For instance, the Christian faith enjoins believers to “speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves”

Most times, abused victims are weakened by the patterns of abused used on them, and there is a responsibility on religious leaders and believers to be their strength in such moments.

Yes, divorce is an option. Religion must teach that there is no shame in saving oneself from untimely death and long marital misery. They should also be willing to lend support to victims who take this bold step.

Finally, it is pertinent that religious institutions partner with civil society organizations to sensitize members and the public on the dangers of staying in abusive relationships and how to identify ‘red flags’ in intending partners.

They should also understand that legal institutions are not their enemies, but are in place to safeguard individuals in such crisis. Accordingly, they should encourage women to seek restraining orders and other legal protections to this effect, and not condemn them when they so.

Therefore, in the final analysis, it is the submission of this study that religion is a complex and nuanced predictor of domestic violence and for marriages to thrive healthily within its bounds, religious institutions must refrain from importing wrong interpretations into the scripture and be actively involved in the fight against gender-based violence.


• Christianity and domestic violence-Wikipedia and domestic violence
• Professor Epiphany Azinge, SAN, pH.D, LLD: Law of Domestic Violence in Nigeria.
• Punch News: How Religion Enables Gender-based Violence

1 comment
  1. I greatly commend the writer of this educative write-up .

    It must however be noted that thorough sensitization even reformation programs should be encouraged for the male too not just the female alone. Males are more susceptible to aggression. Why do we always have to enable protective measures for the female whereas the cause is left unchecked?
    Let us employ the fight mode not the flight mode in totally alleviating gender-based violence.
    Don’t quote me wrong there. I am not encouraging females to fight in abusive relationships.

    We just have to jointly ensure that the perpetrators are ideally punished and become reformed which therefore will serve as a deterrent to others.

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