African Culture And Religion Fuel Cruelty To Women

Ami, the newlywed bride walks into the parlor carrying a heavy tray filled with goodies destined to be ravished by her husband’s friends. She serves them all and excitedly takes a seat next to her husband. The men were engrossed in a controversial debate about ‘Nigerian Politics’, Ami, confident about her intellectual abilities to contribute productively, injected her opinion. At the sound of her voice, the noisy room fell into silence. Abomination, how dare she, they thought. They looked at her
suddenly, filled with disgust and totally unappreciative of her volatile piece. Before the burning gaze of the seated men, Ami’s husband grabbed her barely giving her time to gain her composure and dragged out of the room. He screamed at her incoherently, saying she should never ever interrupt their conversation after all their religion did not permit women to talk when men are talking. The yelling and beating was the beginning of their marriage…

For most Nigerian women, the culture and religion of the land has turned them into powerless crippled humans in the hands of the merciless males and the law of the land. According to a study, a whooping two-thirds of women in certain communities in Lagos State alone experience physical, sexual and psychological abuse daily. However, this number does not include women who can’t decipher whether what they suffer amounts to abuse or not. Due to the disinterest of politicians and policy makers, our carefree cultural attitude towards abuse, and our women’s lack of awareness on what constitutes abuse, the exact numbers of affected women can not be properly documented.

Yes our culture fuels the ill-treatment of women by failing to provide adequate support for abused women and by encouraging gender inequality. Our culture supports this practice by making it socially acceptable to batter a woman and by expecting a woman to silently endure any ill-fate that befalls her in her matrimonial home. In fact, the only advice a batted woman receives from her mother/ family whenever she vehemently complains about her husband’s beatings is “pele, (sorry) he is only training you”. Our culture prevents the woman’s parents from helping her even when they see the need to because they do not want people to talk about the stigmatized-daughter they are harboring in their home. However, even when a woman endeavors to leave her vicious sadistic husband for her parents’ home, she is sent right back to her husband’s home as quickly as she came. An action taken out of societal-fear of being labelled “incompetent parents”.

The effect of this is that most batted women end up staying in the abusive relationship simply because they have nowhere to turn. Unlike the western world where there are many organizations assisting these women get back on their feet, Nigeria only has one or two of such groups and in most cases have no governmental backing. Also because some of these abused women are financially dependent on their husbands it makes it very difficult for them to just leave him thus they end up staying and enduring the abuse until it eventually takes their life. Sadly, unless you know an abused woman such news is rarely broadcasted because most women are often reluctant to report any form of abuse solely because they do not want to mocked by policemen who probably do not see the wrong in such violation.

I am sure we all heard about the cases of Bariya Ibrahim Magazu, Safiya Hussaini, and Amina Lawal. All these women-victims faced charges of adultery under the Sharia Law. The fact that some of them were sexually assaulted and coerced into sex was irrelevant. All that was required for punishment was the women’s pregnancy and four male witnesses. The women’s punishments ranged from public lashing to death by stoning, a penalty Amina Lawal barely escaped thanks international human right groups’ intervention. On the other hand their male counterparts escaped punishment simply by presenting an oath of denial of the allegations, what this means is men under this law can freely abuse women because the evidence needed for exoneration is simply denial of the affair and lucky for them they do not get pregnant. The basic underlined message is that this law gives men the license to rape and abuse women with the assurance they would never be penalized. As you can see gender-bias-Sharia law fosters abuse. It does not adequately protect women’s rights and subjects them to cruel exploitation. Fortunately this law is only enforced in the Northern parts of Nigeria.

I strongly believe there is still a way we can curb violence against women and that solution starts in our homes. We need to educate our male relations about respecting women. We need to create awareness about the physical and mental dangers of abusing women and we need to let our men know ‘it is NOT “OK” to physically and mentally abuse a woman’.

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