According to UNICEF, Northern Nigeria has a track record of high rates in child marriage, illiteracy, poverty and gender based violence. Although, advocacy against these issues have been propagated for a long time, improvement seems to move slowly in the region. For instance, a trend on twitter #ArewaMeToo was started to create awareness on the physical and emotional violence in northern Nigeria. The #ArewaMeToo gave people a medium to tweet their views and stories on domestic violence, sexual violence and molestation amongst other ill trends happening in northern Nigeria.
From my personal observation and experience, the issues highlighted in the #ArewaMeToo and other social ill trends go beyond ignorance, basic misogyny and patriarchy. It is more like a normalized system ingrained in the northern society such that many victims themselves accept such practices as a norm. They defend and justify such practices turning against contrary opinions, even the “educated” ones among them. Religious and cultural factors are major influencers that have helped normalize these ill trends in the northern community.
The religious institution fails to protect victims as abusers twist teachings to justify their acts. This mind control tool takes the willpower of victims to resent evil deeds perpetuated against them. This is probably why many victims accept violence as normal. Although Islam is the dominant religion in the north which is used as a backbone to support some of these ill practices, Christianity doesn’t prove any different. The issue of domestic violence in marriages is rampant because the women who are victims are told to possess virtues of tolerance, patience and endurance. As the saying goes, “for better or worse”, The Arewa woman is told to be patient, prayerful towards her marriage and be submissive to her husband as God will someday intervene and come through for her. In addition, the victims who are convinced that their reward is paradise for tolerating their abusive husbands simply enable the abusers.
Culture on the other hand, plays a very dominant role in silencing victims. I choose to tag it “the culture of silence”. Victims are forced to keep silent to avoid washing dirty linens in public. Also, the fear of stigmatization prevents victims from speaking out when abused, as the tag attached to them by the society is probably worse than the abuse experienced. In addition, the male gender is also given an advantage over the female gender especially in positions of power, marriage and societal acknowledgement. The culture further promotes the idea of submission to their males who have the liberty to marry more wives since polygamy is acceptable. Interestingly, divorce rates in the north are high with no marriage contracts protecting the women and their children in divorce cases. This could further pass as a justification for the submission of victims to their abusers as they are mostly dependent on them.
Although, poverty, high level of illiteracy, child grooming and other minor factors also contribute to these social issues in northern Nigeria, I believe the need for reform in the religious and cultural sectors are very important. I also believe it is more important for the victims to change their mentalities towards their abusers. An attitudinal change from victims will result in a gradual societal and religious change. In addition, through a radical style of advocacy and outreach, this goal can be achieved faster by NGOs and others bodies related to gender based issues. There’s a lot being done to enlighten and free the Arewa woman. However, if the Arewa woman refuses to save herself, who will save her?
Note: Arewa means North in hausa language.