“The only time I will be proud to be a man is when every woman is safe and comfortable around me”-DJ Kyos
In recent times, each time I hear the word “Ekwueme”, the reality of the existence of gender-based violence in religious marriages jolts me.
According to the 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence survey, more than 1 in 3 women (35.6%) and more than 1 in 4 men (28.5%) in the United States have experienced abuse by an intimate partner in their lifetime4.
As alarming as this statistics may be, it’s more scary when religious beliefs instead of acting as resources for help, become the obstacles that fuels abuse in marriages.
This essay seeks to define some terms, list some examples of Gender Based Violence, examine case studies from Traditional religion, Islam and Christianity, explore the effects of religious belief in abusive marriages and proffer solutions to curb the menace.
Definition of terms
Gender Based Violence refers to harmful acts directed at an individual based on their gender, and it’s rooted in gender inequality, abuse of power and harmful norms(1).
Religion is the entire collection of beliefs, values, and practices that a group holds to be true and sacred(2).
Abusive marriage is one in which one partner mistreats or misuses another partner(5).
Examples of Gender Based Violence:
- Child marriage
- Female Genital Mutilation
- Honour killing
- Trafficking for sex or slavery
- Intimate partner violence
- Physical punishment
- Sexual, emotional or psychological violence(7).
- Traditional religion
Before the spread of Christianity and Islam to Africa, this was the religion of our ancestors. From midnight tales I heard from older members of my community, the Idoma culture for instance, honoured a deity known as “alekwu”. The fear of alekwu often made my grandparents to avoid violence’s like sexual abuse. In a situation where a wife abuses her husband through adultery, such a woman dies in no distant time, except she seeks remedy from the elders. This belief limited the occurrence of some abuses in marriage. Nevertheless, the inability for the belief to capture Female Genital Mutilation, slavery, honour killing and physical punishments led to its perpetration at will.
- Islamic religion
For Muslims, the use of violence and coercion as a tool of control in the home is oppression and not accepted in Islam.
According to M. Basheer Ahmed, “Under no circumstances is violence against women encouraged or allowed in Islam. There are many examples in the Quran and A hadith that describes the behaviour of Muslim towards husbands and wife. The relationship should be one of mutual love, respect and kindness.”
“In the event of a family dispute, the Quran exhorts the husband to treat his wife kindly and not overlook her positive aspects. If the problem relates to the wife’s behaviour, her husband may exhort her and appeal for reason. In most cases, this measure is likely to be sufficient. In cases where the problem continues, the husband may express his displeasure in another peaceful manner, by sleeping in a separate bed from hers. There are cases however, in which a wife persists in deliberate mistreatment and expresses contempt to her husband and disregard for her marital obligations. Instead of divorce, the husband may resort to another measure that may save the marriage, at least in some cases” -Jamal Badawi.
“Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them”-Colossians: 3:19
“Likewise husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honour to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered”-1peter:3:7
“Be kind to one another, tender hearted; forgiving one another as God in Christ forgave you”-Ephesians: 4:32
“And Pharisees came up and in order to test him asked is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife? He answered them, what did Moses command you? They said, Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away. Because of your hardness of heart, he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female”-Mark: 10:2-12
“For the Lord the God of Israel saith that he hateth putting away”-Malachi2:16
The Christian belief under the New Testament dispensation condemns Gender Based violence in all forms. Although the Scripture serves to provide support and assist those who have experienced some sort of violence in their marriages, many due to lack of knowledge, salvation, and disobedience to Scripture are leveraging upon the art of “twisting Scripture for self” to perpetrate such acts. The Bible enjoins all to forgive but the perpetrators of abuses hinge upon it to inflict continuous pain and harm on their victims.
The example of Gospel singer, Osinachi Nwachuckwu, who died on April 8 2022 following alleged beating and molestation received from her husband8 is a testament to the effects of religious beliefs in abusive marriages. For fear of being seen as a gospel singer with a bad marriage, the singer covered up all the molestations she was going through and died in silence. She may have read about the part of Malachi that says God hates divorce, and out of fear, was afraid to do anything that will displease God. Maybe if she had good understanding of Scriptures, she would have sought for pastoral counselling and found a solution to the problem early.
Exploring the effects of religious beliefs in abusive marriages with practical suggestions
From the case studies examined, it is safe to say, “Religious belief plays a vital role in fuelling abuse and preventing women and men in abusive marriages from seeking help from relevant authorities”.
The Bible contains many stories of violence against women in the Old Testament like Tamar (2 Samuel: 13), Dinah (Genesis: 34), Vashti (Esther: 1). As women in the New Testament dispensation come across these stories, they are often unable to explore it correctly for use. This makes them to erroneously refer to them as foundations to condone abuses in marriages capable of claiming their lives.
In addition, when abusive husbands read scriptures like “Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord”(Ephesians: 5:22), they leverage upon such a religious belief to batter and abuse their wives. These battered women too because they have been taught about the need to “forgive and forget”, continue in such abusive relationships or see it as a norm without seeking help. This eventually leads to the death of many women annually.
Ayah 34 of Surah four in the Islamic religion is one of the most abused verse among Muslims. Many use it as a backup to justify hitting, beating and abusing their wives, which ought not to be. Those misinterpreting this verse for selfish reasons replace the woman’s obedience to Allah’s desires with duty of being eternal surveillance police over their wives9.
Curbing the Menace
- Religious leaders who are well respected by their subjects should counsel their members about peaceful coexistence and conflict resolution. They should also make out time to explain the contextual meanings of religious texts to their ignorant followers to prevent abuse of such religious beliefs in their marriages.
- Intending unmarried women and bachelors should take time to prepare and study their partners before venturing into marriage. As they commit to observing this, they will be able to see red flags that will help them escape from such relationships. In other situations, such deficiencies in a partner when detected early can be addressed early to protect a marriage from abuse.
- For those already in abusive marriages, help should be sought early to safeguard lives.
- The educational curriculum needs to be updated to educate the younger generation about marriage abuse and prevention.
- Since financial dependence blurs ones sense of reasoning in an abusive marriage, women should learn to become financially independent (vice-versa).
- Software developers should come up with software’s that will be able to alert their owners about possible marital abuses. This can be programmed to run in the form of a survey and result format. Respondents will answer questions and when the application analyses the responses, it sends a timely feedback for action.
- Many men too are suffering in abusive marriages. For fear of societal ridicule, many choose to disguise and continue suffering. Private avenues should be provided for such people to seek help.
Neighbours and associates who have detail about people suffering from abuses in marriage should urgently report to Government agencies capable of proffering help. The case of Osinachi for instance wouldn’t have degenerated to death if her neighbours had alerted the Police authorities early enough.
- As a measure of last resort, a partner can separate (stay away) from an abusive relationship for some time until peace is restored.
9 Violence Against Women and the Role of Religion (March2005) https://www.vawnet.org.
Written by: Ekoja Solomon