Sometime in February this year, I had gone to a senior friend’s house on a visit and learnt that mama, her mother in-law had been around for over three weeks. Mama still looked physically fit even though; she was already a great grandmother and well advanced in age (in her late nineties). Considering her age and agility, it was therefore not unusual for me to think that mama had only come around for either a jolly holiday, or was brought over to the city for a routine medical checkup. My assumptions were, however, way out of it as was later revealed.
Having observed my curiosity and heightened interest, my senior friend took me into confidence by obliging me with details of why mama had been brought over. I was shocked to my wits when she told me that mama suffered ruthless beatings in the hands of one of her sons. I couldn’t fathom what she told me and I her told that I didn’t understand what she had just said. She responded, “Mama’s second son who happened to be the immediate younger of my late husband assaulted mama and threw her out of the family house in the village”.
Of course I was alarmed that anyone in his right senses would raise a finger against such a delicate old woman. What in the world could justify such insensitivity against a defenseless woman? According to my friend, one of mama’s grand children was sent to the village to spend some time with her. The young boy, an adolescent as mama was soon to discover had some delinquent tendencies. Complaints from victims of her grandson’s illicit behaviors became one too many; just as he disregarded mama’s scolding and often resorted to threatening her.
Mama had kept his parents abreast of his misdemeanors and gotten wary of their all too familiar reply that she should be patient with him, as he was only exhibiting youthful exuberance. Short of what else to do to make her grandson penitent and fearing for her own safety after another of his aggressive threats, mama reported him to the community police. Upon learning of the episode, the boy’s father stormed the village bailed his son and took him back to their family house which mama occupied.
In his feat of rage and with his son cheering him on, he descended on mama and beat her blue black. All pleas from those who had by the time gathered fell on deaf ears. Many of the villagers were scared to come too close to stop him considering the fact that he could very well turn his aggression on anyone else. He was however not done, as he threw mama’s things out of her long dead husband’s house; ranting that as the most senior surviving son, all his late father owned apparently belonged to him. He did not mince words in telling his aged mother that she was at his mercy. He even threatened to strangle her should she ever attempt to come back to the house.
Notwithstanding the fact that mama had never been the best of mother in-laws to my senior friend, she did not waste any time in travelling over to the village on learning of the incident. Of course her persona as a grassroots women’s leader and activist of many years, and genuine passion for supporting women took the better a part of her. She understood what had happened for what it was; nothing but another dimension and unjustified case of ‘Violence Against Women’.
Mama’s condition was cause for concern as she complained of body aches. Hence, my friend felt it was necessary for the aged woman to get good medical attention and extra home care. She decided to take mama back with her, and so began mama’s relocation to the City. My friend did not rest her oars as she made extra effort to mediate and broker peace between mama and her brother in-law. Eventually she succeeded in convincing her in-laws to organize a peace meeting.
In spite of the harm mama’s egocentric and prejudicial son had caused his aged mother, he still had the guts to lay down rules about who should attend the family reconciliatory meeting that was convened. He sent word to my friend that her position as a daughter in-law and wife to a late son in the family traditionally disqualified her from being present at the meeting. She was once again reminded of the patriarchic cultural practices that carved a niche for women as second class citizens. People who should not be seen nor heard! She was once again reminded that amongst her in-laws, her voice died when her husband died.
My friend’s predicament with her in-laws, mama’s case and the many pathetic stories of assault experienced by women the world over clearly indicates that prejudice and violence against women knows no bound, age, creed, race, ethnicity and family ties. Looks like all these binding issues mean little or nothing to perpetrators. For all they care, their victims deserve the harm they cause them; and sadly perpetrators hardly ever get punished. Little wonder then why violence against women continues unabated, even in the face of so many laudable laws, policies and treaties designed to eliminate the problem.
For much of history and throughout the world, traditions and laws have failed to adequately protect women, and this to a very large extent, has contributed to widespread violence against women. Social and legal traditions have tolerated, and even promoted the persistent subjection and or assault of women; thereby causing victims both short-term and long-lasting effects that are very harmful and limiting.
In Nigeria, Violence against women has also been on the rise and the Nigerian authorities have failed to take it seriously as an offence. By the day, women get raped, beaten, maimed and in worst case scenarios they get killed under the name of domestic violence. Though this trend occurs across much of the world, Nigeria’s discriminatory laws and dismissive police compound its particularly high rates of domestic violence. Most potently, the prevalent culture of silence and stigma for the victims of domestic violence hinders public acknowledgement of the problem.
Stephane Mikala, Deputy Director of Amnesty International’s Africa program, said: "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," adding that "husbands, partners and fathers are responsible for most of the violence".
All forms of abuse against women whether silent, verbal or physical must be recognized as wrong and a very serious social problem that calls for redress by all and sundry. There exists an urgent need to challenge the social prejudices and institutional structures in order to protect women, not just from danger, but also from ridicule, fear and isolation. Those who make it a past time to assault women must be made to realize that women are not in any way punch bags or rage receptors; and should not be taken for granted. Our seemingly fragile frames are not a symbol of weakness because what we lack in physical strength, we are full of inwardly. We deserve to be protected and treated with much consideration, care and affection.
Take action! This post was submitted in response to Ending Gender-Based Violence 2012.