are they to blame?

i am somewhat familiar with the issue of domestic violence in Igbo households, both from personal experience (that is observing other families who engage in this practice) and from what I see in the media (ehem, Nollywood). However, I have recently encountered a disturbing article, (actually there are several more out there) on domestic violence incidence in a random sample of Imo state women, which, I may venture to say, could be generalized to Igbo women at large, and perhaps, Nigerian society (pleeeease correct me, if I am wrong).

The article is entitled, Prevalence, Patterns and Correlates of Domestic Violence in Selected Igbo Communities of Imo State, Nigeria (Okembo C et.al. 2002). I guess you can google scholar it if interested, but if you don't have access to it, email me and I can send you the pdf file. (I'm not sure if I will get in trouble for distributing it, but I think I am willing to take the risk, for the sake of the cause).

For the sake of space, I will spare you the intricate details about study design, sample size etc (though, they are important, I just gloss over these things...bad habit) and highlight some of their results. In a sample of about 300 women (I know, this is a pretty small sample), they found that almost 80% had experienced some form of domestic violence. I thought the number was unbelievable. Women in urban areas were more likely to experience physical beatings from their husbands than rural women. (In regards to polygamy, it was found that women in polygamous marriages were less likely to undergo abuse - just thought that was interesting - please note that I am not advocating the practice). There were other interesting results documenting kinds of abuse, prevalence and preferences and predictors of abuse that you can pick out on your own time.

I would really like to know, if some of you, from your own personal experiences find that domestic violence is as prevalent as this article suggests and your thoughts on this idea that domestic abuse is more common in the cities than rural areas and why? (of course, this was just a preliminary study and I did not check out other papers to find out if they support this stat.

I think what really caught my attention were some of the responses from the participants to why abuse occurs. For example, here is one:

"...Usually [men] see women as physically, economically and socially inferior to [men]. They also feel that they bought women with their money..."

The authors stated that cultural institutions amongst the Igbo are to blame for the continued practice of domestic violence. Particularly, the idea that male children are worth more than female children therefore creating the notion that women can be treated that way. Besides traditional institutions that support the prevalence of domestic abuse, some women cited Christianity as to institution to blame for this continued practice stating that the Bible calls for the "subjection" of women by man.

Let me first state that I would not go so far as to condemn Igbo cultural institutions, which I appreciate and adhere to, nor condemn Christianity, which I practice. However, are these two institutions to blame for the continued practice of domestic violence? What particular aspects are to blame for domestic violence and can one use these institutions to prevent and abolish this practice? What should be done about it and why isn't more being done about it (like addressing it as a vital component of a family planning or reproductive health agenda)?

Sorry if this post is a bit long, but I seriously cut out a lot of stuff in order to get the main point across. I always look forward to all of your responses because they seriously challenge me and get me thinking in ways unimagined.

Oh in regards to the poster above....yes, another google image search. But I thought the poster was interesting in that it is appealing to adherence to tradition which calls for utmost respect for mothers and older-womanhood. An example of how existing societal institutions which promote violence could be used to eradicate it....yes, I said ERADICATE it.

23 comments:

  1. Honeywell said...:

    Firstly, i believe this domestic abuse problem is an issue in all cultures in nigeria, not just the igbos. I believe that because most nigerian women are just beginning to attain the same socioeconomic women as men, they are still considered somewhat inferior to men. Women are still not equal to men in many ways in nigeria. What can we do to eradicate this? I believe 3 things are vital:
    1. Stop older women from passing this on. What i mean is, if a woman sees her mom being beaten up, she is more than likely going to take it from her husband, because it would be viewed as part of the marriage, so to speak. Even for women who refuse to take the beating from their husbands, their mothers/aunties/mother in laws encourage them to stay in the marriage, and may even argue that it is normal in a marriage or say that the wife is doing something wrong. If we stop the older women from passing on this tradition, it will help.

