Domestic violence cuts across all socio-economic and cultural backgrounds. Twenty eight percent of women, almost a third of all women in Nigeria, have experienced physical violence, a significant number in a country of almost 160 million.
Up to 43 per cent of women believe that domestic violence could be justified on matters such as burning the food; arguing with their husbands; going out without asking for permission; neglecting the children; and refusal to have sexual intercourse.
Women with no education are more likely to believe that physical and mental abuse is justified. Rural men are more likely to say that abuse on any of the above-mentioned grounds is justified. Educated men are less likely to justify abuse than men with less education and exposure. While many women are now speaking out against the violence they have had to endure, others have escaped with permanent disabilities and scars while some, who are not so lucky, have died in the process of being abused constantly.
Here are stories from a few strong women that have gone through and survived domestic abuse. These strong willed women are brave and are examples for other women going through such abuse, to understand that you can still get out; you can pull through; you will survive if you speak up and take a stand.
Anytime Kehinde disagreed with her husband, she would be beaten for it. For all the years she lived with him, she has been beaten more times than she can remember. Sadly, her children witnessed several sessions of this heart breaking incident. With each scar, came a sting of pain in her heart that kept multiplying until she decided to take a stand. Even though she noticed signs of his aggressive nature before they got married, she shoved it off as a mistake. He slapped her once when they were dating, but she waved it aside.
According to Kehinde, an English graduate, her ex-husband believed she shouldn’t have a voice in their marriage. He, as the head of the family, had the final say. Her life at the time was brutal and discouraging. She needed permission to be with friends or family, she needed permission for almost all the basic things we take for granted. She was literally living in hell. Filled with regrets at the turn of events in her life, Kehinde said she would have put two and two together, because he told her his father used to beat his mother a lot. While beating her, he tells her, ‘my father used to beat my mother and she didn’t die, if I beat you, you will not break, you are not an egg.’
During the nine months of her pregnancy, the beating worsened. On one occasion, he threw a lit lantern at her, but luckily for her, she dodged and the settee in their sitting room almost caught fire. At another time, he held a knife to her neck. The horror she felt that day was better imagined as her whole life flashed before her eyes and she begged to stay alive for her children. His eyes were blood shot, and she didn’t believe that she would survive that encounter. Kehinde was disappointed when she reported her husband’s inhuman behaviour to his father. He told her to be patient that the beating was normal. Her local pastor didn’t even provide the succour she needed at that time with words. Not even the police were ready to protect her from the beatings she endured at home. ‘’When I went to my local Pastor, he told me that I shouldn’t be making him angry, and that whatever my husband says, I should submit. I asked him if that included him asking me to rob a bank or kill someone. When I went to the police, they took one look at me and smiling said, ‘you are not a small girl. You either bear it or seek a divorce.’ “What I wanted at that time was for the violence to stop and not for the marriage to end.’’ Looking back, Kehinde confessed that her marriage was over in the 9th year, but she was determined to make it work against all odds. Her reason: She didn’t want to be tagged a divorcee.
She was also worried over how she would raise her children who witnessed some of the abuses. So, she had to hide at her parents’ house at some point to shield herself from the beatings. She eventually got help from an NGO that helps abused women. Kehinde is just one out of several women out there who are enduring domestic violence for several reasons. Only a few brave ones have taken a walk out of such homes.
Kubrah: “I can’t remember how many times he beat me and threw me out of the house. Right from the beginning of our marriage, it was hell personified for my frail body. Violence and physical assault was an integral part of our marriage. The slightest argument between my husband and I, he would lash out at me, insult me verbally and throw things at me. Several times, in the early years of our marriage, whenever I got pregnant, he would ask me to abort it. I was concerned and asked him if he didn’t want us to have children.
Eventually, we had three children, but the violence didn’t stop. I had lost count on how many times he beat me and threw me out of the house or abandoned me on the road side if we had an argument in the car while driving home from somewhere.
