By: AVM Okunnowo.
DOMESTIC VIOLENCE: THE ROLE OF MEDICAL WOMEN IN CURBING THE MENACE BEING THE KEYNOTE ADDRESS PRESENTED BY AIR COMMODORE BB OKUNOLA GSS PCS MBBS FMCORL MSC AT THE 39TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE MEDICAL WOMENS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA ON 23RD SEPTEMBER 2016.
1. I am highly delighted to be keynote speaker at this August conference where you will be deliberating on a very topical and contemporary subject. The choice of this year’s theme, “Domestic Violence: The Role of Medical Women in Curbing the Menace” is very apt and timely. This theme is dear to my mind and I will like to share my thoughts with you to set the tone for your discussions and deliberations.
2. As a child, I could vividly recall several times when my late father, one of the foremost social scientists in Nigeria spent endless hours counselling, settling family disputes and reconciling couples. A substantial number of these family crises were as a result of domestic violence. One of the overarching concepts of my husband in Yoruba language is “Olowo ori mi”. The literal meaning is “the person who paid my bride price”, but a deeper meaning to a Yoruba woman is “my owner”. A typical Yoruba woman believes that she is the property of her husband; hence, he can treat her as he likes. This concept of my owner is perhaps responsible for the silence of most women and the perpetration of domestic violence in families and the society at large.
3. Another set of experiences are what I have seen and continue to see both as a doctor in various clinics and now as an administrator in my office. This concerns women and children. Several women and children report to hospitals with different types of injuries following domestic violence from either their husbands or other members of their families. Women and children are more vulnerable to domestic violence because they are usually economically dependent on men. There is no one in this hall that has not witnessed or experiences one form of domestic violence or the other.
4. Domestic violence is a global phenomenon. It transcends families from all races, gender, social, religious, economics and academic background. It is common both in advanced and developing nations. The United Nation posits that 35% of women worldwide have experienced either physical and or sexual intimate partner at some point in their lives. Some national studies, however, show that up to 70% of women have experienced domestic violence from an intimate partner in their lifetime. A study that was conducted in Nigeria shows an incident rate of 56%. Unfortunately, in our society, if domestic violence is reported, perpetrators are seldom prosecuted and made accountable for their acts.
5. Domestic violence is the intentional and persistent abuse of anyone in the house in such a way that causes pain, distress or injury. It is an abusive treatment of a family member by another in such a manner that violates the other’s fundamental human rights. Internationally, domestic violence is no longer seen as a family or private concern; it is now viewed as a criminal act. Domestic violence could be physical, sexual, psychological or emotional in nature. It could be perpetrated by a spouse, parent or family member. In most parts of Nigeria, violence against women and children is generally regarded as the right of men because of our patriarchal perspectives. Hence, domestic violence is considered a private matter and shielded from outside scrutiny. This culture of silence reinforces the stigma that is attached to the menace as well as its unhindered continuation in the society without appropriate sanctions.
6. There are several ways by which people manifest domestic violence. Physical manifestation of domestic violence could involve shouting at, slapping, pushing, beating, punching and kicking. Sexual forms may include sexual harassment, mocking, rape and so on. Domestic violence could also be in form of neglect and economic abuse in which a family member is denied access to financial and economic resources. Spiritual abuse occurs whenever a family member is forced to engage in spiritual and religious practices against his or her conviction. From the above examples, you will appreciate that perpetrators of domestic violence seek to gain control and dominate other people in their family of their fundamental rights. Hence, domestic violence is more than a private matter. It is an outright violation of the law.
7. Domestic violence has a lot of consequences on individual, family members, the society and the nation at large. Most victims of domestic violence are usually dependent on their aggressors; hence, victims of domestic violence are voiceless and usually live in fear and depression. Domestic violence robs victims of self-confidence, human dignity and other opportunities such as education and economic empowerment. Domestic violence is also associated with high level of violence and lawlessness in the society. Victims of domestic violence may become aggressive, violent and heartless thereby making them vulnerable to getting involved in cultism, violence and other vices in the society. In addition, the nation is denied the opportunity to maximise the potentials of its citizens because other individuals have limited or restricted their victim’s academic, economic and financial freedom. At ties domestic violence becomes progressive in nature. It could begin with shouting at the victim, then verbal abuses thereafter beatings and extreme cases could result to murder. Therefore, domestic violence is a national menace that must be checked by the society.
8. Generally speaking, there are several strategies which the Medical Women Association of Nigeria could use to curb domestic violence.
Firstly, the Medical Women Association could lobby the Federal and various state Governments of Nigeria to domesticate relevant international legal and institutional frameworks relating to domestic violence. Your association could pressurize the Federal and State Legislators to criminalize domestic violence and also provide necessary measures for preventing, discouraging and prosecuting perpetrators of domestic violence. Secondly, your association could encourage stakeholders in the society such as lawyers, doctors, nurses, psychologists, sociologists, educationists and journalists to bring issues relating to domestic violence to the limelight. You could also encourage government at all levels to have intervention centres and put surveillance measures in various places such as schools, offices and worship centres for early detection of domestic violence.
9. Another important role that the Medical Women Association could play in curbing this menace is to encourage the government to accept responsibility for the treatment and rehabilitation of victims of domestic violence. It is important to remember that these victims are not only voiceless; more often than not they are financially dependent on their aggressors. Furthermore, your association could conduct enlightening programmes that will educate women and children on their fundamental human rights. You could also encourage them to report cases of domestic violence to relevant authorities in order to seek redress and justice. Prosecution of offenders will serve as deterrence to other persons.
10. Some victims of domestic violence carry psychological and emotional scars of their abuse for life. A good number of women and children suffer post-traumatic stress disorders. Your association could assist these victims by offering counselling and psychotherapy services to them free of charge. Finally, I believe your association could serve as mentors to a lot of young women and children. You could volunteer your time and skills to guide, nurture, counsel and educate young women and children on how they can become successful and responsible adults and citizens of Nigeria. You could also go around schools, higher institutions of higher learning and various women’s association to serve as role models to them and encourage them to live by strong values.
11. With these thoughts, I believe I have been able to agitate your minds to examine critically how you can deliberate on strategies to curb domestic violence in Nigeria. Thank you and may God bless you.