    2.Women need to realise that a man tha truly loves you will not hit you, no matter what you do to him. The more women become bold enough to stand up to this violence, the more we can do.

    3. Teach and encourage our young men against hitting females

    Sorry for the long post!

  1. SOLOMONSYDELLE said...:

    Like Honeywell, I believe that DV is not an Igbo problem. It isn't even a Nigerian problem. It is a global problem that will take continued effort to eradicate.
    As to whether cultural institutions or Xtianity contribute to DV, I have to say that DV is the result of a confluence of factors that include but are not limited to culture and religion in my humble opinion. Societal pressures, economic disadvantage (for women, in general), inadequate infrastructure and limited access to existing infrastructure... I could go on.

    At the end of the day, it is upon all of us to educate our sons, brothers and friends that women are equal to men and thus deserving of respect and equal opportunities. It is also upon forward thinking legislators to require that the laws on the books (and they are on the books) be enforced to require that girls are educated and assaulters/batterers of women be punished to the fullest extent of the law. Same thing for people who discriminate against women merely on account of their sex.

    And, finally, when we see anyone being discriminated against on account of their sex, religion, tribe, race, it is upon us to try to limit/stop/remedy such discrimination to the extent that we can.

    Oh, and I second Honeywell's points, BTW.

    Take care!


    NIGERIANCURIOSITY
    IT WAS SO MUCH EASIER WHEN I ONLY HAD ONE...

  1. Waffarian said...:

    Definitely not a Nigerian Problem but if they are limiting their studies to Nigeria, then definitely not an Igbo problem. Domestic violence is widespread in the south as well.

    I find that domestic violence cuts across economic and social ladders. I believe from all that I have read, that it is a behaviour inherited from the family surroundings. Most men that abuse women verbally or physically, have either been abused themselves or they have watched their fathers abusing others.

    Also, alot of these men, do not know how to deal with their emotions, example: when they are frustrated, angry, sad, etc. They never learned to deal with them, so instead of expressing themselves, they let out all their over bolied emotions through their fists.

    In the case of the Nigerian society, the only instances of abuse I have witnessed, funny enough,was in two extremely wealthy families. The men there basically realeased all their pent up stress from the office on their wives. They were ruthless.

    The Christian factor: The only thing I have heard some christian women say that does not at all help in situations of abuse is "I am against divorce". So, they stay even in the most terrible circumstances, encouraged by their pastors and fellow christian women to continue praying for change in her husband. In such cases, I would say that christianity is definitely not doing the woman and her children a whole lot of good.

  1. Il speak about why I think more isn't done to stop it: A culture of silence. For so long, women have been taught that they should not "air their dirty laundary in public", thus from generation to generation,silence continues to be the only language spoken. I got into an argument with my aunt the other day, because she told me to expect the man I marry to beat me from time to time. She didnt see anything wrong it. It is mindsets like this, that allow this abuse against women to continue with impunity.

  1. *wondering what to do if people actually consider this post long compared to the ones i write*...nice post...

    ...i think most of the commenters have already pointed out most of the reasons men continue to hit women...as long as it is still considered okay for women to be seen and treated as second-rate citizens of the world, men will continue to treat us as such...

    ...i do agree that a lot of the rubbish that does continue to happen to women is as a result of women who refuse to open their eyes and scrutinize this so-called 'tradition' or 'religion' that calls for things that inherently are wrong...

    ...domestic violence is def a global issue, but i think you are aware of that...which i think just proves how pervasive this pathology of thinking about women is...we have much work to do, right?...

  1. Waffarian said...:

    sorry about the errors in my comment...na high fever dey cause am...i dey go sleep.

