Accessibility links

Nigerian Feminists Press for An End to Domestic Abuse

Some women’s rights groups in Nigeria are stepping up their campaign against domestic violence, which includes the physical and psychological abuse of women in the home. The NGO's say the government must use its political will to end the abuse of women ,which they say endangers the family. Jacqueline Ogoh reports from Lagos, Nigeria.

Recently, at a video club in Lagos, a conversation between two customers Ben and Dan, turned to women.

One turned to the other and said, "How can a woman [tear] my shirt, I will slap her, and give her what I call my 'double silencer.'

"You really have to beat some women’ for their brains to function properly. Believe me," replied the other.

Ben and Dan’s conversation is not unusual. Women’s rights activists say it could have taken place anywhere in Nigeria, at any time or place.

Research shows that many African males use violence as a way of controlling their homes. Some men say it’s a good way to tame an aggressive woman.

But non-governmental organizations on women’s rights in Nigeria don’t see it that way. They say domestic violence is assuming disturbing dimensions, which the government must resolve with legislation.

Josephine Effah-Chukwuma is the Executive Director of Project Alert on Violence Against Women. She says economic and financial matters have overshadowed domestic violence for too long.

"There’s lack of political will on the part of government," she said, "to deal with domestic violence, because it is an issue that is being trivialized… left in the back burner…They say ‘How can we talk about domestic violence when we have resource control, and the Niger Delta to talk about ?.’ …forgetting that whatever affects the family affects society at large."

Another development which seems to be growing are attacks by men against women using acid. The NGOs say the women are beginning to retaliate in a similar way.

According to Effah-Chukwuma, "Between 1990 and 2002, it was mostly women, 98 percent of women who were being [attacked in this way] by their boyfriends and husbands. Because nothing was done, what we’ve been seeing in the last three, four years is that now, women are pouring acid on men. The point here is, if something had been done earlier when the problem started [we would not likely have the problem now] . Why must we always wait until things assume frightening dimensions [before we act]."

The NGOs say research shows that one out of every five Nigerian women suffer physical, sexual or psychological violence from men with whom they have emotional or blood ties. Some remain in abusive relationships for many years or fail to press charges, sometimes due to their ignorance about their rights, or out of respect for tradition, which does not support the reporting of domestic issues to the police.

The NGOs say women who do press charges often complain the police trivialize their cases.

The public relations officer of the Nigerian police force, Mister Bode Ojajuni, serves as an example.

"You cannot totally rule out the African factor," he said, "because Africa has culture. Its not in everything you bring in foreign approach, because you are working within the context of your locality."

This position is not acceptable to women’s rights activists who say that there should always be a clear cut demarcation between human rights and tradition.

Angela Dwamena–Aboagye is the Executive Director of the women’s rights organization called The Ark Foundation.

"Every nation has its culture," said Dwamena–Aboagye. "But again, there are choices to make. Would you let culture override the right to life? The right of people to walk in freedom from violence? I think any culture that promotes violence must be examined…must be interrogated…must be challenged."

Nigeria’s ruling Peoples Democratic Party, the PDP, says it is doing its best to incorporate women into its policies and programs. Some members of the party say domestic violence will be addressed, if the party succeeds in remaining in power.

The NGOs say the situation in Nigeria is playing out the patriarchal nature of Africa, which encourages male dominance. They say the end of the abuse at the hands of men can not come soon enough.