On more than two occasions, I went to the police station to report, but they never took me seriously. When I could not take it any longer, I decided to take my destiny in my hands. Initially, I ran away, because he had said, if I did not leave, he would kill me.’’
Someone referred me to An NGO that helps women in abusive marriages and they gave me shelter. I stayed there for six months. In the first few days that I was at the shelter, I was miserable because I missed my children.
I succeeded in getting two of my three childreln and the action infuriated my husband who used his personal relationship with the Police to threaten and intimidate me. They tried tracing me to the shelter, and at that point the NGO had to petition the IGP.
It was all joy for me when the petition was approved and the State Police Command was asked to back off on a case that was already in court. I also went to the public to tell my story as he had gone on the social media to say one small NGO was trying to use his name to make money. By the time I told my own side of the story, he could not comment further.
Reliving my sad days as a married woman, I realized that my husband didn’t allow me to do anything. I lived in his shadow and my self-esteem was at its lowest ebb because I was careful not to provoke him.
Since he was older than me by about 22years, my husband felt that I was too stupid to know or do anything against his order. My opinion in the house did not count, and anytime I tried voicing out anything, I received serious beatings.
While I was at the shelter, and with the constant counselling I received, my self-confidence and esteem returned gradually. I started believing in myself and my ability to work and earn a living. I engaged in petty trading with support from my father.”
Life smiled on Kubrah who was able to rent a small apartment for herself and her children after living in the shelter for months.
Ruth: Ruth had gotten used to receiving severe beatings from her husband of eight years. She was an orphan who opened her heart and life to Gabriel. At the time they met, he appeared like her messiah but that quickly fizzled out as he kept presenting her with blows, kicks and slaps at every given opportunity. One day, he beat her so much that she fainted. It was the voice of her confused children that kept ringing in her subconscious until her neighbours revived her. When she woke up, she was soaked in water. Her crying children were by her side looking lost, confused and scared. Her six year old daughter begged her not to allow daddy kill her as the beatings had become a regular occurrence in their home. Her daughter informed her that daddy kept kicking her in the head even after she had passed out. Ruth said contrary to pleas from neighbours to leave her abusive husband while she could still be with her children, she stayed in the marriage, forgave him, praying that he would change.
However, Ruth would live to regret her decision as her prayers fell on hard ground. He became worse and abused her even the more. Three months ago, he threatened to kill her and the children. This time, she knew the threat was real. She became fearful and lost all hope, thinking of what would happen when he eventually carries out his threats.
‘’My kids were frightened, my daughter begged me to call the police, but I refused, claiming that a good woman won’t call the police on her husband. Her next statement made me cry. She said you always protect him, he beat you, spit on you, but you still protect him. I hope you will be happy if he eventually kills us “.
It was not that her daughter wasn’t telling the truth, but the reality was that they had nowhere to go. But her friend came to her rescue offering her a boys’ quarters accommodation in her home and she moved in with her two children. They had rest for a while until her husband started threatening the couple who took them in.
She narrated further, “After two months, he started calling, asking people to call and say how sorry he was. I was considering going back but every time I pray, I keep getting this feeling that if I go back to him, I might not come back alive. I wanted to go back because I hate divorce.’’
Lami: Lami was married for 10 years and she was blessed with two children. But her marriage was not the happy one she envisaged. Her husband had on several occasions beaten, threatened and warned her to keep quiet concerning what was happening at home. She trembled whenever she heard his voice. All she would do to provoke him was to ask him questions about what she deemed important and he would flip. On one occasion, he attempted strangling her and pulled off her hair from her scalp.
Worse still, he never provided for the family as and when due and refused her conjugal rights. On several occasions, after enduring the frustration for a long time, Lami made attempts to bring in their pastor to mediate, a suggestion he hitherto, refused.
It was then it dawned on her that she would no longer risk her life for a union that was snuffing every inch of her breath away from existence. With nowhere to go and no money to keep her and her children together, she ran to a shelter for abused women and they helped her to get back on her feet.