  1. nneoma said...:

    Thanks everyone for your comments so far

    @honeywell - Oh yes, I am very aware that DV (thanks SSD for the abbreviation:)) is an international problem. However, what I found astounding was how pervasive it was. Internationally, more than 75% is a high prevalence (think countries like Pakistan).
    Yes, you are right, women do have a role in maintaining this ill. I have heard of instances in which sisters-in-laws physically assault wives. Also, the concept of bearing with the marriage is one supported by women. There was another paper I glanced through in which over 60% of a sample of Nigerian women said that DV is acceptable under some circumstances. Astonishing. It seems like those in the blogosphere are in the minority of popular opinion.
    In regards to your second point - i second that. That is where I see the two institutions at fault playing a role. Specific to Igbo culture, I do think there is an inherent appreciation for womanhood. Some of the Igbo couples I admire the most are older ones in which the men very much cherish their wife much more than I have seen in western society. However, my criticism remains of how Igbo culture deals with barren women and widows who are very much vulnerable to abuse. The other institution, Christianity, calls for men to love their wives as Christ loved the church and treat them as if they were a part of their body. One does not beat up their body unless they are mad.
    In regards to the men - I think outwardly, most men know it is not a good idea to hit females. I think the problem lies with how men think of females - and this is where I fault the two institutions. If you see a woman as inherently less than you, then you are going to treat her worse than you would treat fellow men.

    @SSD - Your humble opinion is well-noted. I hope I did not mean to say that culture and religion are the *only* factors to blame. I just hoped to parse down a very complex issue into two of the many factors that we can discuss. I'm interested to find out more about how infrastructure plays a role in perpetuating DV. Are you referring to law enforcement infrastructure specifically?
    Yes, education of our sons brothers etc is important. And the main lesson is that women are deserving of just as much respect as men. My issue is whether this education should be integrated into our current thoughts about culture and religion, or should they run parallel to them. Many of the women who were interviewed in this study were Christians who believed that the Bible dictates that women should not be equal with men. I am sure many men feel the same way too. How can the message that women deserve respect be presented in a way that also respects the cultural and traditional values that people hold on so dearly to? I know that if such messages are presented in a light that knowingly or unknowingly challenges or imposes on people's worldviews, the message may be lost.

    @the waffarian - as for abuse being inherited - I wholeheartedly agree. Unfortunately, when more than 75% of the population (this is a gross extrapolation by the way) engages in the practice, it means that literally one society is inheriting it from the older generation and is not just limited to families where abuse occurred in one's individual family (I hope I am making sense here). I know of one family in which the parents of the abusive man were an exemplar of a loving couple and there was NO history of abuse amongst the parents. Even at their old age, the man still fawns over his wife (it is quite beautiful actually). But their son is a monster. He did not inherit it from his parents, he inherited it from a society in which this practice is condoned, albeit, silently. I agree, inheritance is a big issue but people inherit things from many sources.
    Yeah, I don't know why I was surprised that the prevalence of DV was higher amongst city dwellers who you would assume are more well-off than those in rural areas because those I know that are in abusive relationships are paired with well-to-do men. Maybe in cities, there is a higher degree of social isolation in which everyone minds their business when it comes to these issues. I could imagine that if a fight broke out amongst a couple in a village setting, it would become the business of EVERYONE. Maybe we need to restore the ancient appreciation for puck-nosing back into society? Lol.
    In regards to the Christian factor - I have heard this both amongst Nigerians and Americans as an excuse to stay in abusive marriages. I think churches need to do more to take care of women who choose to leave such abusive relationships, rather than ostracize them.

  1. nneoma said...:

    Sorry, I had to break up my comments, it was getting ridiculously long...

    @nigeriandramaqueen - O God, I shudder when I hear such stories of older women openly encouraging younger women to take this abuse - and in your case, it is even before the abuse started occurring. I still don't understand why women think this is okay. It beats me (no pun intended)!

    @gnigeriana - lol. don't worry, you still have an dedicated fan base regardless of the length of your posts. And personally, for me, your ellipsis (...) helps in breaking up your posts for brief breathers. I have a tendency to get carried away that is why I try to limit myself.
    I agree, we have much work to do. It seems very obvious to me that DV is inherently wrong, but yet, as nigeriandramaqueen pointed out, many have accepted it as a fact of life. My heart bleeds for the many who still think this is an okay practice.

