All against domestic violence
The media is currently awash with reports of domestic violence all over the country and it is important for all Nigerians to understand the dire times in which they live and make conscious efforts to keep their lives free of violence. Although, evidence from the 2013 Nigeria Demographic Health Survey (NDHS) suggests that both men and women are victims of domestic violence, it is overwhelmingly perpetrated by men against women. This may explain why the UN’s definition of violence against women recognises that violence is “gendered” because in all societies, to a greater degree, women and girls are more subjected to physical, sexual and psychological abuse, cutting across lines of income, class and culture. Furthermore, there is the economic dimension to domestic violence as Article 16 (23) of the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) states that the dictation of their family responsibilities by men can be a form of violence, and so is coercion, which is also against women. This, however, does not ignore or diminish men’s experiences of violence. Hence, all citizens must be on guard against this scourge which can only destroy the family and ultimately the nation.
The prevention of domestic violence, first and foremost, requires challenging cultural and social norms that tolerate or excuse violence especially against women. Unfortunately, any discussion on violence against women that questions rather than reinforces those cultural and social norms about gender is still frowned at. One of the most enduring myths is that women living with abusive and violent partners should be blamed for the violence because they failed to leave the relationship. This position promotes “victim blaming,” which does not look at domestic violence from the “ecological” dimension. The victim blaming argue that women were killed or maimed in the context of intimate partner violence because they did not take the necessary action to protect themselves: by not reporting the violence, not filing charges or not leaving the relationship.
Blaming women who are victims by a partner reflects and sustains deeply embedded cultural skepticism about why women don’t leave, without looking at the longstanding customs that put considerable pressure on women to accept abuse. These include the shame surrounding and hence difficulty of separation and divorce by women, as people believe that there is prestige in a violent marriage rather than the peace in separation or being unmarried. Acceptance of this practice reflects women’s low rating and the perception that men are superior to women. Another factor is women’s low economic status. Article 16 (23) of CEDAW says that lack of economic independence forces many women to stay in violent relationships. Others are women’s lack of access to legal information, aid or protection; a dearth of laws that effectively prohibit violence against women; inadequate efforts on the part of public authorities to promote awareness of and enforce existing laws; and the absence of educational and other means to address the causes and consequences of violence.
Notwithstanding, violence against women is an obstacle to the achievement of the objectives of equality, development and peace. It is in recognition of this that the Lagos State government blazed the trail with the Protection Against Domestic Violence Law of 2007, which protects men, women and children. Another law that seeks to eliminate violence in private and public life, prohibits all forms of violence against persons and seeks to provide maximum protection and effective remedies for victims and punishment of offenders is the Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act (VAPP Act), which was passed into law on the 25th of May 2015. Even with the existence of these laws, the low level of awareness about the laws, the culture of condoning domestic violence as a family affair not deserving to be reported as a crime, and the negative depiction of victims of domestic violence who flee from perpetrators, have combined to limit the enforcement of the law.
To eliminate domestic violence and live in a society protective of human dignity requires political will on the part of the society and recognition of the humanity of everyone by all. As such, parents should teach their children to respect the institution of marriage. While couples should ensure that peace reigns in their families – just as a woman builds her home, the man should lay the foundation at building by not shirking his responsibilities and by showing love and care. Furthermore, both African and religious values are at convergence on having peaceful families. So, traditional and religious leaders have a huge role to play in the restoration of family values, mutual love and respect, harping on the need for families to bind together in good and bad times. Also, relevant ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) of government should develop and implement policies that will ensure zero tolerance for domestic violence. Again, the society will do well to have policies focusing on prevention and dealing with the underlying causes of men not providing for their families. There should also be social protection for victims of domestic violence who flee from the perpetrators.
The media and civil society organisations must help in raising awareness about the criminal nature of domestic violence against a man or a woman, provide information about support services and protective laws, and encourage citizens to break the culture of silence by reporting cases of violations.
Pursuing litigation to punish offenders, to serve as a deterrent is imperative. A nation can only be built from homes where peace reigns.