- While the level of violence against Nigerian women in the home remains poorly mapped, pilot studies conclude it is "shockingly high". Up to two-thirds of women in certain communities in Nigeria's Lagos State are believed to have experienced physical, sexual or psychological violence in the family and in other areas, around 50 percent of women say they are victims to domestic violence.
In the absence of official studies, research into the prevalence of violence in the family has been conducted by individuals and organisations. In a recent small-scale study of gender inequality in Lagos and Oyo states, 40 percent of the women interviewed said they had been victims of violence in the family, in some cases for several years.
The study concluded that such violence was not documented in Nigeria because of widespread tolerance of violence against women: "once a woman is married, she is expected to endure whatever she meets in her matrimonial home," according to information released by the human rights group Amnesty International today.
In Nigeria, there was said to be little awareness of psychological abuse in marriage, and 20 percent of the urban women interviewed and 29 percent of the rural women did simply not know if they had been subjected to abuse or not.
The worst-yet numbers of domestic violence in Nigeria had been disclosed in a 2001 survey by Project Alert on Violence Against Women. Here, interviews were conducted with women working in markets, women in other work places, and with girls and young women in secondary school and at university in Lagos State.
They were asked about physical abuse in the family, rape and reporting incidents of violence. In Lagos State, 64.4 percent of the 45 interviewed women in work places said they had been beaten by a partner, boyfriend or husband. 56.2 percent of 48 interviewed market women had experienced the same type of violence.
According to Amnesty, the federal and state governments of Nigeria were partly responsible for these "shocking" numbers. Neither the Lagos government nor the Federal government was doing anything to stem the tide of violence – and in some cases they were even condoning it, the human rights group said at a press conference today, launching its report 'Nigeria: Unheard voices – violence against women in the family'.
Amnesty's Stephane Mikala was outraged over the level of violence against women in Nigeria. "On a daily basis, Nigerian women are beaten, raped and even murdered by members of their family for supposed transgressions, which can range from not having meals ready on time to visiting family members without their husband's permission," she said. "Tragically, husbands, partners and fathers are responsible for most of the violence against these women," Ms Mikala added.
In some cases, the report found, vicious acid attacks have left women with horrific disfigurements, in a brutal form of punishment known as an "acid bath". Such violence is deliberately intended to mutilate or kill – and many women subjected to an "acid bath" die as a result of the attack.
Violence against women in the home is generally regarded as belonging to the private sphere in Nigeria, and therefore to be shielded from outside scrutiny. A culture of silence reinforces the stigma attached to the victim rather than condemning the perpetrator of such crimes.
- The criminal justice system in our country provides almost no protection for women from violence in the home or community, said Itoro Eze-Anaba of the Legal Defence and Assistance Project (LEDAP), who contributed to the study. "The police and courts often dismiss domestic violence as a family matter and refuse to investigate or press charges."
Years of "corruption and under-resourcing in the police force" over the years had left little public faith in its integrity or capacity, causing many victims to avoid the police, according to the report. "Furthermore, the few rape victims who summon up the courage to take their cases to court face humiliating rules of evidence," Ms Eze-Anaba said.
The human rights activists urged the Nigerian government to "take immediate action to meet its obligations under international human rights law," obliging it to protect women from gender-based violence. This included information about women rights, legal reforms, a police force and judiciary capable of aiding female victims and the establishment of safe-houses where women could escape violence - which are non-existent in Nigeria.
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