Rising cases of domestic violence constitute a threat to the viability of our family unit, the future of humanity, and the protection of the social fabric that holds society together. Violence within marriage has helped to entrench long-held narrow views about the second-class status of women in society. How long would this objectionable practice continue to define how men and women should relate?
Marriage is an established institution of our society. Despite the challenges and abuses that are inherent in that institution, many men and women aspire to marry and to raise children. However, there is something exciting and at the same time repellent about marriage. Many couples do not live blissful married life. Some women are regularly abused, physically harmed, and constantly threatened. In some cases, children are caught in the crossfire and lose their precious lives. These unfortunate situations are often the outcomes of unresolved custody disputes.
The spread of domestic violence across cultures is a growing concern. It deserves the rapid intervention of marriage and relationship counsellors, social workers, clinical psychologists, government agencies, social psychologists, and a range of other healthcare professionals. While it must be admitted that women as well as men suffer the consequences of domestic violence, research shows that in patriarchal societies, women tend to comprise the greater population of domestic violence victims.
Victims of domestic violence are badgered, bashed, brutalised, assaulted, shut down, intimidated, harassed, threatened with violence, and in some cases, suffer physical harm. Welfare organisations that are set up to provide counselling to women in abusive marriages and relationships are often overwhelmed. They cannot respond effectively to all cases of domestic violence.
Love or no love, no woman should remain one day longer in a relationship or marriage in which they are physically, psychologically, and emotionally abused, as well as sexually violated, regardless of the pressure from family and friends to persevere, to give the marriage another chance, and to hope for a better future.
A marriage in which a woman is constantly bashed, threatened, harassed, and intimidated is a poisoned marriage. I have heard many people say a woman in an abusive marriage should take out an Apprehended Violence Order (AVO) against the husband. Unfortunately, it is not as simple as it seems.
Apprehended Violence Orders (AVOs) do not guarantee the safety of a woman and/or her children. There is evidence to show that AVOs do not serve as an effective protective shield for women in domestic violence. Similarly, the legal system is not foolproof enough to protect a victim of domestic violence. Something more than law enforcement is required to check the monster known as domestic violence.
I have been reminded that the services of professionals such as Marriage and Family Therapists (MFTs) may be more effective in helping to save women in toxic marriages and relationships. Understandably these professional services offer more productive guidance and support services than what a woman would receive from a pastor who could refer her to biblical verses such as 1 Corinthians, chapter 13, verse 7, which advises that “love endures all things” or Malachi chapter 2, verse 16, that preaches that God detests divorce. While these biblical injunctions might help some distraught families to work through their marital issues successfully, they may not resolve a lot of issues in many troubled families.
Our patriarchal society must take responsibility for the way women are treated and abused. Although we live in the 21st century, there are certain beliefs, practices, ideas, traditions, and conventions that are unhelpful to women and profoundly anachronistic. They are politically and socially inappropriate and flawed.
Owing to these cultural practices, many women who resist abuses by their husbands or fight back physically and psychologically to reclaim their independence and emotional stability often find they are on their own. The society does not support them. Their families do not tolerate them. They are perceived as too bold, too confrontational, too uncultured, too unconventional, too disrespectful, too rebellious, a threat to local cultural traditions, and always unwilling to listen (whatever that means).
In general, women in abusive relationships live a life of fear and frustration. They are trapped emotionally and physically. They cannot escape from the jaws of imminent death lurking in front of their family homes. They wonder introspectively whether there is value in being a wife in a relationship in which their lives and the lives of their children are exposed to high risk dangers.
In Nigeria and other societies, women who speak out against domestic violence are abhorred because they are seen to be working against the prevailing culture of patriarchy or male dominance, and the general perception that a woman must be submissive to her husband.
Without social, emotional, financial, and psychological support, women in domestic violence are isolated. They end up building a network of enemies. Their personality, their calmness, their soft exterior, and their ability to handle aggressive behaviour by their husbands or partners are tested in and outside their family homes.
In 2017, Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo alluded to Nigerian people being in a marriage that is facing challenges. He made the statement at a wedding ceremony in Ibadan, Oyo State, where he preached harmonious existence and tolerance as qualities of a durable marriage. Every marriage, he said, has its good times and bad times. He said the strength of every marriage is the ability of the couple to resolve their disagreements and misunderstandings and remain in the marriage.
I am not persuaded by Osinbajo’s argument. I do not believe that a marriage in which one partner continually abuses the other should be sustained for cosmetic reasons. An unhappy marriage in which a woman is repeatedly desecrated and insulted should not be allowed to stand. It is inconceivable that one partner in a marriage should be abused, isolated, victimised, and remain forever traumatised. There is nothing to retrieve in that marriage.
Let me be clear here. Marriage was never constructed to be a kind of prison. We live in a more enlightened and civilised world in which women are now fully aware of their rights and entitlements. A former United States’ Ambassador to Nigeria, Terrence McCulley, once said in a letter published in The Guardian: “Countries cannot progress when half their populations are marginalised, mistreated, and subjected to discrimination.” This applies to Nigeria and the way women are marginalised.
We must look at other countries to learn how they treat and empower their women. In Liberia, following years of civil war that involved no fewer than four factions, civil society decided it was time they took their destiny into their hands and retrieved their country’s future from violent warlords. General elections were conducted in 2005 and Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, a woman, was elected president. That significant milestone established Liberia as the first African country to elect a woman as president.
Apart from Liberia, there are other countries in which women have held or are still holding top leadership positions. They include Australia (Julia Gillard), Britain (Margaret Thatcher), India (Indira Gandhi), Pakistan (Benazir Bhutto), Israel (Golda Meir), Sri Lanka (Sirimavo Bandaranaike), Germany (Angela Merkel), Norway (Gro Harlem Brundtland), Ireland (Mary MacAleese), Bangladesh (Sheikh Hasina Wajed), the Philippines (Gloria Arroyo), and Argentina (Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner). These are by no means all the female leaders the world has produced.
The examples above show that the place of women is not in any man’s kitchen or, for that matter, in any man’s other room.