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Breaking The Chains of Silence!

The best men, it is often thought, are found in religious circles. So when Mary met Bill in Church her joy knew no bounds. It was a relationship characterized with gift and roses, full of love and bliss, joy unending, with dreams of a happy life together. Each day, consistently, without fail, for three years, Bill woke her up with her favorite Christian song on phone, had a Bible verse for every situation and tripped her with the depth of his spirituality but even that was not a formidable insurance against Domestic Violence and Abuse.

They got married. She got pregnant. And the fairytale came to an end. From the first slap, the violence only increased in intensity, severity and frequency. Mary endured it for a while, for years, before deciding enough was enough! She walked away with lifetime scars and aches but is alive today to tell her story.

Titilayo Arowolo was not so lucky to leave a violent marriage alive. Despite shouldering most of the house’s responsibility, feeding and harboring a jobless husband and a baby, the violence and abuse against her did not stop until it took her life in the most horrific fashion.

In a pure case of over killing, the chief pathologist who conducted an autopsy on the deceased Titilayo testified under oath that she was stabbed 76 times with severe cuts in places and at angles which does not support her husband’s claim of self infliction. In the words of the pathologist, “the chest wall was lost due to multiple stab wounds, there was damage to the diaphragm, left side of the liver, breast area and repeated stab wounds to the lungs and intestines”.

Such is the horror most women face daily, such is the end of many more unrecorded and unsung heroines.

Domestic violence and abuse take different forms ranging verbal, emotional, physical abuses etc. The most common is physical abuse. Research has shown that for most abusers, it all about the feeling of power and control as well as using their partner to overcome their low self esteem and inferiority complex.

Why would a woman suffer in silence refusing to speak up and get help?
All across Nigeria and in several other countries, there is a culture of silence due to various factors which pervades Domestic Violence and Abuse. These factors ranges from failure of the family and society to protect, lack of financial independence of the victim, consideration for the children, community stigmatization for the mother as well as the children, fear of future inability to find a husband and several other reasons.

Some also hope that the abuser will consider their ways and repent but will soon learn with time that Domestic Violence and Abuse more often than not comes in a revolving never ending cycle till death.

Some provisions under Nigerian Law aids the proposition that an abused woman in Nigeria is a lone ranger fighting for survival on her own with virtually no support from any quarters. The laws in Nigeria are divided into the penal code and the criminal code. The criminal code governs the western as well as southern part of the country while the penal code governs exclusively northern Nigeria.

Section 55 of the Penal Code provides that:

“Nothing is an offence which does not amount to the infliction of grievous hurt upon any person and which is done by a husband for the purpose of correcting his wife, such husband or wife being subject to any native law and custom in which such correction is legal and lawful.”

What this means is that a man is permitted under the law to beat his wife the only restriction being not to inflict any “grievous” hurt on her. Needless to say the law will NOT be there to measure the severity of the beating and to ensure no grievous hurt is inflicted.

Also, under the Igbo Customary law, a woman is permitted to be beaten for ‘failing to perform her duties’, ‘laziness’, ‘wastefulness or destructiveness’. It is ironical that while the law protects a stranger from offences such as assault and battery, it permits the beating of a wife!

In cases where the woman summons up courage to report the severe violence to law enforcement, it is not uncommon to hear things like ‘This is a purely domestic affair and we urge you to go home and resolve your differences’ or even for the Divisional Police head to claim he has resolved the dispute by asking the couple to hug each other!

For the family of a victim, it is often typical to hear them try to justify the violence by first looking inwards to determine if the victim was being stubborn or non-submissive forgetting the fact that no offence can justify domestic violence and abuse. Hearing phrases like ‘in the history of our family, no woman has divorced so you must stay there’ or similar words equating not enduring the violence to disgrace is not uncommon.

In religious circles, emphasizing on submission as well as the role of the man as head of the home to be respected and obeyed is not also strange while the society continually looks down on an unmarried woman thereby increasing the pressure on a woman to get married as well as remain in her husband’s house despite the violence.

It is very easy for us to say speak up and get help but the questions are, does help really exist? Will any woman truly speak up? Yes, help really exists. I am aware of Glowing Future, an organization in Nigeria which runs a professional support and empowerment group for victims of Domestic Violence and Abuse victims.

We all as individual have a role to play in all these. There must be a change in our laws to offer victims more protection. The Injuries will always tell the tales. The bruises can’t be covered up for too long. We need to aid victims to speak up and get justice as well as direct them to where they can get help or support.

Remember friends that there is no peace in abuse and violence is evil. We are beautiful creatures not to be maimed, disfigured and made emotionally imbalance due to abuse. DVA is no respecter of class, certificate or age. It also happens to the best of us. She may not speak up even to save her own life but you sure can be her mouthpiece!

Today, resolve to break the chain of Silence. Speak up and get help!

This story was written for World Pulse’s Ending Violence Against Women Digital Action Campaign.

World Pulse believes that women's stories, recommendations, and collective rising leadership can—and will—bring an end to gender-based violence. The EVAW Campaign elicits powerful content from women on the ground, strengthens their confidence as vocal grassroots leaders, and ensures that influencers and powerful institutions hear their stories.
Learn more »



Greengirl's picture

Thank you for sharing

This statement is very much typical (may be too, expected) from those credited to have made them: ‘This is a purely domestic affair and we urge you to go home and resolve your differences or even for the Divisional Police head to claim he has resolved the dispute by asking the couple to hug each other!'. It was aptly put in your post as it reveals a lot about how much insensitive Nigeria's supposed law enforcement agents are towards women who are victims of domestic violence.

I pray that the very sad and tragic stories of the women you shared will spread like wild fire and contribute towards ending VAW!

You are heard with much love.


Adepeju's picture

Thank you for your comment

Thank you for your comment Nike, really appreciate. There is a consistent faliure of the law and its officers to protect women and we can only hope that a change comes very soon. Violence Against Women MUST come to an end.

William's picture

domestic violence

Thank you for posting your well thought out and detailed report about domestic violence in Nigeria. It is a horrible and I'm afraid it will take a while to change from your paternal system, which favors men. I'm praying for all women and girls in Nigeria and sincerely hope conditions can be improved. Blessings.

Natalya Rutchyk's picture

your post remained me speechless

it is hard to believe that any law can allow a husband to beat a wife! this is complete deprivation of a woman of defense and protection! This law amounts to treating women as an underclass of Nigerian citizens! i would suggest Nigerian NGOs to contact Human Rights Watch or some other international organization working to protect human rights! may be they would be able to influence legislative process!!!

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