    @waffarian - no wahala. I didn't notice anything, really.

  1. Nope, it's not restricted to Igbos. I should know, I married one,their family structure is still quite strong, it's one where most issues are brought to the table, at one peer group meeting or the other, and frankly the Igbo man has loads of respect for his wife.That said, there are of course Igbos who flog their wives.

    I absolutely hate violence but sometimes the meekness of some women drives me crazy. I think women should sometimes fight back.
    I personally know two people whose husbands used to hit them, but the day they fought back, and I mean fought back,(one drew blood) their husbands have stopped. I think men think they have a monopoly on violence perhaps cos they are stronger so may need to be taught a few lessons.

    Our mothers should also be more sympathetic and stop blaming their daughters for failed marriages. Most women's fear is if they leave a violent marriage, what next, as your whole family is likely to turn their backs on you. That's when everyone will tell you stories of how tough their marriage is and yet they have endured.

    I don too talk.

  1. Naapali said...:

    There is a puzzling paucity of comments from men here. I wonder why. I do not purport to speak for men but for myself. Woman historically has been subjugated by man and this is true across cultures and religions. This has likely been purely based on physiology, men are physically stronger (on average, 'cos there are many man-whupping women out there and always have been). Human society for most of its history has been sustained by physical strength and force, hence the prevalence of male dominance. Only recently has this begun to change, for example the right of women to vote only became established within the last 100 years in most Western countries (with few notable exceptions).

    That it is generally realized now that women and men are intellectually indistinguishable is a sign of great progress. You do not have to read too far into history to see well meaning men and women postulate on the inferiority of the female mind. How does this relate to domestic violence? One cannot treat another with equal respect if one does not believe that other is indeed equal. This holds true not only for domestic violence but also for slavery, violence directed towards natives by occupying forces etc.

    Does this mean that once men see women as equals all violence directed at women will disappear? Certainly not, just as violence between men of the same race/family etc has not disappeared. However, the nature of violence will change and hopefully decrease in number.

    How can we change things in our lifetimes? By starting with ourselves. By educating our sons, brothers, husbands, fathers that we hurt ourselves if we hurt our women (Asa's song Jailer expounds on this). By educating our women, our mothers, aunts, daughters, sisters that it is not acceptable to be the outlet of someone else's misplaced physical expression. By rejecting any suggestion that it is culturally acceptable (though with prevalence rates as high as you cite, that is indeed the case right now). I always have argued with my parents that culture is dynamic and must change to serve the needs of its people. It is not surprising that most monotheist religions proffer reasons to subjugate women, as they represent a masculine deity espoused primarily by men with women serving the familiar supporting roles. However, even believers in a God should be able to visualize this deity as being as much woman as man, after all one of the books says (s)he made them in his (her) own image.

    In seeking true equality between genders I caution any suggestion of placing women on a pedestal. Religious and cultural extremists justify their treatment of women by doing this very thing. Women are so special and so must cover up everything lest they be led (or lead weak fragile vulnerable men) astray is but one of the arguments in that arsenal. Margaret Atwood's book "The Handmaid's Tale" explores this with greater depth and lyricism than I can muster. No one places their equal on a pedestal for the only thing you can do on a pedestal is embody someone else's perception of you, and the only place you can go from a pedestal is to fall off. We are all too familiar with what happens to those people.

    Nneoma, apologies for my long winded comment.

  1. nneoma said...:

    @for the love of me - fight fire with fire eh....lol...personally I would. However, I would prefer that such scenarios are prevented before war breaks out.

    @naapali - well, as to the paucity of men - it seems like they make up the minority of my readership - i guess because of topics such as these. So I am not surprised if I don't see their comments on this post. However, the few men that I have talked to outside of the blogosphere voiced concerns and opinions that are not too different from those I have seen here. Also, for another Nigerian male's perspective within the blogosphere, check out Loomnie's blog (http://loomnie.com/2008/02/20/on-wife-bashing/)
    You made an interesting argument about the woman-upon-a-pedestal image which I guess is being used in the poster that i posted on this post. I will try and check out the Atwood book you mentioned.

