She walked absent-mindedly with her baby strapped to her back looking behind her at intervals as if trying to hide from someone.

I was waiting patiently for Onyinye Igwe, 34 in her neighbour’s shop across the road. Onyinye finally arrived, scruffy, with her slim figure, obviously looking unhappy even as she tried to fake a smile by saying “it is well my sister.”

She asked her neighbour what type of a journalist I was before granting the scheduled interview. “I don’t want my face to show on any Television! Mama Bayo, you know my oga, na die be that!” she said in pidgin before summing up the courage to talk with me.

“I have been married for 10 years and it has been a decade of pains, sorrows and regret,” she said when asked how she had been faring in her marriage.

“My life has been full of regrets, sometimes I wish I could just turn back the hands of time and make the right choice or never even bother myself about marriage.”

Onyinye went ahead to narrate her ordeal about how she got married to Tony Igwe, whom she met at their local church in Enugu State, South-east Nigeria.

According to her, she has suffered and is still suffering from domestic violence from her husband even after several attempts by her parents and well-wishers to talk to him. At a point according to her, she became frustrated and decided to remain silent and endure the abuse, taking it as her path in destiny.

The nursing mother said she thought things would change when they moved to Abuja but that, rather, it has grown worse especially now that none of her family members is living close to her.

“I don’t even know what to do my sister,” she said. “You know how our people behave especially in the church, they will just label you and start avoiding you because they feel you have disobeyed their doctrine.”

That was her response when asked why she still chose to stay in such an abusive marriage knowing that her life was at stake.

“My sister, even if I want to leave, how can I manage with my four children? God forbid that I ever leave my children for that man,” Onyinye said.

Domestic violence is a serious threat to many women. Domestic violence also called spousal violence occurs between people in an intimate relationship and can take many forms, including emotional, sexual and physical abuse and most times threats to life. Abuse by a partner can happen to anyone, but domestic violence is most often directed toward women.

Abusive relationships always involve an imbalance of power and control. An abuser uses intimidating, hurtful words and behaviours to control a partner, especially in a conservative society, where culture and religion play a major role in the lives of individuals.

Religious affiliations may affect the judgement of individuals as it does to variances in beliefs regarding separation and divorce. Culture just like religion keeps digging the hole of contention and silent dissatisfaction.

It might not be very easy to identify domestic violence at first, while some relationships are clearly abusive from the outset, abuse often starts subtly and gets worse over time and victims tends to be at the mercy of the abuser.

Why would anyone want to remain in an abusive relationship like that of Onyinye even when their lives are at stake?

Nothing really had changed even with the passage of the Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act. A lot of people are still trapped in abusive relationships because of what their families and religious bodies would say. They are grappling with societal stereotypes.

It is pertinent to know that the longer one stays in an abusive relationship, the greater the physical and emotional torment it would have on you; making you feel depressed and anxious, or you might even begin to doubt your ability to take care of yourself. You might, oftentimes, feel helpless or paralyzed like in the case of Onyinye.

Similar to that of Onyinye Igwe is that of Grace Ugwu 38, a staff of the Nigeria Correctional Service who was abandoned by her family because she left her abusive marriage after being legally divorced by a Customary Court sitting in the Federal Housing Authority Estate in Lugbe, Abuja, last December.

According to her, the pain of rejection by those who are supposed to support her is what is tearing her apart even when they all saw and witnessed how her ex-husband almost killed her.

She said, “The pain I feel daily because of the outright rejection by my siblings and immediate family member cannot be compared with what I faced in my ex-husband’s house.

“The Church also did not help matters at all as I was rejected from the women group, I belonged to in the church simply because I was divorced. It is so sad and painful. Sometimes I wonder if remaining in that marriage till I die is what they all truly wish me.

“My elder brother said outrightly to me that it was against our culture. That all I want to do is to bring shame to the family,” she said.

Women have rights like their male counterparts, fully entrenched in the nation’s constitution; they have right to live, right not to be imperilled to torment or inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment.

Right to equal protection, right to liberty and personal security, right to equal protection under the law, right to equality in the family, right to the highest standard attainable of physical, mental health and right to justice.

Unfortunately, violence against women violates these rights and fundamental freedoms of women and promotes gender inequality in society

Victims of these acts sometimes are also not honest as domestic violence are usually shrouded in secrecy.
Domestic violence is on the rise and people are just watching helplessly as the situation escalates.

Regrettably, the majority of the people who are experiencing one form of domestic violence or the other often chose to suffer in silence apparently due to the fear of stigmatization and shame. Victims of these acts sometimes are also, often not honest as domestic violence is usually shrouded in secrecy.

A Rights Activist, Barrister Essien Essien Esq., In analysing the topic, noted that the problem most times with people who are experiencing domestic violence is silence.

He said, “There are laws put in place to prosecute abusers but until victims speak up there is nothing anybody can do. He advised victims to speak up as silence for fear of stigmatization or stereotype will not help.

He also went ahead to encourage victims to seek counselling and leave such abusive marriages to avoid any unforeseen circumstances.

Similarly, the Branch Imam of Al-Habibiyyah Islamic Society, Abuja, Sulaiman Aliyu Alagbe, Branch explained that divorce is allowed in Islam only as the last option.

He said, “Even though divorce is most hateful to Allah (swt), He has still made it permissible in Islam.”

He continued, “Making peace can only be brought about if couples understand their rights and duties as stated in the Qur’an and Hadith.

The recent case of renowned gospel singer, Osinachi, who was said to have been suffering abuse in silence until she died, brings to the fore what others are passing through without raising a voice. But somehow, her death has perhaps emboldened more people to speak up against domestic violence and shame committers of the crime.

Other recent cases included those of a Local Government Transition Committee chairman of Nnewi North of Anambra State, Mbazulike Iloka, who is being accused of committing violence against his wife, the late Mrs Chidiebere Iloka that led to her untimely death and that of a female journalist and a mother of three working with the Adamawa Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) Yola, Nafessah Vandi, who was beaten to a point of stupor by her estranged husband, who inflicted various degree of injuries including dislocation of one of her hands.

In a survey carried out by Dataphyte, 31 per cent of women between the age of 15 and 49, have experienced physical violence. Nine per cent have experienced sexual violence, and six per cent of the women had experienced physical violence even during pregnancy.

Similarly, 36 per cent of most married women have experienced intimate partner violence which involves physical, sexual, and emotional violence. About 29 per cent of ever-married women who had experienced intimate partner violence sustained injuries. Injuries vary from cuts and bruises to deep wounds and other serious injuries.

Recently in a press release, the National Association of Women Journalists, (NAWOJ), called on Faith-based organisations, human rights activists as well as relevant Non-Governmental Organisations, (NGOs) to rise to the occasion of the increasing rate of domestic violence against women and speak out against such societal ills.

The group stated that there can never be justification for violence against a spouse or any human being.

The time is ripe for authorities to show more concern in the issues of domestic violence and really prosecute violators. This would serve as great deterrent to others.

Traditional rulers should also ensure that some archaic laws, culture and ancient practices that trample upon the rights of women are repealed to give freedom to victims to seek redress in the court.

*Support for this report was provided by the Centre for Journalism Innovation and Development (CJID Africa) and it is made possible through funding support from The Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR).