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Happy Bashorun: Is Domestic Violence on the Rise?

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Short answer: no. There is no evidence that domestic violence has increased in Nigeria. But readers of Nigerian blogs might be forgiven for thinking otherwise.

It seems that every day brings another woman reporting physical, emotional or financial abuse at the hands of a husband. Let’s review some names: Mercy Aigbe, the ex-wife of Nollywood actor Femi Branch, the wife of that Patoranking guy, Tonto Dikeh, Muma Gee, and our most famous example, Tiwa Savage. Then there are the normal, everyday people we’ve read about: the Zenith Bank staffer that broke his wife’s leg; the South African girl (Karabo Mokoena) killed and burnt by her boyfriend.

Yet I don’t think domestic violence is rising. More likely, talking about domestic violence has increased because of the reach of social media and its catalytic effect. Each celebrity report of domestic violence tends to generate dozens of reactions from other famous Nigerians on social media. More and more, “celebrities” (I use the term loosely) are taking the time to weigh in on Instagram and Twitter about the latest marital breakdown. Then Nigerian websites share their posts, creating more discussion and ensuring that some even more random person will add their perspective to the mix. For example, Empress Njamah recently called out what she sees as a double standard applied to women who are violent towards men. She also advised that if you see your man is a wife beater, perhaps you should try to help him control his anger. Someone named Lizzy Anjorin claims that domestic violence is the result of adding a “broke husband/boyfriend” to “demanding wife/girlfriend.” Even Olori Wuraola of Ife paused her busy schedule to ask women on social media to help their sisters say no to domestic violence.

I find the increased discussion in the media so fascinating. At the risk of dating myself, I remember when BellaNaija first started. It used to be that women’s rights issues were debated on the [now defunct] feminist and pro-feminist blogs. Mainstream websites like BellaNaija and Linda Ikeji focused on fashion or celebrity gossip. It is gratifying to see Nigerian women’s media admit that the full female experience is of interest to readers. Unfortunately, the full female experience sometimes (some would say often) includes dysfunctional and violent relationships.

It has gotten to the point where there is a backlash against the backlash against domestic violence. People are posting on Facebook about someone’s friend’s neighbor’s cousin who lied about domestic violence to punish her husband. The worst ones are the posts where a woman says her spouse abused her, then the man replies and says no she is the one that abused me. This is leading some commenters (often men, but some women are involved) to start complaining that women are “crying domestic violence” just to get attention. I hate to break it to those people, but domestic violence is not rare. The 2013 Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey (NDHS) reported that three in ten Nigerian women have experienced physical violence since age 15, and one in four married women have experienced physical, sexual or emotional abuse in Nigeria.

Can we address this thing people keep saying, i.e. “what about violence towards men?” I have no doubt it exists – women are not saints – but the data is just not there on how prevalent it is in Nigeria. A shame, as facts are always worth having. However, it is factual that historically the majority of Nigerian women themselves justified male violence towards women. For instance, a 2003 NDHS survey found that almost 66% of ever-married women and 50% of non-married women agreed that there were times wife beating was justified. I doubt you would find similar levels of support for the bashing and tongue-lashing of husbands. That said I strongly encourage men’s rights activists to organize and do the policy work, ally building and consciousness-raising needed to fight violence against Nigerian men in relationships. The feminists did it; so can you.

Reading about intimate partner violence on social media is quite depressing. But there are some positives we need to remember. First, sunlight is a helluva disinfectant – the more people talk about the violence, the less accepted it becomes. Secondly, while there are marriages that are violent, many are not. My parents, for instance, were not violent towards each other. And finally, while there are plenty of women (and a few men) who experience terrible violence from intimate partners, there are some who have never had that experience, and many who escaped before it reached hospitalization status.  I’ve heard of women filing for divorce within the first year of marriage after just one beating. I’ve heard of women who dumped partners for “simple” verbal abuse, refusing to settle for insulting behavior because they wanted that wedding ring. It is a good thing that people (both men and women) are talking about abusive relationships as it gives others the knowledge and power they need to say no to violence. It also puts abusers on notice – it’s no longer okay to treat your partners as punching bags and dumping grounds for your rage.

Photo Credit: Sidelnikov | Dreamstime.com

14 Comments

  1. Deleke

    June 5, 2017 at 10:49 am

    I think it had always been there, the only difference is that social media platforms and awareness has made people voice out. The good thing is that there are NGOs and even the Police now help victims of abuse. Kudos to them

  2. Dr chichi

    June 5, 2017 at 11:36 am

    I just think that more women are speaking out that’s all. I believe there were a lot of factors involved too. Previously it was a thing of shame for a woman to return to her father’s house. And of course a lot of women were not financially independent. So a woman was forced to stay because she had to where else to go. A lot of our mother’s and grandmother’s stayed in marriages they were not happy in. They stayed because it was THEIR DUTY, because that was marriage. In our generation marriages are no longer “arranged” so I think we should all strive to marry for the right reasons and always be true to ourselves.