Mary: Another domestic violence survivor, Mary was married for nine turbulent years. Trouble started during preparations for their wedding. As invites were being sent out to friends, he beat her up and broke her left eardrum in the process.
Immediately, she wanted to call the wedding off, but both families begged and prevailed on her not to do so, as it would bring about shame. They pleaded on his behalf and he promised never to hit her again. But he didn’t keep his promise. Four months into their marriage, he started beating her at every slightest opportunity. This led to further deterioration in her left ear, as he kept slapping and hitting her. She revealed that the beatings and the problems continued unabated for nine years despite family interventions, which often times ended with both families asking her to apologise even after the beatings. Hardly would a month go by that he wouldn’t beat her. At one time, he attempted to strangle her. She however managed to escape from him and called out to neighbours. Having escaped, she reported him to the police. He was invited but no agreement could be reached as he told the police that as long as she argues with him, he would keep beating her.
‘’At this point, I realized that there was no hope for our marriage and that I needed to run for dear life. Neither my security nor that of my children was guaranteed in the marriage. I got to a non-governmental organization, six weeks after they opened the first shelter for abused women in Nigeria.’’
Her marriage was dissolved on the grounds of cruelty, physical assault and threat to life. While she gained custody of their children, her ex was asked to pay maintenance allowance for his young children. Her ordeal was far from over as her ex-husband never adhered to the court judgement till date; he has refused to cater for his children as ruled. The NGO assisted her through School and thereafter, she got a job with the University of Abuja where she now works.
Even though she is happy to be alive to tell her story, she has not had it easy catering for her children as a single mother. It was a tough road, but one that is laced with benefits. Her children give her strength to keep moving.
Aminat: A mother of four, Aminat had suffered incessant physical and psychological assault from her husband. She experienced various forms of physical assault ranging from chasing her with cutlass on several occasions; throwing her things out of the house; seizing and destroying her personal and official properties such as office laptop and phones etc.
Even though he had a business of his own, her husband had on numerous occasions forced her to transfer her salaries to him on monthly basis, using the children as bait. He had severally threatened to frustrate her in life and render her useless, saying nothing would happen.
For the most part of their 11 -year marriage, she lived in unimaginable fear for her life and that of her children. At one point, he asked her to resign from her job after collecting her salary. He placed her under house arrest for days. He seized her phones too. When she eventually communicated to her father begging to be rescued, he pushed her out of their home even though she was still breastfeeding her baby.
After much power tussle between both families using the police, her baby was handed over to her. She filed for a restraining order against him. She has known peace ever since she left her abusive husband and she’s doing well with her four children.
Rifkahtu: Rifkahtu had married her husband hoping the marriage would be filled with bliss. They had started a business together, built a house together and bought cars together, yet, all the documents were in his name.
When she summoned the courage to ask him why all the documents were in his name having contributed 70 per-cent of the money involved, he beat her up, tearing her clothes before their neighbours.
He started sleeping around with women, and whenever she expressed her displeasure, she would receive a thorough beating. He proceeded to a customary court to divorce her because they had a traditional marriage.
‘’The last time he beat me up in the presence of my children and neighbours, I reported him to the police and he was invited for questioning. At the station, the police made him sign an undertaking never to assault me again.’’
Susan: A mother of two boys, Susan got married to a Naval Officer, after they met at her elder sister’s residence. They courted for six months and consummated their marriage in 2007. However, their love-at-first-sight story turned sour as he turned her to his punching bag. She received beatings whenever she confronted him about his numerous affairs. Once, he poked his hands into her eyes and till date, she still feels the pain in her eyes. As the beatings continued, Susan cried out for help and reported her abusive husband to the police. While the case was still under investigation, he retaliated by taking her children away from her and she has not seen them ever since. He took them to his sister’s house where they had denied Susan the right to see or even speak to them on phone. Susan alleged that her husband is about to take another lady for a wife, while her two children are away from her. Scared of receiving another round of beating, Susan has not made any travel plans to get her children back.
By: Umaru Maryam Hadejia