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The growing domestic abuse and the need for true feminism.

“Abandon the idea that you will forever be the victim of the things that have happened to you. Choose to be a victor.” ~ Seth Adam Smith

bbcA few days ago I came across a news story about the wife of Lagos state governor charging female lawyers to be more vocal on the issue of domestic abuse. Having previously read her strong condemnation when a certain Lekan Shonde allegedly beat his wife to death in Lagos last year, I sense that her recent comments may have been occasioned by the growing rate of this societal ill.

In the past few weeks, the social media has been awash with stories of domestic violence horrifying enough to trigger a soldier’s amygdala into spontaneous trepidation. With commentaries flying left, right and centre one cannot help but ask, when did we sink this low? Even though unlike before, modern technology has practically made it impossible for these ugly incidents to be concealed I can still say they were a rarity growing up in the 80s.

At the risk sounding patriarchal many like me have wondered if this increasing occurrence may not be connected to the often misconstrued perception of feminism and domestic abuse in our society. For the purpose of this piece let us define feminism according to Webster as “the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of both genders” while domestic abuse occurs whenever one person in a relationship tries to dominate and control the other person. It doesn’t necessarily have to be violent, once you intimidate, exploit, blackmail or use other forms to coerce your partner, you have committed abuse.

There is no gainsaying the fact that the receiving end of this form of abuse is largely populated by women and children. While children may not be familiar with feminism, a chunk of those who propagate the theory are females. Again for the purpose of this text, I will focus on the problem as it affects women.

An essential part of understanding a social problem, and a precursor to prevention, is the appraisal of its root causes. In our country, the analysis of interpersonal relations is rarely distant from religious and cultural dynamics. It is either the “Pastor/Imam said or according to tradition”. This is not unrelated to the sizeable number of our womenfolk who don’t even know when they are abused. More distressing is the fact that many unwittingly justify the abuse themselves.

Although it is difficult to get accurate figures, a study by the National Demographic and Health Survey in 2008 showed that domestic abuse cuts across diverse socio-economic and cultural backgrounds. About 28% of all women, close to a third of all women in Nigeria, have experienced domestic violence, a worrying proportion for a country of our size where almost half of the population are women.

Furthermore, up to 43% thought that physical chastisement of wives could be rationalised on issues like burning the food, refusal to have sex and going out without permission to mention but a few. They are ignorant of the fact that if a woman is terrified of her partner she’s already in an abusive relationship. As a matter of fact if your partner is possessive, yells at you frequently or even ignores you repeatedly then you are being abused. All these are aimed at having undue control over you.

The pioneers of feminism envisaged the noble aim of achieving equity and social respect for women in all societies, who in their right senses will not be in favour of treating all humans equally irrespective of gender? I believe it is proper for a woman to have the same right as a man, to be involved in all kinds of social activities like business, politics, sports and to be remunerated in equal measure. To partake in inheritance, have the right of choice in a relationship and in marriage.

Now in our part of the world, it is the norm that the male make advances, from the teenage relationships up to the adult level men usually take the first step in asking the lady out. And when in a relationship they are often inundated with demands by their girlfriends. It is commonplace nowadays to see young girls who cannot earn a dime moving around with phones costly enough to fund their education. Naturally, he who pays the piper dictates the tune, he cannot be easily convinced that you are equals.

Again, before marriage is finally consummated men are often required to pay dowry. Many posit that this tradition more than anything is inextricably linked to the often assumed superiority by men in marriage. It is therefore not confounding that many are averse to the current wave of feminism, much less when it’s misconstrued and misapplied by the women.

Indeed some modern day feminists have turned a worthy aim on its head and may inadvertently be harming its accomplishments so far. To them, a woman can only have respect if she is able to do everything a man can do, they have this warped belief that a woman must be like a man in order to be equal to him. Nothing could be further from the truth as that is biologically and physiologically impossible. So if you are not sophisticated and stern-faced men will not respect you? Come on! I grew up with girls who read as many Mills and Boon as Hints Magazine, most are now respectable ladies doing well in their chosen fields.