    When you said that we should teach women and men that DV is not culturally acceptable - that is where I am somewhat conflicted on what to do there. Many cite culture as the reason why DV is allowed. Then how can we say that that same culture or religion is against DV? That is why I wonder if we should pursue the eradication of DV through those institutions or ignore them. I guess the other institution that is left is the judiciary - that is tougher penalties against DV. But without working in concert with those institutions, implementation of these penalties might be difficult (a similar example would be female circumcision in which there are laws against it in some places, but because it is such a deeply embedded cultural tradition, it has been difficult to uproot it completely).

    Oh, and long-winded comments are very welcome here.

  1. TheAfroBeat said...:

    I agree with pretty much all the comments above. Thanks for shining the light on this debate. I agree with Naapali that in order to change the stats in our lifetime, we need to start at the individual level and train our sons and daughters to respect the sanctity of the human body and soul. In my experience, i don't really know many families where physical domestic violence takes place but i certainly know my fair share of families that deal with a lot of mental abuse from the husbands/fathers (and sometimes children from parents).
    As everyone pointed out, it's not a nigerian phenomenon but it's particular hard for women in developing countries (with little/no effective legal institutions) to feel empowered to not have to put up with DV, and so most end up staying and putting up with it, and their children end up learning these negative behaviours (either the giving or receiving of DV). Sigh. It's an enormous task, but if we start at the level of our sphere of influence, slow and steady we'll eradicate domestic violence in our communities.

    How teengs?

  1. Morountodun said...:

    I was amazed when I first heard of someone I went to university with being abused in her marriage! I mean I had always assumed domestic abuse was a relic from the past and once the older generation left it would be gone...

  1. AnyaPosh said...:

    Haha! The title of your blog is really funny. I'm surprised I've never been here throughout my perusal of naija blogs. Oya lemme go and start reading.

  1. I hate DV and I will never condone it; I know about it because my dad was very abusive and my mum fought back, eventually, they separated. The family became dysfunctional with unruling siblings, who keep making alot of life mistakes. There was no dad to rule the house and keep direction… It is very hard for any parent to do the work of both parents.

    On the other hand, one of my very good friend, also experienced the same thing, an abusive father and a docile mother; but they are still together and guess what?, all the kids turned out well. Sometimes, when I think about my siblings, I wished my mother never left my father, lived with the beatings for the sake of the children and kept the family together.

    All I am saying it that leaving a partner and breaking up a family because of DV is a complex and difficult conclusion to reach; especially when you have children involved. Fighting back is also very difficult; your children grow up being aggressive and violent and think it is ok for woman/man to fight and settle dispute with the fist.

    p.s: I will hit back if my husband hits me, but I am not so sure I will leave him. I simply don’t believe in divorce or separation.

  1. webround said...:

    DV is a complex thing with different POV. One POV can look at it as a result of illiteracy. A literate lady would have a greater probability of being able to stand up for her rights. Another POV could be attributed to parents - i.e. when parents practically force one to marry a specific person and then to stay in the marriage even when things are going "crazy" cos we Africans frown at divorce. Another POV could be shame - when a lady has made a mistake but she doesn't want to leave the marriage for being labelled as having a failed marriage especially if she married against the wishes of parents/siblings and co.

    With all these POV, you can have an idea of how prevalent it is, especially in Nigeria

  1. Jaycee said...:


    "...Usually [men] see women as physically, economically and socially inferior to [men]. They also feel that they bought women with their money..."


    That statement was emotional piercing...sad.

    I do not think the two institutions u mentioned (Igbo culture & Christianity) are to blame for the continuation of this type of violence, I think rather what is to blame is "character." Formation of character is usually from one's childhood, so factors that can play into a man's character are things like how the parents raised him, the kinds of training/moral instructions he received while growing up (not to say those are the only factors though).

