Each year International Women's Day (IWD) is celebrated on March 8. Inspiring Change is the 2014 theme for International Women’s Day (IWD2014) which saw thousands of advocacy groups hosting various events around the world to lend their voices and support for women's advancement everywhere in every way.
In commemoration of IWD 2014, Spaces for Change’s S4C’s Funmilayo Fakeye featured on a radio program on Thursday, March 13, 2014 on Nigeria Info 99.3 FM, Lagos to discuss domestic violence and the road to justice. The one-hour program, including a phone-in session urged women and victims of domestic violence to break the barriers of silence as a way to inspire positive change.
That women and female children have constantly been the targets and victims of domestic violence is not news in Nigeria, Africa or anywhere in the world. The steady rise in the number of women who have suffered molestations, rape and often times a high degree of violence such as the acid baths, rape, defilements and exposure to other harmful substances that leads to death have become worrisome. In Nigeria where protective legislations and safety nets are not in place for the vulnerable members of its society, every seven out of ten girls have suffered one form of abuse or the other.
During the first half hour of the interview, Ms. Funmi Fakeye defined domestic violence as espoused under the Lagos state Domestic Violence Law which came into force on the 18th of May 2007 as follows: “physical abuse; sexual abuse exploitation including but not limited to rape, incest and sexual assault; starvation; emotional, verbal and psychological abuse; economic abuse and exploitation; denial of basic education; intimidation; harassment; stalking; hazardous attack including acid bath with offensive or poisonous substance; damage to property; entry into the complainant’s residence without consent where the parties do not share the same residence; or any other controlling or abusive behaviour towards a complainant, where such conduct harms or may cause imminent harm to the safety, health or well being of the complainant; and deprivation.”
She clarified extensively, the range of unlawful acts or misconduct that constitute domestic violence, highlighting some causative social, cultural, religious and traditional factors that fuel violence against women which includes financial dependence and weak law enforcement mechanisms.
She advocated that domestic violence will continue if victims are not encouraged to speak out and most importantly, if certain institutions continued to view domestic violence as an offence that is not ‘serious’ enough to attract the wrath of the law. Citing the example of a recent case S4C intervened in, involving a teenager abused by her school teacher, it was unfortunate that the church would step in and pressure the parents of the victim to drop charges against the perpetrator.
Also under the law, if the victim is not able to approach the courts or law enforcement on their own, or give consent that a representative do so on their behalf, because of their mental capacity, physical health, fear or any other reasons that satisfy the court, application for a protective order may be brought on their behalf by any other person including a counsellor, health service provider, police, social worker, organiser or teacher who has an interest in the well-being of the victim. Therefore police officers, health workers, and social workers have a duty to intervene at the scene of a domestic violence incident (or within a reasonable time after) by providing information to the victim about their rights under the law and their right to lodge a criminal complaint (where applicable); and rendering needed assistance to the victim such as assisting them in obtaining medical attention or safety at a shelter.
The radio interview discussions were live-streamed on the twitter handles of Spaces for Change (@spaces4change) and Nigeria Info concurrently, attracting several retweets from followers of both organizations. The phone lines were busy throughout the 30-minute phone-in session which saw about ten callers calling in to ask questions. Only calls and questions from women were allowed. One caller asked “if it is right for an "abandoned" wife to remain in her parents’ house. Should she stay on or return to husband's house?” Nothing is wrong in staying back in your parent's house or other safe shelter if the spouse is abusive, Funmi counseled. The recent case of a late banker wife whose husband murdered was cited as an example of a victim that would have lived if she had remained in her husband’s house.
Another caller reported a case of domestic violence involving an abused pregnant woman kicked out of her matrimonial home while another said women are either too shy or too afraid to discuss domestic violence in public. Another lady who called in to share her experience stated beating a woman reduces the quality of love and intimacy in the relationship.
One question that attracted a lot of debate came from a lady that wanted to know if husbands requesting their wives to stop working constitute domestic violence, as that fuels dependence on the man’s income. All these commentaries reflect the broader trado-social and structural challenges that slow down progress in efforts to curb violence against women.
No doubt, many women still live in fear and refuse to open up on issues of domestic violence. Domestic violence can no longer be covered up under the banner of marital privacy. Thankfully, the Lagos State new regime on domestic violence applies to marriage and non-marriage relationships. It is on that premise that S4C advocacy continues to harp on SPEAKING OUT as silence nourishes the cankerworm of domestic violence.