Tuesday, 30 October 2007

Domestic violence spurs maternal and child deaths

While the level of violence against Nigerian women in the home remains poorly mapped, pilot studies conclude it is "shockingly high".

According to the Amnesty International 2005 Report on Violence Against Women in Nigeria, one-third of women in the country are believed to have experienced sexual, psychological and physical violence in the family. The report states that 50 per cent of men and women justified the beating of women. The study also showed that 64.5 per cent of women and 61.3 per cent of men said that a husband has the right in hitting or beating the wife for some reasons including lateness in cooking food.

Closer to home in Lagos state, up to two-thirds of women in certain communities are believed to have experienced physical, sexual or psychological violence in the family, and in other areas, around 50 percent of women say they are victims to domestic violence. In a recent small-scale study of gender inequality in Lagos and Oyo states, 40 percent of the women interviewed said they had been victims of violence in the family, in some cases for several years. The study concluded that such violence was not documented in Nigeria because of widespread tolerance of violence against women.

“Once a woman is married, she is expected to endure whatever she meets in her matrimonial home," according to information released by Amnesty International.

Though a bill on violence against women (prevention, protection and prohibition) is pending in Nigeria, many women are still denied a fair trial in cases relating to domestic violence. Many courts see domestic violence as a personal affair within the family, and leave the issue to husbands and male family members to judge.

But the consequence of hushing domestic violence is enormous. Researchers have found that abused women tend not to use family planning services, even if readily available, for fear of reprisals from husbands. Women in Nigeria and Kenya, for instance, often hide their contraceptive pills because they are terrified of the consequences should their husbands discover that they no longer control their wives' fertility. Similarly, abused women who participated in focus group discussions in Peru and Mexico said they did not discuss contraceptive use with their husbands out of fear that the men would turn violent. As a result many abused women have unwanted pregnancies resulting in unsafe abortions.

Domestic violence can cause sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS, persistent gynecological problems, and psychological problems, including fear of sex and loss of pleasure. As such, domestic violence must be addressed as one of the crucial barriers to maternal, newborn and child health. Politicians, health workers, educators, and the media cannot hope to eradicate maternal and child deaths if such violence against women in Nigeria continues.

*Reported by Amanda Hale

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