  1. nneoma said...:

    @the afrobeat - individual level is good but as you said progress would be slow and steady. but i still feel that strengthening laws against DV would help and speed up the process. But like I mentioned earlier, implementing laws without changing the minds of the people won't allow us to go further - so having but the judiciary and these institutions (which influences the minds of individuals) would go a long way.

    @Morountodun - yes, it baffles me too. I think the baffled and appalled are unfortunately in the minority.

    @AnyaPosh - thanks and thanks for stopping by. as much as I love and cherish my name, i thought that something like "Nneoma's Blog" just wouldn't fly.

    @Aspiring nigerian woman said - a agree that DV and divorce are very difficult issues to tackle. However, I still contend that abusive families are not the best types of families to grow up in. And I would even venture to say that divorce is a suitable alternative to violence. In regards to unruly children - I have seen unruly children come out of stable families and I have awesome friends that are the products of a split household. I am not saying that divorce is a good thing - it is painful, horrible and it can scar children for life. But I think if I saw my mom assaulted regularly from the man I call my father, I would also be scarred for life as well. But at the same time, I can understand where you are coming from too, and from your own experience, you probably have more insight into the two issues of separation and DV.

  1. nneoma said...:

    @webround - you're the reason why it took me so long to respond to the last set of comments. It took me forever to figure out what POV stands for....I'm just kidding. But seriously, for future reference, folks, DV stands for domestic violence and POV stands for point of view (i think).

    Now, to webround's POV. I understand that at an individual level, there are many reasons to why people live in abusive relationships. I guess what I was trying to understand was why society allows it to continue. Considering that possibly the majority of Nigerian women in relationships with men are abused (this is a GROSS generalization based on the paper) it hints at a larger societal problem. When the problem is society, fingers ought to be pointed at societal institutions that shape the behaviors and thought of its individuals.

    @jaycee - the practice of dowry has been so adulterated that most can't even remember the original reason for its creation (briefly - it was a means by which a young man proved to his in-laws that he was now ready to marry - that is he was financially stable. In Igbo culture, the culture I am most familiar with, a dowry was not intended on being used to purchase a woman...hmm, this is an idea for a future post). So yes, the statement is sad because culture and religion have been so misconstrued so as to allow and encourage DV to continue.

    So I agree with you that these institutions in their purest forms are not to blame. Character is a major player...but I know of violent people who do not beat their wives. Character is hedge by what the society allows and disallows.

  1. Uzezi said...:

    domestic violence cuts across tribes oh!

  1. pamela said...:

    Domestic violence is a global issue. It cuts across tribe, race, economic levels. I will not tie it only to the Igbos rather I will tie it to the perception that women are INFERIOR to men. Yes, Christianity or the church's interpretation of Christ's message encourages such nonsense.

    How can we eradicate it?

    1)Mother's teach your daughters to love themselves and that you DO NOT have to be in a relationship that is abusive.

    2) More Punishment for Men who abuse their wives or gf, particularly in the Nigerian setting.

    3) NO YOU DONT HAVE TO REMAIN WITH AN ABUSER.

  1. Naija Sutra said...:

    domestic violence is present in every tribe. regardless of where you are, it is who you are.

    children exposed to domestic violence by their parents are more likely to grow up and practice that. so maybe the igbo people are the ones exposing their kids i dont know, but i wud never have guessed that igbo people had that much violence. i would have thought hausa.

  1. nneoma said...:

    @Uzezi - Thanks for pointing that fact. I am well aware the DV is no respecter of tribe, race or ethnicity.

    @pamela - I whole-heartedly agree

    @Naija sutra - thanks for stopping by. Not sure of the relative rates. Note, this is just one study, and flaws may abound in their data collection. My brain's fried right now, otherwise, I would have been able to properly critique their methodology.