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Domestic Violence Against Women: Any End In Sight?

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She came close to tears as she told her story in her shop in one of the shopping centres in Abuja, and had to pause intermittently, to get a hold on her emotions.

The Abuja-based businesswoman who only gave her name as Angela .E., for fear of being recognised, lost two pregnancies before she realised it was time she left her spouse who had turned her into a punching bag.

Telling her sobering story, she said the first two years of her marriage were everything she ever wanted until her ex-husband became a “monster.”

“I had my first baby and soon after she turned one, my husband’s attitude towards me began to change. He would keep to himself and snap at me if I tried to start up a conversation, get angry at the slightest provocation and before I knew it, he began to hit me. He would hit me and later apologise and I hoped and prayed that he would go back to being the man I married. How wrong was I.

“I later got pregnant and one night, after he came home drunk, we got into a fight and he hit me on my stomach, causing me to lose the baby. I had had enough and was going to leave but he became sober and brought in his family and friends to beg me not to leave. I stayed back. After some months, I took in again but lost it again after he battered me over a flimsy issue. All this was going on in the presence of my little girl. At this point, I resolved I was leaving and nothing was going to make me change my mind,” she narrated.

Angela who condemned domestic violence against women said it was high time the government put in place legislation to punish those involved in it, to serve a deterrent to others, even as she advised women facing the challenge to cry out before they lose their lives.

“It is not enough to sit back, praying and hoping things will change. Speak up or at least, act. If I didn’t make up my mind to leave the marriage, who knows maybe I would have been dead by now, leaving my child all alone, with a violent father,” she added.

The story of Angela is not an isolated one, cases of domestic violence against women abound. The media is awash daily, with stories of women, seeking dissolution of their marriages over acts of violence against them and there seems to be no end in sight to it despite campaigns, advocacy and legislation against it.

In July, the story was reported of a 34-year-old housewife, Mrs Fatima Bankole, who had her face stitched 26 times, after she got battered by her husband, Alhaji Kamoru Bankole, for taking a piece of fish from the pot to break her fast.

Her plight came to the fore following petitions by Lagos based civil rights group, Women Arise, after which her husband was arrested by the police. He is facing trial.

According to reports, Fatima who is the first of her husband’s three wives, was after the incident, locked up in a room in their residence at Hasan Close, Alasia,Ijanikin in Lagos State, for three days before she escaped.

The third wife of her spouse had reported to their husband that the senior wife took fish from the soup to break her fast and the husband, according to witnesses, did not bother to hear from her, before he descended on her with vicious punches.

The attack was not the first, but the most brutal, according to Fatima, who also recalled that she was once battered and her hair was pulled from her scalp, resulting in severe injury. She narrated that they had made a roster between two wives, due to the absence of the third wife who was away at the period, to cook for 15 days each, and they would normally serve the husband first, followed by the children before the wives would serve themselves. She said she had completed her period and it was turn of the last wife, who had finished her cooking and served their husband and the children, following which she then went for her own meal.

She said after it was reported to their husband that she had taken a large piece of fish, she tried to explain that she only took a small piece but her explanation fell on deaf ears as he beat her mercilessly. She said it was neighbours who took her to the hospital for treatment.

Domestic violence has become a monster in the society. It takes many forms including physical, sexual, emotional, and mental. Common forms of violence against women in Nigeria are rape, molestation, battering, and corporal punishment, among others. The list is endless.

The situation in Nigeria is further compounded because in some cultures, a man who has paid dowry on a woman keeps her as a possession and does with her as he wills, including hitting her as a form of punishment.

Despite campaigns against it, there appears to be no end in sight. The CLEEN Foundation National Crime Victimisation Survey, 2013, reports that 1 in every 3 respondents admitted to being a victim of domestic violence. The survey also found a nationwide increase in domestic violence in the past three years from 21 per cent in 2011 to 30 per cent in 2013. Domestic violence is a violation of fundamental human rights, which the Nigerian Constitution is against but there are still provisions in some laws of the country, that make it legal to engage in domestic violence against women.

Nigeria is a signatory to conventions, against domestic violence, one of them, is the convention for the Elimination of Discrimination against Women in 1985. Sadly, the effect of this is yet to be felt. This is because the international treaties have not been made laws by the parliament.

The questions many people, including victims of domestic violence have been asking is what the women affairs ministry, women rights civil society groups, women in parliament and other women groups have been doing to see to it that pending laws before the parliament, which would address the situation are passed.

