Violence against women and girls: Breaking the culture of silenceWritten by Nnaemeka Oruh
Let us tell ourselves the truth, we are all witnesses, culprits, or victims of violence against women and girls. Be it a father abusing the daughter sexually, a husband physically or verbally abusing the wife, a son abusing his mother or girlfriend physically, psychologically, or sexually, or a brother abusing his girlfriend or wife, or even our own mothers or sisters suffering any form of abuse from our fathers or our sisters' husbands, or even our friends or neighbours carrying out these abuses.One way or the other, we witness these abuses; we hear of them; we perpetrate them; and sometimes,we are even victims. All around us are these abuses. These abuses may be physical, psychological, verbal, sexual, or in the form of harmful widowhood practices or genital mutilation. So when you or anybody you know use(s) your tongue as a whip on a woman or girl, know that you are abusing the person and this may lead to a psychological breakdown. Or when that female child has her clitoris cut off in the name of circumcision, or a widow is denied her rights and made to suffer inhuman treatments, we should be aware that abuse is taking place.
Yet, few of these cases are reported.In fact, we seldom see these abuses as serious, or, as something bad. But are abuses against women and girls evil? Do they affect societal balance?
Many people see violence against women and girls as a normal way of life. It is believed that it is normal to beat the woman a little. When daughters complain to their mothers about their husbands or boyfriends beating them, the mothers carefully explain to them that it is the normal way of life and buttress with the example that their own husbands did beat them too. In some cases, children who had witnessed such spousal abuses internalize them and see such acts as the norm. So the boys go ahead to carry on with that culture of impunity, while the girls receive such abuses with lamb-like piety. And thus the vicious cycle continues, resulting in death, maiming, etc.
There is another reason for such general acceptance and silence to violence against women and girls. It is the issue of stigmatization. The father, uncle, grandfather, or even a neighbour sexually abuses a woman or a girl, everybody ensures the issue is not heard outside simply because of the social stigma society attaches to such abuses. Nobody wants to talk about it so that it does not become public knowledge which will lead to the stigmatization of the victim. So tomorrow, the perpetrator is emboldened and he continues to wreck havoc on more women and girls. As for the victim, the trauma stays. Never mind the unwanted pregnancy that could have been avoided if such a case was reported and the proper medical attention given. Never mind the venereal diseases that may follow such abuse. The victim thus becomes twice a victim and the culprit continues on his way, a roaring prey, inflicting more harm. On his trail will be a long line of psychologically traumatized women, unwanted babies, and sick women and girls. But you and I remain quiet. Until one day, we become secondary victims(and sometimes primary victims) of the vicious cycle. Never mind all that, let us continue to be quiet.We should not mind the fact that the person who sexually violates a little girl today, and goes unpunished, will tomorrow violate another, then another, and another.
One thing we may all know already is that the abused woman or girl can react in one of two ways; become psychologically damaged and imbalanced, or become disillusioned. If she becomes disillusioned, then there goes the person’s future and whatever contributions she may make to the society. If she becomes psychologically damaged or imbalanced, then, she becomes a ticking bomb that could go off any minute, with collateral damage to any one of us. But, forget it all, let us just keep quiet. I mean, it does not concern us.
You know, come to think of it, the abused woman or girl who got that venereal disease that was not treated because it was not reported may tomorrow become your son's wife or girlfriend, or even your own wife or girlfriend(or your brother’s), and she will pass it on to him/you. Or let us say that the disease ate deep into her and she could not procreate, and she is your own daughter or even yourself. Well, don't we all have God? God forbid! It will not be our portion. I have a feeling that God too will scream “You forbid!” when you witness such things and keep quiet.
We like to give excuses though. So we can actually disregard all talks about violence against women and girls by simply playing the culture card. Well, I wonder how many of us still walk around naked or walk to wherever we are going to without using cars. I mean, that was what our forefathers used to do right? If we must hold on to culture, let us hold on to all aspects of our culture.
Culture as I know though is dynamic and cultures evolve in line with general good. And by the way, one can only play the culture card when talking about harmful widowhood practices and female genital mutilation as in no part of our cultures did our forefathers laud physical violence of any type against women and girls. But, let us play the culture card, while impunity reigns.
We live in a vicarious world.What humans have always done is to find better ways to make life better and easier for all. Violence Against Women and Girls is a criminal act that currently threatens our society badly. There is only one way to fight it: break the culture of silence and expose it for the evil that it is. The person who should be stigmatized is the perpetrator and not the victim.
Nobody should be ashamed of being violated. The person who should be made to feel shame is the perpetrator. You should speak up about it, receive proper treatment and counseling when necessary, and have the culprit prosecuted. Thankfully, the Federal Government of Nigeria now has the Violence Against Persons Prohibition Bill as a law. This shows that even the federal government has criminalized all forms of violence. As citizens, our duty then is to take full advantage, safeguard our future and protect our loved ones by speaking up, and reporting such cases for action.
Whatever we do, we should bear in mind that we need to break this culture of silence for the sake of our mothers, sisters, cousins, nieces, and daughters.This is a sacred task that we must take seriously for the sake of our future. Or maybe, we can just continue to keep quiet. It is a choice.