Africanising violence against women?
MONTHS back, I engaged my male colleagues in the academia, precisely in my department, in a very robust and interesting discourse on gender issues.
Women and politics, culture, women and the economy, human rights and women’s rights, violence against women and the institutions for redress.
The issue of violence against women received much attention. Diverse areas of violence were discussed ranging from rape, wife battery, psychological and emotional trauma due to other domestic violence to adultery and bigamy. Different theories on feminism were used as basis of analysis.
A colleague thereafter raised a fundamental issue. His view was that most of these theories would never help in Africa based on our culture; even if reality justifies it. Agreed.
The African culture still restricts, albeit unwritten, the rights of women in marriages due to social stigma and the crave for acceptance by in -laws, one’s family, and society as a whole. There are domestic issues that women dare not raise even when they constitute violence against them.
Sexual relationships between husband and wife even when it is to the detriment of the wife cannot be raised by her or else the society views her as a nymphomaniac and her husband subjects her to constant surveillance for adultery.
Men commit adultery; the wives are jealous. Men bring other women to the matrimonial homes, the legal wives must endure so that they will not be tagged enemies of progress. A wife raises the issues of attention, denial and care by husband, she is accused of trying to turn the man to “she-man” in the house. This is Africa.
Then the story of a popular World golfer and his ex-wife came to mind. The adulterous revelations, the trials, his public apology and the final court judgments in favour of the woman. I carried out an opinion poll on what Nigeria men and women would do in such a scenario. Men that were interviewed completely ruled out the idea of apologizing. For what? was their chorused responses. On sharing formula; all men believed no law court could dole out their fortunes to any ex-wife as it was in that case. This is Nigeria, This is Africa. Women on their parts, submit that endurance, perseverance and prayer remain the solution, as moving out of matrimonial homes on that basis portends condemnation by families and in-laws, and problems for their children. Seeking redress at the appropriate institutions would either end in amicable resolution or child support fee that can not even support.
The general submission of women gave an insight on why most women always prefer endurance to seeking redress at the appropriate institutions. African culture diminishes the rights of women. The fear of ostracization, unsupportive laws and economic considerations keep women under the bondage of domestic violence.
This brought to mind the pathetic cases of women in violent marriages.
The case of a 43year old woman brought tears to my eyes on 13th of May, 2015. Her case of domestic torture first came up in year 2013. She was physically and mentally tortured. Abusive words from her adulterous husband remained an everyday routine. At a critical point in her life, the Federation of Women Lawyers, Ondo State Chapter had to intervene, when I notified them. They worked tirelessly to free her from the shackles of domestic violence. Free legal services against her tormentor husband were mentioned to her.
She would not pay a dime. On her knees, with her battered face, she pleaded in favour of her husband. Otherwise, her people, her in-laws, village people and even friends would rise against her as it was not part of our African culture for her to see her husband off to jail. He had paid her dowry. She stayed, endured and laid her life down in favour of our culture that gives women little options against violence.
For her, and countless others that had crossed the bridge to the other side with bruises and scars of domestic violence, I wish them the peace they never had here at the feet of the Creator. I hope the remaining Nigerian nay African women can break loose from the shackles of fear of cultural inhibitions, and rise against domestic violence in all forms. This is not about women against men. It is simply liberation of women from untimely death as a result of violence and cultural bondage. Nigerian women must begin to speak out now. The time for the government to take action is now!
•Dr. Osunyikanmi is of Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba, Ondo State.