Gender-based violence in the home, especially in marriages, is the most pervasive phenomenon that cuts across every stratum of society and life in general. It is Nigeria’s most prevalent type of violence against women. Often invisible, shrouded in a veil of silence and secrecy until the victim suffers permanent disability, psychological trauma or death. It is a global topic that has recently began to be viewed as a criminal and constitutional problem, despite the fact that it has become a way of life in Nigerian society and is still culturally accepted. Women are frequently in grave danger in the place where they should feel safest: their homes. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), one out of every three women has been subjected to gender-based violence at some point in their lives. Many people’s homes are where they are subjected to a regime of terror and violence perpetrated by a supposed loved one.
The need to address this issue which is threatening the safety of spouses and their fundamental right to human dignity has prompted this paper. Accordingly, this paper investigates the role of religious beliefs in abusive marriages. This paper focuses on gender-based violence against women in marriages based on the understanding that although women can also be violent, but their actions account for a small percentage of gender-based violence. According to a UNICEF report, violence in the domestic sphere is usually perpetrated by males who are, or who have been in positions of trust, intimacy and power. Therefore, it would seem permissible to focus primarily on violence against women. In the final analysis, this paper shall proffer practical suggestions to this malady.
EXPLORING THE EFFECTS OF RELIGIOUS BELIEFS IN ABUSIVE MARRIAGES
Recently, following the death of Nigerian gospel singer, Osinachi Nwachukwu, whose death was alleged to be caused by her husband’s relentless abuse, a religious leader, the Internet went revolutionarily agog on the incredible influence that religion has on abusive marriages. To wit, arguments abound over the relationship between religion/religiosity and spousal gender-based violence leading to inconsistent and contradictory responses. While some netizens opined that religion is a protective factor in this regard and serves as the safest harbor for women as well as veritable orientation platform for men, others averred that its effect is insignificant and pointed instead to factors like economic and cultural power dynamics that gives men proprietary rights over women, cultural definitions of sex roles, customs of marriage (bride price), acceptability of violence to resolve conflict, general patriarchal stereotypes such as the belief in the inherent superiority of males and women as acquirable properties.
However, while the social context of spousal violence in Nigeria is related to the traditional African patriarchal society that defines the gender power structure, religion plays a profound role in fanning its flames. This is accomplished in the following ways:
Patriarchal-Induced Interpretation of Submission
Religion is a reflection of the society and has inherited a society that has been wrongly taught the roles of men. Our patriarchal culture has influenced how we interpret the Bible, particularly the biblical idea of submission. The stipulation that “wives [should] submit themselves unto their husbands as unto the lord, for the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church” has been chauvinistically interpreted to mean dominance or rulership. A doctrine that was biblically in place to ensure mutuality of respect in marriage and prevent leadership conflict has been erroneously construed to render women as chastise-able properties.
This shows how much of bastions of chauvinism and women oppression religious houses are. They exercise enormous influence and power over not just the teeming millions of devotees, but across every sector of the society, including legal lines. For instance, section 55 of the Penal Code which operates in northern Nigeria allows men to chastise their wives by reasonably caning or beating them (a provision that is founded on Islamic religious practices). More so, rape is still committed in marriage beds due to this patriarchal import! This jeopardizes the safety of women in such marriages.
Stringent Religious Preaching of Forgiveness and Hope
Marriage is deemed the combination of two forgivers, but this should not apply to abusive marital settings, especially where the violence is persistent. Unfortunately, faith is anchored on fundamentals of forgiveness. The risk of violence in Nigerian marriages is normalized because rigid concepts of religious beliefs in forgiveness and perseverance become more stringent. Religious leaders are often quicker to counsel a complainant that forgiveness is an endless religious journey and remind the victim of Christ’s stipulation of forgiving ones offender “seventy times seventy times” and how “the one who endures till the end shall be saved” than they are to give recourse to the victims plight.
A survey of 5,700 pastors found that 26 percent of pastors ordinarily would tell a woman being abused to continue to submit and to “trust that God would honor her action by either stopping the abuse or giving her the strength to endure it” while 71 percent of pastors would never advise a battered wife to leave her husband or seperate. Many individuals have met their waterloo in marriages as a result of this stringent belief. Formerly, it was thought that partners stayed in abusive marriages because of lack of economic power, fear of being alone, and prioritization of the welfare of their children, however, late Osinachi Nwachukwu is a furnishing instance of how damaging the tendency to stay in abusive relationships due to spiritual principles are.
Fear of Religious Ostracization
Closely related to this is the fear of cultural and religious ostracization. Religion as a reflection of culture condemns divorce. One of the tenets of religion is that marriage is a do or die affair-an everlasting divine conjunction that can never be put “asunder” except in the event of death. Even contemporary educated, working class women that has all it takes to beat cultural and societal norms and shades in this regard are also victims of domestic violence because of religious beliefs in the sinfulness of divorce even where the marriage has by law and fact, irrevocably broken down. They choose to suffer and smile for fear of being religiously condemned or stripped of their leadership position(s) in the church. Consequently, not only the victims who may lose their selves or lives are affected, but it also entrenches a full culture of impunity for the penetrators.
Promotion of the Culture of Silence
As already stated, abuse thrives in the place of secrecy, sadly, religious authorities have for a long time viewed domestic violence as a private issue on the premise that the sanctity of the domestic circle weigh against external involvement in domestic affairs. Usually, the attitude of religious leaders is to stay on the sidelines and offer prayers and faith counsels to the victims, but is faith without work not dead? Thus, religion and religious beliefs scarcely protect victims of spousal violence, for by encouraging them to pray and hope for change instead of teaching them to speak up, domestic violence is enthroned. Again, Osinachi Nwachukwu is a furnishing instance.
4.0 PRACTICAL RECOMMENDATIONS ON HOW RELIGION CAN BE USED TO TAME ABUSE IN MARRIAGES
For an effective balance between religion and healthy marriage, it is imperative that religious leaders learnt to view gender-based violence from human right lenses rather than spiritualising it. They must understand that the right to human dignity is a basic right that goes beyond religious beliefs, and preach its respect. This can be achieved through sound ministerial trainings, workshops and outreaches.
Also, the concept of submission must be redefined to meet scriptural intent. Religious authorities should teach that being the head does not mean to dominate over or rule indiscriminately, but to lead with mutual respect, selflessness and love “as Christ loved the church”
Furthermore, victims must be taught to speak up. All religions emphasize justice and advocacy for the oppressed. For instance, the Christian faith enjoins believers to “speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves.”
And yes, divorce is an option. Religion must teach that there is no shame in saving oneself from untimely death and long marital misery. They should also be willing to lend support to victims who take this couragous step. There is also the option of seperation which victims should be encouraged to explore pending when the issue is resolved.
Finally, it is pertinent that religious institutions partner with civil society organizations to sensitize members and the public on the dangers of staying in abusive relationships and how to identify ‘red flags’ in intending partners.
Therefore, in the final analysis, in resolving the topic of this paper, It is the submission of this paper that religion is a complex and nuanced predictor of domestic violence and for marriages to thrive healthily within its bounds, religious institutions must refrain from importing wrong interpretations into the scripture and be actively involved in the fight against gender-based violence.