Violence against women, in its various forms, is endemic in communities and countries around the world, cutting across class, race, and age, religious and national boundaries. According to the United Nations Declaration, violence against women includes “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivations of liberty, whether occurring in public or private life (United Nations, 1993)”.
It is disconcerting to still see acts of domestic violence against women especially in the 21st century, and particularly startling is the fact that most of these acts are perpetuated in the home where women are supposed to feel most safe. For many, ‘home’ is where they face a regime of terror and violence at the hands of somebody close to them – somebody they should be able to trust. Those victimized suffer physically and psychologically. They are unable to make their own decisions, voice their own opinions or protect themselves and their children for fear of further repercussions. Their human rights are denied and their lives are stolen from them by the ever-present threat of violence.
There is no one single factor to account for violence perpetrated against women.
Several complex and interconnected social and cultural factors have kept women particularly vulnerable to the violence directed at them, all of them manifestations of historically unequal power relations between men and women. Factors contributing to these unequal power relations include: male belief in their inherent superiority, socioeconomic, cultural and religious factors, and parental influences.
In most societies, especially in Africa, women are view as second-class, second-rate and good enough only for procreation. As a result, women are not respected and are viewed with disdain.
Growing up in suburban Nigeria, you could clearly see that from very early on women are treated as lesser individuals. In the home for instance, the girl child is made to do chores like washing the dishes, while the male child watches television or goes outside to play football. This subconsciously tells the male child that he is superior to the female child and as such creates a feeling of undue power. This feeling lingers and is not helped by what the male child sees on a daily basis. In many societies, children see violence against women as the norm and a means to exert this feeling of ‘power’ hitherto acquired.
In several countries in the world including, but not limited to, Bangladesh, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Pakistan, and Turkey, women are killed in order to uphold the “honour” of the family. Any reason – alleged adultery, premarital relationships (with or without sexual relations), rape, falling in love with a person of whom the family disapproves –are all reason enough for a male member of the family to kill the woman concerned.
Not surprisingly violence against women exhibits a vicious cycle, as studies have shown that women who as children witnessed their mothers being abused are twice as likely to be abused themselves later in life. This is simply because such a woman would find it difficult to easily spot the early, tell-tale signs of domestic violence.
I think that by far the most important factor in predicting domestic violence against women is parental influence. Parents should know better and teach their young boys to respect girls even at an early age. Although the male sex is undoubtedly stronger physically, that doesn’t translate to superiority.
Lastly women owe it to themselves to protect themselves against domestic violence. This is by no means easy because domestic violence is usually compounded by certain factors such as the presence of children. But women must realize that they cannot under any circumstances endure any form of mental, economic, emotional and physical abuse from their husbands in the home. They must speak out and seek help. Domestic violence is one of the most chronically underreported crimes. It is still not receiving as much attention as it should.
My mother always used to say “women are like flowers”. Indeed they are flowers that need to be handled delicately, and protecting a woman is chivalrous and the right thing to do. If only most males were brought up this way, things would be very different.
BY CHARLES IMMANUEL AKHIMIEN