DOMESTIC VIOLENCE: CHANGING THE NARRATIVE
By Moji Ogunlola (mojiogunlola.com)
The hand that beats me caresses me
I can’t move away
Can’t say what’s in my heart,
No one must know my shame
I lay there beaten inside, dead inside, hating inside, dying inside
Holding on to you- not in love but in fear
While dreading the morning because I’ll get another fist in my face
And you’ll whisper between the kisses, I beat you because I love you.
- Excerpt from “A Beating for Love” Taylor Darko
It is an amusing truth that some of the most reckless life decisions are made by those we would normally consider thoughtful and rational. One of such decisions is choosing to remain illogically optimistic in the face of life threatening abuse. Perhaps this is a function of our ‘Africanness’ or our cultural values, which often measured womanhood by the ability to endure certain forms of hardship.
Domestic violence has long-term effects which can negatively impact a person's mental and physical health as well as productivity, earning potential and overall security. The mental well-being of the offspring of such a union is also at risk of long-term damage. Though there are reported cases of domestic violence against men, women are often the victims of these injurious acts.
Sometime at midyear, I came across a video of a young woman whose name I discovered to be Olamide. She had allegedly stabbed her husband to death and was pleading for mercy from the Police. I watched as she trembled and cried, explaining that her husband was fond of beating her and she was only trying to scare him with a knife when she accidentally stabbed him. She also said, “My family had told me to divorce him, but I didn’t want to because he is the husband of my youth and we already have two children together. You can ask around; everyone knows he beats me always.” Confirming the incident, the Lagos State spokesperson, SP Chike Oti, said the case was transferred to CID, Panti, and that investigations were ongoing.
I must have watched this video at least ten times before I realized that I kept hitting ‘replay’. Though she didn’t want to go through a divorce, she had suddenly become a single mother and had been taken away from her two children – to be charged for homicide. Inevitably, she had lost the ‘husband of her youth’ to a death facilitated by her own hands and caused her children the grief of losing their father and watching their mother go to prison.
Truthfully, regardless of how legitimate her claims were, the fact remained that she had killed her husband, and was likely to spend a considerable amount of time in prison, especially if she couldn’t raise the funds required to engage a good lawyer. The physical and psychological effects of choosing to remain in a relationship with an abuser can be fatal.
Apart from the unfortunate situation that this woman was in, some of my other major concerns were the manner of responses this news generated from people. I vividly remember a startling comment that read “Let her rot in jail!” There were those milder ones pointing in the same direction – that she ought not to have raised her hand to hurt her husband. Then there were those who legitimately felt empathy for the accused and soon enough, the comment section became a war zone.
Domestic Violence is more of an attitude than an overt act. Therefore, correcting our mindsets as a people will set us on course towards experiencing the change that we seek. As at 2016, a certain report showed that 51% of African women believe that being beaten by their husbands is justified if they either go out without permission, neglect the children, argue back, refuse to have sex, or burn the food.
In a report by the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) in 2000, the agency noted that in interviews in Africa and Asia, “the right of a husband to beat or physically intimidate his wife” came out as “a deeply held conviction.” Even societies where women appear to enjoy better status “condone or at least tolerate a certain amount of violence against women.”
A study by the WHO and the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), stated that, many women see no option but to remain with husbands who routinely batter them. The women stay because men “serve as vital opportunities for financial and social security, or for satisfying material aspirations.”
The real challenge to our society is unlearning the social attitudes and belief patterns that have framed our thinking to believe that women are somewhat inferior to men. Women need to understand that there is no shame in walking away from an abusive relationship and they need to refuse to live under the undeserved stigma that comes with such separation.
It is important for the victims to be aware that sometimes, the wise move in fighting for your marriage or relationship is actually to stay away from an abusive partner. This doesn’t necessarily have to end up in a divorce but at least will guarantee the overall health and safety of both parties, while they sort out the pending issues.
We need to teach our people why it is important to protect women and how it benefits the entire community when this is done. It is imperative to educate both men and women on domestic violence as it addresses the false idea that such violence is an issue just for women. Indeed it is a problem affecting our entire society and we ought to take collective responsibility.
If you ever witness a case of Domestic or Sexual Violence in Lagos State, kindly call 112 or 08137960048 and the State response team will take immediate action.
“There is one universal truth, applicable to all countries, cultures and communities: violence against women is never acceptable, never excusable, never tolerable.”
United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon (2008)