Both genders are uniquely created to be complementary and an understanding of this fundamental truth is as much a catalyst for mutual respect as it is vital for a satisfying relationship. The truth is that much as men benefit from a male dominated society, most responsible men do appreciate and will definitely accord equal respect to responsible ladies more especially when they are in a relationship. I for one think it is even derisory to assume a woman needs to prove a point to be considered equal, it smacks of inferiority complex.

It is not unusual these days to find ladies who boast that they will not cook for their partners, to prove what really if I may ask? If any it simply proves you are insecure, and whether you like it or not the world loves and respects a good cook (male or female).

Then you have the edgy ones who are quick to label any man that disagrees with them even in unrelated issues a misogynist. A cursory look into the background often expose their frustrations, they fluctuate between feminism and ‘masculinism’ depending on how ‘lovey dovey’ the current relationship is. It irks not just me but many people when these fluky feminists start spewing their facile comprehension of the concept simply because China has made access to android phones universally easy. They actually do more harm than good. It’s time for true feminists to stand out and speak out. Let’s not pretend we don’t have a problem in our hands, domestic abuse leaves long lasting scars both physically and psychologically.

To combat this scourge all hands must be on deck. Firstly, one would like to see a greater emphasis on properly educating the girl child. I have a good laugh each time I read supposed ‘feminists’ abusing leaders of BBOG, pray what can be more feminist than demanding the return of abducted school girls? Even if for some lousy political sentiment one considers the incident a hoax, the fact remains that those girls have been separated from their families for way too long. A properly educated girl will likely grow into a respectable lady who does not need to prove her self-worth, it will be glaring for everyone to see.

Secondly, there is an urgent need to introduce counselling into the curriculum of both our secondary and tertiary institutions. We once had that in my secondary school days and I keep wondering why it has disappeared over the years. Studies by the UN have cited economic empowerment as a factor responsible for a decline in domestic abuse in some western countries. Many of our young girls in the Uni need guidance, they need to be taught proper values, how to earn a living via part time jobs and creativity because all the do nowadays is look forward to Friday nights.

Thirdly, more has to be done to improve our existing laws around this menace. Domestic abuse is a crime according to our laws yet the obnoxious Section 55(1)(d) of the Penal Code of Northern Nigeria provides that (now get ready for it):
 “an assault by a man on a woman is not an offence if they are married if the native law/custom recognises such “correction” as lawful, and if there is no grievous hurt”
Is it then surprising that only 18 rape convictions have been recorded in our legal history? It is indeed a crazy and unfortunate reality.

Again, there should be more enlightenment, it is not enough to post a few words on our TL and engage some friends, this issue needs a lot more than that to tackle. We need more symposiums, workshops and seminars. There are women affairs ministries in every state, so let’s take the social media talk further by submitting proposals for radio, tv and newspaper campaigns. These are the media outlets accessible to the less privileged who form the bulk of abuse victims.

And finally, (this is very important) women should realise that this is their cause more than any others’. Many men will support but few will lead the movement for reasons I stated earlier, the accidental feminists should understand that feminism doesn’t start with heartbreak, it is about equality and not supremacy. The chambers where our laws are made is still dominated by men, so persuasion and not posturing is key. Like my friend Nneka Obiekwe Nwogu put it.

“I like to be a Mrs and can survive as a Miss. I like to tumble in the hay, my life my terms. I like to make my own money and I like to spend my money as I want. I will remain submissive but not a slave. I will raise my daughter to say no when the need arises and to compromise when there’s no danger or risk. I cannot and will not lift a suitcase when any man is standing by. If my man wants to cook for us fine but it’s my responsibility to cook. When I can’t, I hire a cook and PAY. If he wants to put clothes in the laundry why not but no one should force the other to do laundry. I am raised to do it. I will not pay school fees but I can contribute to pocket money cos I’m working. However, if his finances are tied up I shall pay that fees cos I’m working and they are our children. My daughter will have the same quality of education with my son. That said, nobody will pay any man I am doing the same job with more salary than me in an office”

Now, what is feminism again?

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