Speaking on the level of advocacy women have done on the Violence against Persons (Prohibition) Bill, the minister of women affairs and social Development, Hajiya Zainab Maina, speaking through the director, women affairs, Iran Ajugo stated explained that because of the immerse concern the minister of women affairs has for women, children, older people and vulnerable in the country, she regularly goes on advocacy visits to states in the federation and during these visits, talks to the state Houses of Assembly, sees the executive as well as the chief justice of the state and also consults with women groups, royal fathers and community leaders because they are the gate keepers.

“The people listen to them and these royal fathers can tell their people the truth. She started embarking on these visits to enlighten and solicit their cooperation and to educate all these segments of people I named on the issues.”

On the barriers that have stood in the way of the passage of the bill, Ajugo stated that “we have the issues about patriarchy; Nigeria is a country that holds men in high esteem than women. When you have issues of rape, how many people have been prosecuted? There is a law in Nigeria against bigamy for persons who married in court, but have you ever heard of any man being prosecuted for that? There is also the issue of traditional belief, where some believe that it is something that has been done for years. There is also stigmatisation where in some communities today, women are still being circumcised and this is actually genital mutilation, female circumcision is just a euphemism for mutilation and it is still going on as we speak. The minister is saying that, the punishment is too low. When they had a public hearing on the sexual offences bill in the National Assembly, the minister said it is the women and children that suffer, that the recommendation for sanction should be stringent to serve as a deterrent to others. Some of these barriers are religious ordinances, which are also there and of course the political will. Some states have still not passed the Child Right Act except for about 23 states. So, there is also a need for serious political will on the part of leaders. We are also having capacity building for security agencies and you also know that the federal executive council has approved a gender desk in all ministries, departments and agencies and by so doing, all the officers will understand what they are doing and some of those set traditional harmful practices that endanger women which some believe it is a way are not true. So, these capacity building workshops will teach the NGOs, security personnel and people at the grassroots all they need to know.”

She also stated that, the minister has been to see the chief justice of the nation who for the first time is a woman and the chief justice assured that she is also doing all she can to ensure that all the cases that are brought forward are speedily completed and perpetrators are convicted because sometimes these people are prosecuted but are not convicted “because some parents don’t want people to know that their child was raped because of the stigma.”

Ajugo further stated that the minister has been meeting with heads of agencies and other stakeholders as part of a holistic approach to ensure that everybody is taken on board.

On whether the bill would be passed before the end of this legislative session, the director who is optimistic stated that, with the efforts the minister has made in the form of advocacy and pressure from stakeholders, the Bill which has scale the third reading in the House of Representatives is likely to be passed by both chambers and sent to the president who is passionate on issues that affect women and the vulnerable in the society.

The Violence against Persons (Prohibition) Bill, an amalgam of nine different bills which is subject to approval by the Senate has key laws that include a more comprehensive definition of rape, harsher sentences for rape and other sexual offences, compensation for rape victims, institutional protection from further abuse through restraining orders and a new fund to support the rehabilitation of victims of violence, including female circumcision, domestic violence, early forced marriage, rape (including marital) and harmful widowhood practices. The Bill aims to recognise the rights of all to safety both in the workplace and the home and also seeks to abolish all obsolete laws relating to germane issues affecting women like rape, assault and other harmful treatments meted out to women and bringing them into consonance with present realities. It re-defines rape to include penetration of any orifice of a woman such as vagina, anus, and mouth which is an improvement on the penal/criminal codes definition.

The VAPP Bill also makes provisions for compensation to victims and the protection of their rights. It also makes provisions for indecent assault and sexual violence against any person and prohibition of female genital mutilation.

While it prohibits stalking and intimidation, substance attack such as acids and the rest, Section 11 of the bill prohibits forceful eviction of any person from their home except when it is done pursuant to a court order while Section 17 provides for the prohibition of emotional, verbal and psychological abuses. Section 22 of the Bill prohibits spousal/partner battery and political violence by state actors while Section 18 provides for the Prohibition of harmful widowhood practices even as Section 19 prohibits the abandonment of spouse, children and dependents without sustenance.

The bill further went on to make provision for the rights of victims of sexual violence in accordance with the provision of the Maputo Protocol that says that, “every woman has the right to enjoy reproductive rights including the right to medical abortion in cases of sexual assault, rape, incest and where the continued pregnancy endangers the life or the physical, mental, psychological or emotional health of the mother and it makes provisions for a regulatory/or a commission body that would ensure the implementation of the Bill and Section 52 makes provision for the establishment of a special trust fund for the victims of violence against persons.

 

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