Domestic violence (also called intimate partner violence (IPV), domestic abuse or relationship abuse) is a pattern of behaviors used by one partner to maintain power and control over another partner in an intimate relationship. As in many parts of Africa, unfortunately, domestic violence is a persistent problem within the Nigerian community and its diaspora. Within many ethnic groups, there is a deep cultural and traditional belief that it is socially acceptable to hit a woman in order to discipline her. It is an epidemic that continues to trail along society as the norm.
In Nigeria, domestic violence is prevalent in all sectors. It can be seen among the educated and the illiterate, the wealthy and the poor, the religious and the traditionalist. It cuts across all of Nigeria, due to the strong patriarchal ties. While Nigeria is a multicultural society comprised of many different ethnic groups, each with their own traditional value system, what they all have in common is a view of the male as an authority figure who deserves automatic “respect” from his wife. This includes the expectation that a wife must always submit to her husband. Women are often viewed as subordinate, while men are rendered the head of the household.
Women of all ages, whether single or married, career professional or stay at home wife, are at risk of experiencing domestic violence. In many local communities, domestic violence is believed to only happen to women who nag, disobey or disrespect the authority of their husband. If the man is abusive, it is attributed to the woman simply not being a “good wife.” In settings like these, women often bear their pain and grief in silence–often due to shame or guilt, for the sake and protection of their children, because of lack of family support, or the unfortunate belief that the man will eventually change his ways. “African traditions,” conveniently ignore values like basic respect and equal treatment for all humans, which allows for the justification of abuse and violence against women. Women are thus disadvantaged in an unabashedly patriarchal society that does little to acknowledge their rights.
Domestic violence against Nigerian women extends beyond the country’s borders and occurs in the homes of many Nigerians living overseas. In the United States, between 2006 and 2008, a disproportionate number of Nigerian women–majority of them being nurses–had been killed by their partners. They were either shot, stabbed or bludgeoned to death. In 2011, the National Association of Nigerian Nurses in North America (NANNA) conducted an informal investigation to determine the leading factors that promoted these acts of terror. Their findings revealed that for Nigerian women, specifically the nurses in the US, the leading factors for abuse were that they earned more than their partners and worked long hours. These factors kept them from what their partners perceived to be their domestic duties and led to suspicions of infidelity. Additionally, it exposed the clash between the patriarchy that Nigerian men are accustomed to back in Nigeria and the feminism that acculturated Nigerian woman embodied. Women were accused of “losing their identity” and “being corrupted” in the U.S. In Nigeria, the balance of power most of the time is in the man’s hands, so he has less recourse to violence. There are currently no enforcement laws against domestic violence in Nigeria.
Many Nigerians have been desensitized to the damaging effects of violence against women, due to their own childhood experiences. Though there has been push back and a lack of interest to discuss the trauma and its negative effects, there are initiatives that target domestic violence in Nigeria. Women for Women International is an organization that supports marginalized women in countries affected by conflict and war. Their programs enable women to earn and save money, improve their health and well-being through social and economic empowerment. They work within 9 conflict affected countries around the world, with Nigeria being one of them. With limited access to health services and education, patriarchal norms, and domestic violence, Nigerian women struggle with socio-economic opportunities and equality. In Nigeria, Women for Women International has a program that offers Nigerian women a constructive and dignified way to regain control of their lives. Domestic violence needs to be radically addressed within African communities and it is clear that women empowerment is a strategy that faces these challenges head on.