    • Happy Bashorun

      June 6, 2017 at 2:54 pm

      I agree. Financial independence and the increased public participation of women may have made it more likely that women will not just accept violence quietly. Its my hope that more people (both women and men) talk about DV, especially on social media.

  3. Bad gang

    June 5, 2017 at 12:32 pm

    Good article but not entirely accurate
    1. Your article was only based on domestic violence between married couples
    2. Women perpetrate domestic violence as much as men do (that stat you put up there may not be entirely correct) you need to get acquainted with nigerian house Maids and hear their stories
    3. Even among married couples, I have read many times in the dailies and on blogs how wives bathed their husbands with acid or hot oil and even what some women do to their own kids…I remember some twenty years ago on newsline NTA how a woman burnt her kids’ hand on a burning stove or is it how cruel female nannies treat babies…Bashorun male and female cases are the same in terms of number of perpetrators
    4. The examples of celebrity cases you outlined are not distinctive evidences of domestic violence; how can you tell the women didn’t set out to get physical and the husbands played on their natural human instincts to defend themselves

    Marital domestic violence is hard to prove.
    Most cases I’ve experienced first hand the women lost their cool (out of bitterness of husband’s infidelity) and went physical and expected their husbands to be chivalrous, they guessed wrong… the men retaliated, they got badly battered and started crying violence

    • Baymax

      June 5, 2017 at 2:06 pm

      When your sister/close friend becomes a victim of domestic violence, i hope you’ll realize how ridiculous your write up is.

      Most men justify domestic violence against their wives, even those who are not abusers. e.g. Yul Edochie. Was so disappointed by his instagram video

    • Bad gang

      June 5, 2017 at 2:41 pm

      By God’s grace my sister or close friends will not be victims of domestic violence

      Only somebody who lacks judgement and mixes fact with sentiments and sensationalism will find my comment ridiculous…And you think women don’t justify why they treat their maids like slaves and permanently disfigure their husbands because of infidelity… I hope your brother/close friends are never victims

    • rolls eyes

      June 5, 2017 at 3:25 pm

      what a crazy guy. This thing happens everyday, at all socioeconomic levels, from undergdauates at university, gatemen, well-educated MDs, but your problem is making it about gender. What is it with you guys and your ‘men suffer it too’. This same blog castigates women for doing mean things to their nannies. Get over it abeg

    • Baymax

      June 5, 2017 at 3:49 pm

      I was referring to your statements below:

      “Most cases I’ve experienced first hand the women lost their cool (out of bitterness of husband’s infidelity) and went physical and expected their husbands to be chivalrous, they guessed wrong… the men retaliated, they got badly battered and started crying violence”

    • Baymax

      June 5, 2017 at 3:50 pm

      PS I don’t support domestic violence of any kind. Domestic violence is domestic violence, irrespective of the victim.

    • Baymax

      June 5, 2017 at 3:52 pm

      My apologies if my comment were offensive. I pray none close to you become victims.

    • Happy Bashorun

      June 6, 2017 at 2:40 pm

      There are some good points here mixed up with misinformation.

      1. My article is based on domestic violence between intimate partners. Married or unmarried, its still domestic violence.

      2. The stats I provided are from the Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey, carried out by the National Population Commission of the Nigerian government. If you have issues with my stats, feel free to take it up with the NDHS and ask them how they collect their data. I’m actually aware that women perpetrate violence against children and housemaids. However, the definition of domestic violence used by most institutions, both local and international, focuses on the relationship between partners. I absolutely agree there should be more attention paid to violence against children and house staff. But that should not be at the expense of ending violence against women in relationships which is a real problem, whether you like it or not.

      3. As I requested in my article, please cite concrete data showing that male and female domestic violence cases are at the same levels. In the absence of independently verified data (not just your personal observations), your point is moot.

      4. I’m not sure why you conclude that violence against celebrity women in relationships is not distinctive. Your last statement is interesting as it shows the double standard applied to victims of DV (and rape) compared to other crimes. How can you be sure that your uncle’s car was really stolen and he didn’t just engineer the theft so he can collect insurance? How can you be sure a journalist was kidnapped and he didn’t just abandon his family to move to Ghana? In my experience, people only become suspicious of the victim when its a woman reporting violence. Its interesting how we are trained to not believe women.

      5. Marital physical violence is actually not that hard to prove. But because Nigerian society condones it, it is difficult to get the authorities (and the public) to take it seriously.

    • Happy Bashorun

      June 6, 2017 at 2:40 pm

      My comment is at Bad gang.

  4. Baymax

    June 5, 2017 at 3:53 pm

    ****I pray none of your sisters/close friends become victims.

  5. pretty

    June 28, 2017 at 3:06 pm

    i think companies will help curb domestic violence if they open a channel for both husband and wife to report the other when issues like this arise. Domestic violence against women is more prevalent than men in some cases some women fight back in self defense. i think the government needs to shed more light and give more channels for which any violent person could be brought to book.

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