Domestic abuse and violence, is a societal menace, a serious public health issue, which often has negative intergenerational impacts. Many people, particularly women, but even a few men, and the children who witness abuse in their homes have suffered and continue to suffer without knowledge of how to address this issue, frequently lacking support from family and churches, and unable to reach out for effective assistance.
With respect to public health, as stated by the World Health Organisation, domestic violence has adverse mental and physical impacts, including fatality. Physical violence related to domestic abuse is a silent killer that has taken the lives of many people in Nigeria, particularly women. It also has negative impacts on self-esteem, increases incidences of depression, and other mental health problems.
News of the most devastating instances of domestic violence continue to make headlines monthly but there is very little knowledge both about how to prevent these occurrences, or of any efforts on the parts of governments, non-governmental organisations, other interested stakeholders, and the law, to tackle these issues.
According to the National Demographic and Health Survey 2008, almost a third of all women in Nigeria, have experienced physical violence in domestic situations, a significant number in a country of almost 160 million, where almost half are women.
Our organisation, the Centre for Health Ethics Law and Development (CHELD)is taking steps to address some of the existing gaps in the tackling of domestic violence, as one of its health development projects. In this regard, CHELD aims to reduce domestic violence in Nigeria by changing public perception through creating effective forums to engage different stakeholders in society in order to create awareness, lift the silence around the issue, and provide preventative education.
To achieve these, CHELD has developed a series, Conversations on Domestic Violence, aimed at increasing awareness of, and education about domestic violence. It is aimed to be both preventive and informational. CHELD has also developed an Online Resource Centre for Domestic Violence – www.domesticviolence.com.ng
The first edition of CHELD’s Conversations on Domestic Violence was organised in conjunction with the Law Society of the University of Lagos. It took place on Wednesday, December 12, 2012 at the Julius Berger Hall, University of Lagos.
At this edition, we had about 350 students. It was an engaging, educational, and inspiring interaction. It provided in-depth considerations of domestic abuse and violence, discussing its various manifestations, the signs of abuse, what to do in abusive situations, human rights aspects of domestic violence, and the provisions of the law regarding domestic violence in Nigeria, amongst other things.
Our speakers were Ms Funmi Johnson, CEO Born 2 Be Beautiful, Mrs Ghaneeya Sulaiman Olokodana, CEO Here and After, Mrs Ajo Balogun, Project Head OyeDynamix, and Mrs Josephine Chukwumah, Executive Director, Project Alert. Each of the speakers had unique and wide-ranging insights, which they shared with us. It also included a talk by a human resources expert, AjoBalogun, on career development.
An excerpt from Dr. Cheluchi Onyemelukwe Onuobia’s introductory remarks at the event, explaining the need for the Conversation for university students:
Our hope is that these conversations, had in a non-confrontational atmosphere, where people can share ideas, receive information, debate opposing views can begin to help to lift the silence around this matter and allow effective actions to promote positive change to begin.
We are interested in all aspects of Domestic Violence, in law reform around that issue. But because of what we have seen in the surveys we conducted in this area, the misinformation, the complete lack of information, the helplessness and sometimes even disinterest, we thought that we would not simply stop at advocating for Law Reform. We thought that it was time we had a conversation about domestic violence at all levels of society, with different stakeholders in society.
Why A Conversation on Domestic Violence? Why have we brought students in to engage in these conversations with us?
Some of us come from backgrounds in which we witnessed domestic abuse and violence, where our fathers beat our mothers sometimes right in front us, where our uncles beat their wives, where our cousins neglected their wives and children. This has, in all likelihood affected us in different ways. This conversation is an opportunity to reflect on our backgrounds and the ways in which our backgrounds impact our attitude to relationships, and ask ourselves some important questions.
Some of us read stories in the papers, where women are stabbed to death like Titi Arowolo, or ironed with a hot blazing iron like the case of Mercy Nnadi, or where genitals are cut off like the case of the man whose wife castrated because of his infidelity. And, like me, you wonder whether anything can be done, and whether you will ever be in a position to assist in any way. This conversation is for you.
Many of us will pursue long-term relationships like marriage one day. Many of us are currently involved in intimate relationships, boyfriend/girlfriend type relationships.
Many of us in the room are aspiring lawyers, lawyers who may one day be involved in family law cases, in human rights cases in national and international tribunals. Some of us will become prosecutors in the DPP’s office. Some of us will become legal advisers to companies where we will have to deal with cases relating to human resource and labour issues. We may come across cases in which domestic violence plays a key role.
Some of us may eventually leave law to pursue careers as Nollywood screenwriters, producers and directors. Some of us may pursue careers in the religious arena. We will come across stories of domestic abuse and violence. We will have to deal with these stories one way or another.
In essence, this Conversation is relevant to you in one way or another – directly or indirectly.
There was great energy in the room. The students asked interesting questions, for instance, how to know that a relationship is toxic, whether divorce or separation was always the right response, and what behaviours could be considered abuse.
One of the highlights of the program was creating awareness of Lagos State’s Protection against Domestic Violence Law, 2007 domesticviolence.com.ng/lagos-state-protection-against-domestic-violence-law/. Even though the majority of the audience were law students, many of them had never heard about this law.
The event was covered by two of the most widely read national papers in Nigeria. Copies of the reports are available on this website.
Speakers spoke from their expertise, experiences, but also importantly, their hearts. The students were engaged, and participated actively. From some of the questions that were asked, and the comments we have received following the event, this is a much-needed conversation that we must continue to have publicly and privately.
To learn more about CHELD and its activities and upcoming events,
a) Like us on Facebook: www.facebook.com/CentreforHealthEthicsLawandDevelopment
b) Follow us on Twitter: @CHELDNG
c) Check out our Online Resource Centre on Domestic Violence: www.domesticviolence.com.ng
d) Visit our website – www.cheld.org