Written by Bayo Olupohunda - Punch, Nigeria
"Useless woman, I will kill you today; why is my food not ready?" The man was livid with rage as he chased his wife round the compound for several minutes. The horrified woman, long used to her husband's rage, bolted as he lashed out with a huge rod but she quickly ducked into the room of a neighbour. The watching crowd intervened and dragged the man away as the woman, subdued, looked on in horror from an open window of the neighbour's room. She was too terrified to speak. As neighbours prodded her to tell them what had prompted her husband to violently demand his food, she explained that the delay was not her fault. She had had to take care of their six children which prevented her from going to the market on time.
Then, she had had to endure long, gruelling hours in traffic. Then she had to spend some hours queuing for kerosene. By the time she returned, her husband had arrived and furiously demanded his food which was not ready. Then, all hell broke loose. The husband dealt several blows to her until she managed to escape into her neighbour's room.
As we listened to the woman, a close friend of hers told us she had been enduring years of domestic violence with the man who is very unfriendly. As she narrated her story, I heard the man shouting at the top of his voice "I will kill you today; you better never return."
One of the children, terrified by the chaos, yelled out loudly as the man shouted for him to stop crying. He fled in the direction of another neighbour who scooped him up in his arms. There was pandemonium everywhere. All the six children were crying at the same time. Why is this family like this? I asked one of the neigbours who told me that the man often arrived home drunk in which case he harassed his household and subjected his wife to violence. Since the man was not ready to listen to his neighbours, the landlord was contacted. The chairman of the landlord association also came. We had gone there earlier to plead that he intervened. But the man said he was tired of the cantankerous husband and his traumatised wife. He threatened to invite the police to deal with him.
As the night wore on, we succeeded in persuading them to plead on the woman's behalf. The children slept on every available space in the compound. The chairman came with the man's landlord. He opened the door, peered out and was shocked to be confronted with his landlord. They made it clear to him he would be forcefully removed from the house if he did not change his violent ways. He apologised and went to fetch his wife back from the neighbour. She reluctantly followed him. The acquaintance who had sought my help whispered that the man would still beat the wife again. We could only hope he did not.
The example of the domestic violence narrated above is among hundreds women suffer in their homes. Domestic violence against women cuts across social and economic divide. While there are insufficient data on domestic violence in Nigeria, it is believed that violence against women is on the rise with about 50 per cent of women battered by their husbands. More educated women (65 per cent) are suffering abuse compared with their low income women (55 per cent). Victims of abuse often endure believing they have nowhere to go or that the law will not protect them. A staggering 97.2 per cent of them are not prepared to report to the Nigeria Police. Only four states across the country have passed domestic abuse laws.
Many of the cases also go unreported because of stereotypes that prevent women from speaking out. Women are said to suffer silently in homes where the man uses violence to force submission and fear. The man is often feared by the wife and children. In such a home, the man is like a demi-god. Most times, when women are brutalised, they have nowhere to run to. When they even attempt to run, they are talked back to the violent arms of the husband by families and friends only to be met with more violence-or even death. For example, women endure violence because of their children. In extreme cases, victims of abuse have lost their lives when they refused to quit abusive marriages. Some women have been maimed and psychologically traumatised.
It is for these reasons that this year, the International Women's Day hopes to tackle the many challenges confronting women globally. On March 8, 2015, the world marked the 2015 International Women's Day to highlight the risks women face worldwide. The theme of this year's celebration, #MakeitHappen, is centred on the need for the world to make #MakeHappen-issues surrounding the empowerment of women such as greater equality, equal recognition of women in the arts, growth of women-owned business, increased financial independence for women, women in science, engineering and technology, fairer recognition in women sport, and the need for more women in senior leadership roles.
Unlike previous years, the theme for this year's women's day is all-encompassing. To achieve the sub-themes, it has become imperative that the world unites to bring these issues into public discourse. But a lot still needs to be done to achieve many of the issues confronting the female gender worldwide. For example, violence against women is one single menace that confronts women worldwide. When women live or work in an atmosphere of fear, it limits their potential. In many countries, women face the threat of rape, threatened, beaten or held down by primordial practices. In many societies, violence against women is increasing.
In India, in spite of legislation following the New Delhi bus rape that shocked the world, many more women have been subjected to rape and other forms of violence. In Nigeria, the government has often boasted it had more women in leadership positions without addressing challenges confronting the girl-child in many traditional communities. But given the endemic challenges still facing women in a patriarchal society such as ours, many of the approach to women empowerment do not address fundamental issues that prevent girls from going to school or seek equality with the male gender.
For example, more boys are still likely to attend school than girls in many parts of the country. In cases where rape is reported, rapists often walk free from justice and go to commit the crime again because the justice system places the burden of proof on the victim. Gender inequality is rampant because more boys will attend school than girls; a situation that limits their potential and prevents them from attaining the zenith of their careers. As the world marks another women's day, men have an important role to play. Men must #MakeitHappen those factors that enhance the status of women. Men also constitute an important part of the fight to remove institutional and age-long stereotypes that hinder gender parity and progress. In our homes, we must treat our wives, sisters, mothers with the respect they deserve. Bigotry and violence against women should have no place in our society.