How Society Continues to Fail Victims of Domestic Violence
When Rukevwe was six months pregnant, her husband beat her till she lay unconscious. She says she wears lots of sleeves. She does not wear clothes that show her hands and legs. She does this to hide the injuries inflicted on her by her husband. She recently fled their matrimonial home after another incident. When she lifts her sleeves and unbuttons her dress, one is faced with the horror of it all.
At first look, one will not be mistaken to think she had been a captive. Some of the injuries have healed, others rather recent. She tells me every one of those injuries was inflicted on her by her husband of over 15 years.
She says; “He once beat me when I was pregnant with our third child. He didn’t care as I screamed and fell to the floor. I passed out. At another time, he beat me with a horsewhip.”
She describes to me events of both physical and emotional abuse. She says so many things can trigger him off, even the littlest of things.
“When he sees me talking to someone he does not like, he will get very upset and he can beat me just for that reason. I rarely visit people even the very few friends I have because he doesn’t like it.”
Sisi says her 10 year marriage has been rife with physical abuse. Presently, she does not live with her husband. He currently lives in another country for work. A kind of reprieve for her. She says ; “ I sustained a lot of injuries when he used to be around. He beat me with everything he could lay hands on. He once beat me with a belt till I started to bleed. I ran out at 11pm to go seek refuge at his Uncle’s house.”
The cultural and religious setup of Nigeria, makes it difficult for victims of domestic violence to adequately speak up. In a patriarchal society like Nigeria, it is often difficult for women to speak up and seek for help. Rukevwe tells me the first time she considered leaving her husband, her family were very unsupportive and did not approve.
She says; “They seemed very angry that he beat me, but they still did not want me to leave him. My uncles said none of my cousins were divorced and I cannot be the first. It was like leaving was shameful for them. They told me I should think about my Children.” She says this led to a reconciliation and she went back to him. He had promised to change but it was all just words as he continued to physical and emotionally abuse her.
“When the family decides, you obey.”
There is still so much judgment for women who continue to endure abuse and decide to leave their abusers. We fail to recognize what these women are up against. A lot of women do not have the support they need. The cultural and religious settings makes it even more difficult to pursue a different course.
For women like Karima, they are let down by the religious organizations they belong to. She had found succor in religion. Fasting and praying for her a change in her matrimonial home and the abuse she was experiencing. When she couldn’t lie anymore about her bruises, she turned to her Pastors for help but was left disappointed. They couldn’t give her the help she needed.
She says ; AAll they kept repeating to me was that I should submit. They kept repeating the word severally. I was already doing that. I was already doing so much to please him and I didn’t know what else to do.”
Edoamaowo Udeme, is the Founder, Network Against Domestic Violence Foundation in Nigeria. The foundation seeks to put an end to all forms of domestic violence through advocacy and interventions and supports domestic violence victims. She says that victims being pressured to stay back with their abusers is a regular occurrence in the cases she handles. She says the society uses shame as a tool into coercing these women to stay and go back to their abusers.
"There is so much blame for these women. Families, neighbours, the church will tell these women they should have endured. They should endure still. They use their children too to shame them. They tell these women they are wicked for leaving or taking their children. They even call them prostitutes," Udeme says these women become very conscious of how they are perceived.
There are laws meant to protect victims of domestic violence. In the Nigeria constitution, the rights of women as individual citizens of Nigeria is enshrined in the constitution. Section 34 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) provides that every individual is entitled to respect for the dignity of his/her person and accordingly no person shall be subjected to torture and inhuman or degrading treatment.
The violence against person’s prohibition Act 2015, was enacted to prohibit all forms of violence in private and public life and give protection to victims and to also mete out punishment for offenders. Udeme says that the problem are not the laws. She says the laws are in place and several states across the country have adopted them but the implementation of these laws remains the problem. She says in very few cases does implementation come into effect.
For Rukevwe, she says she is currently in the process of reconciling with her husband. It may seem surprising after seeing all she has been through. She says ; he has been pleading with me to come back. I have refused to speak to him so he went to plead with my family. My neigbours and our community leader have been pleading too. People see me and just start pleading on his behalf. My family are telling me to consider their pleas and think about my children.”
I ask her if she wants to go back. She tells me she does not want to but she feels very isolated and the decision has been taken from her hands. There will be a reconciliation meeting between them presided by both families to deliberate on the matter in the coming weeks. It seems she is being thrown to the wolf again by her family, a part of the society meant to protect her.
Now more than ever, the society must begin to readdress the way it treats women who are victims. The growing number of at risk women increases daily. We must begin to act to protect and offer support to these women for their safety. Government and its agencies on its part must do more. The laws are commendable but we must begin to move towards a more enforced implementation of these laws.
Often times, when the husband of the victims are arrested, they are pressured to drop the cases as it is seen as a family matter. It is imperative that these issues are treated as a violation of human rights. The fundamental human rights of women.
These women must begin to see and feel that they are supported towards their choices and that the system in place will ensure this. Till we begin to move towards this path, women like Rukevwe will continue to go back to their abusers not because they want to, but because they lack the support they so desperately need.