It’s been two months and I can’t get it off my mind. Pictures and videos of a sitting state governor and his wife “reconciling” a case of domestic abuse to the press. In case you missed it, here’s a quick summary:
A woman in Nigeria named Ifeyinwa, came out on social media to report the domestic abuse she’s been facing from her husband, a local television reporter, Pius Angbo. In the video she shared, her face was covered in injuries and she mentioned that she was beaten for asking him not to continue spending money on women, as they just had a baby four weeks before and needed to be prudent. She also mentioned that he sat on her stomach knowing full well she’d just had a cesarean section and it wasn’t the first time, he’d done so three months into her pregnancy too, while choking her.
A few days later, the Governor of Benue State and his wife held a press conference with Pius and Ifeyinwa, (who by the way was still covered in injuries from his abuse). Ifeyinwa stands in front of the Governor, First Lady and Pius and states that thanks to the intervention of the governor and his wife, her and her husband have reconciled.
Pius and Governor Ortom stare at her fiercely and gruelingly, while her body language gives off nothing but fear. She then tells the media that she forgives him and asks everyone to forgive him too. Bear in mind, this is an address to a good number of the country’s largest media houses.
Now the first question is how on earth does anyone, let alone a sitting governor in a position of leadership, “reconcile” a case of domestic violence? Someone with a duty to report directly to the authorities and do everything in his power to ensure her safety?
More questions now – do the governor and his wife realise that they’ve given Pius the green light to abuse her further? Or, is it that they do realise this (as the rest of us thinking straight do) and threatened this woman to stay with her abuser for reasons unknown to us? What about their four children who clearly cannot be safe living in this abusive environment? “Don’t cry…sorry mummy”, one of her children said, in the video Ifeyinwa initially posted.
You see, abuse in all forms continues to be SO normalised in Nigeria. All governors of the thirty-six states declared a state of emergency on rape and sexual violence just last year and now one of them has openly and confidently encouraged domestic abuse. Think about it, can you think of any reason why the Violence Against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) Act has not been passed in every state, except for the people with the power to pass this act, genuinely not standing against abuse?
Gender Based Violence has certainly become more reported, thanks to social media and intervention programs to name a few reasons.
When Ifeyinwa came on social media to report her abuser, she was clearly at breaking point. Six years of marriage, six years of abuse and she couldn’t take it anymore. Only for this to be brought to the attention of a state governor and he cajoles Ifeyinwa back into the hands of her abuser for reasons unknown to us. Imagine how many abusers saw that normalisation all across the media and felt more validated in abusing their victims further that day and the day after, and the day after.
I like statistics, if you know me, you probably already know that. But that’s because there’s only so much playing you can do with facts. In 2013, a study was carried out involving 20,802 women between the ages of 15-49 in Nigeria and one in four reported having ever experienced Intimate Partner Violence (IPV). Two in three people killed in relationships are also women. And more goosebumps now – global lifetime prevalence for IPV in Africa is as high as 37%. And that’s just what’s reported. Studies within Nigeria tell us that IPV ranges from 31-61% for emotional abuse, 20-31% for sexual abuse and 7-31% for physical abuse.
Nigerian. Women. Suffer.
Yet how much is being done about it?
There are efforts to end gender based violence, but they certainly aren’t widespread enough, because this is nothing short of a war. Yes, we have phenomenal civil society organisations doing their best to increase reporting, provide the right help for survivors and educate people. But we certainly do not have enough people with the power to amend and enforce laws doing their job. I mean, come on, remember when a sitting senator was caught on camera slapping a woman up? And what’s the most that happened to him, did he lose his seat in the senate? NO! The senate investigation went completely quiet and months later a judge ordered him to pay the victim N50 million. This man is still in the goddamn senate, cross carpeting from party to party with the power to approve and disapprove laws on behalf of all of us Nigerians.
No really, what did we do to deserve this? Nigeria is a very dangerous place for women and we barely scratch the surface of being seen as second class citizens. Our freedom is shackled, we breathe in the patriarchy everywhere we go and that’s when you even feel like you can breathe.
So what is it going to take for women to be safe in this country? Well men not abusing us of course, but some things in life do help protect us just that little bit more. I don’t have all the answers, but here are my two cents.
Nothing beats financial freedom and the safety that it gives you. Having access to money may help make you less vulnerable. Also, the more access to money a woman has, the less likely she is to also suffer from toxic control and financial abuse at the hands of her abuser. There are far too many things that money mediates and we cannot ignore this. Money cannot stop abuse from happening, but it can definitely create safer environments and provide more options.
A quick Google search on “financial freedom for women” will bring up several articles with peoples’ advice on steps to achieving this. A lot of it is good advice of course, but we have to also approach financial freedom with an intersectional mindset. Take a woman who came from a poor background, received no formal education and was married at a young age – seeing things online (if she can even access the internet) like “negotiate your salary proficiently” really won’t help her search for financial freedom. She has no education to get a good job, to then earn a decent salary. Not to talk about the possible scenario of her being in a marriage that doesn’t give her the power to work based on cultural wrongs. The very mention of a job could make her vulnerable to abuse.
There is a large connection between gender based violence and money and a serious focus on economic security for women can help reduce the prevalence of GBV. Again, money does not stop abuse, but studies show that the poorer you are, the more likely you are to experience GBV. For example, if a man’s role in a relationship is that of a financial provider, this can lead to authority and control that can serve as gateways to abuse. Today, cash transfers to women in low and middle income countries are becoming more prevalent and there is increasing evidence to show the positive role that they play in reducing IPV. In Bangladesh, the Transfer Modality Research Initiative (TMRI), carried out a cash and food transfer program for women. Six to ten months after the program, research showed that there was a 26% decrease in physical intimate partner violence.
Look, this is not a golden ticket for the victim shamers to start saying “why didn’t you just have money?!” or “then work to make money” – because I know victim shamers look for any loophole they can. The blame for abuse lies one thousand percent in the hands of the abuser and it ends there. What I am saying is, if you have the financial means to do so, there are ways to help create safer environments for women. If it is proven that cash transfers for example reduce the risk of IPV, why not choose a woman to support on a month-to-month basis if you can afford to? That small loan to start a business or that money for her rent for the next six months, is very likely to be her stepping stone to an economically secure life. You don’t know how far your help may go.
It is expensive enough to be a woman, let alone to have to consider the cost of creating safe environments to live in. Every month, women have to spend a good amount of money on sanitary products, contraceptives and other healthcare costs that hundreds of millions simply cannot afford. These are costs that any sensible government should find a way to at least subsidise especially for women in lower income brackets. Scotland recently became the first country to make sanitary products free for all who can’t afford them, shoutout to Nicola Sturgeon, but imagine if every country did the same?
Financial freedom is necessary for everyone, but it is central to the female experience.
It defines roles in intimate partnerships, encourages autonomy, gives options and validates the place of women in the workplace.
The more financially free women are, the safer women are. And that’s a fact.