Let’s stop asking the wrong questions about domestic violence and do something
A beautiful young woman posing. A couple embracing and smiling at the camera. She looks happy, relaxed, normal. Given the brutal nature of her death there’s a tendency to want to scan the pictures to look for an abnormality, a tiny grain of evidence that reveals the horror within.
But there’s nothing in those images that betrays the truth.
Ronke’s story bears similarities to Titilayo Arowolo, a young woman murdered by her husband in 2012 Both women were bankers, both were victims of domestic violence for years, both were killed at home while their husbands fled and later concocted implausible explanations for their deaths. Both women are now dead, Titilayo was stabbed 72 times and Ronke was beaten to death. Both of them had their dreams and ambitions cruelly snuffed out.
Ronke’s killing has put domestic violence at the forefront of national debate again. It’s a trending topic, being discussed everywhere with renewed vigor. That said the issue itself is hardly uncommon, almost daily there’s a story of a wife or a girlfriend being brutalized, pictures on the internet showing swollen cheeks, blackened eyes, spit lips. This is nothing new.
Aside from the stories there are the statistics. According to a 2007 report by Amnesty International up to a third of women in Nigeria experience domestic violence in Nigeria and that number is growing. A report by the CLEEN foundation found a 9% rise in incidents of domestic violence from 2011-2013. And these are just the instances that have been reported, it is widely accepted that there’s not enough data on the issue and that many victims suffer in silence due to fear and stigma.
There have been many voices condemning such behavior outright, but disturbingly there are still those that feel the need question. Did she respect him enough? Did she really cheat on him? Did she do something that triggered his anger?
During the week I overheard a radio program where a female host was discussing domestic violence. Yes, it is wrong she said, but think to yourself, did I fuel his anger by something I said? Was it something in my behavior that triggered his response?
As in many cases where women are involved, the questions being asked are the wrong ones. Why aren’t we asking why a number of our sons are beating our daughters? Or why some of our fathers are killing our mothers? Ronke endured abuse for years and her neighbours heard it, why didn’t they report it? Why are we still willing to let abuse go unpunished in the name of culture?
Instead of asking why she didn’t leave, we should be examining if our society has the necessary structure to support a woman leaving an abusive partner.
Ronke’s story is a tragedy, but just tweeting about it won’t stop it from being repeated. We hear variations of her story everyday and it’s time for all of us to take a stand. The burden is on all of us to ensure that women don’t keep dying at the hands of abusive partners. We all have a part to play. Be it pushing hard for serious legislation to tackle the issue, like the Violence Against Persons (Prohibitions) Act or the Gender Equality And Opportunities Bill, reporting incidents of domestic violence or supporting the work of organizations that offer counsel, shelter and refuge to these women, and educating young men and boys.
It’s not enough for the story to trend. We need to stand up, be counted, we owe to Ronke, Titilayo and the countless women that have been failed to prevent and stop our sisters, mothers and daughters from becoming tragic stories with haunting photographs.