“I lost my pregnancy as a result of the beatings from my husband,” Aisha Mohammed narrated.
“It all started in the second year of our marriage when he started accusing me of stealing food items from his house. Ishaku, my husband, has four children from his ex-wife, and all of us live together,” the 22-year-old Aisha said adding that the food he provides for all has never been enough.
“One morning, when Mr Ishaku was getting set for his farm, Aisha said she got the worst beating of her life for daring to ask her husband for money to buy some food items for the family. And it led to her miscarriage while two months pregnant.
“He slapped, pushed me to the ground, and began to hit me. I had to struggle and wriggle myself out and ran out of the compound to my mother’s house.”
“I started bleeding that afternoon, and my mother suggested we go to the hospital,” she said.
“At the hospital, doctors said there was a complication as a result of the beating, and that I had lost the pregnancy,” she said in tears.
“Days after I was discharged from the hospital, my husband came by to insult my mother and everyone in our compound saying that we deliberately aborted his baby,” Aisha recalled.
To halt the continuation of the life-threatening assault on her, Aisha said she had to report her case to the Social Welfare Department (SWD) in Biu where she went to secure a divorce.
“At that time, all I wanted for him was to divorce me,” she said
But having been summoned and educated on the new Violence Against Person Prohibition Act, the rights that protect survivors of GBV, Mr Ishaku begged for forgiveness and rejected the request of Aisha for a divorce.
“The officials at the SWD managed to resolve the issue between us without me having the divorce, and they made him sign an agreement that he will never beat me again, and he will provide for my needs, he was forced to refund all the money spent for my treatment,” she said.
It has been eight months since Aisha returned to her husband after losing her pregnancy and “he has not raised his hand again” on her.
Like Aisha, Binta, another woman from Biu local government shares a slightly similar story.
Binta’s tale is that of perpetual violence and years of mundane culture of endurance.
Binta, a 31-year-old mother of three got assaulted and eventually divorced for not cooking. Binta and her children endured days and nights of hunger because her husband would not provide for the family but continued to force her to spend all she made from her tailoring business to fend for themselves.
She was seven months pregnant when her spouse walked into their home and sent her out of the house for not cooking.
“I was then pregnant with my third baby. It was in the seventh year of our marriage when my husband started showing a nonchalant attitude towards me and my children.
“I exhausted all the money I saved from my tailoring business and I don’t have the strength to work again due to my condition. That was when the violence started. He would insult me in front of the children and our neighbours.”
“One evening, I was lying on the floor, and he walked into the house and asked for his food, I told him that there is no food in the house and the children were also hungry, and he started shouting at me he cannot continue to live with me like that; he said that I should go to my parents because he was tired of me.”
“I was seven months pregnant when that incident happened, I went to my parents and stayed up to the time I delivered.
“The doctors said I needed blood, and my father had to send for him, but he refused to show up or pay for the pints of blood needed. So my family had to pay for everything at the hospital.”
Binta said her father phoned the husband to invite him for a talk, “but he said if my father continues to disturb him he would divorce.”
“My father was so angry with his response, so he asked him to divorce me. And he came by that evening and divorced me,” she explained.
Binta said the SWD in Biu, where the new VAPP law was domesticated saved her and her children from endless torture.
“The social welfare department has helped me in retrieving my rights that were abused by Abdullahi,” she said.
But despite the termination of the marriage, Binta continues to suffer more rights violations from her divorced spouse who would not provide for her and her children.
“My three-month-old baby became sick and I called him to ask for money, and Abdullahi replied that when the baby is dead, I should carry the corpse to him.”
“My family is not rich enough to take all my responsibilities, so I had to report him to the Social Welfare Department, and they summoned him and gave him custody of the two children.
“He was also made to sign an agreement that every month he will bring the sum of ₦10,000 (about $22) to their office, which I will be using to take care of the baby, this is what we have been doing for the past four months now,” she said.
Cases of gender-based violence in the Biu local government area of Borno State have been on the rise.
The root cause of the trends
“The toxic normality of women taking their responsibilities has created a belief across the state that pabir/bura, (the main languages spoken under Biu Emirate), that women can endure any form of pressure in their marital home, which directly triggers violence against women,” Hafsa Isa Baffa, an official of International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA), in Borno state said.
Harmful social norms sustain violence against women and girls like women’s sexual purity, protecting family honour over women’s safety, and men’s authority to discipline women and children.
On another hand, poverty is seen as a significant cause of intimate partner violence in Nigeria.
Before the commemoration of the Internal Day for Elimination of Violence Against Women 2022, Net Operating Income (NOI) was surveyed to ascertain Nigerian’s perceptions of marriage and other factors responsible for domestic abuse, Nigerian’s response shows that 60 per cent of intimate partner violence in the country is caused by poverty. Explaining that hardship leads to frustration and anger and at the slightest provocation, people find themselves resorting to violence as a means of expressing their dissatisfaction with their situation.
The Magira of Biu, Hajiya Larai Mai Umar said “Poverty is a strong influencer of intimate partner violence among our people which directly reinforces the cultural normality of women striving to feed their homes.” (“Magira” is a traditional title at the royal palace of Biu emirate, meaning Queen Mother)
“It is rare to find a man abusing his wife if she is the one providing or in any way supporting the family,” she explained.
Nigerian Minister of Women Affairs Pauline Tallen in 2021 said “Poverty is one of the principal causes of Gender-Based Violence in Nigeria, as women that are economically not empowered are vulnerable to abuse.
The big intervention
The state government, in collaboration with FIDA, flagged off the domestication of the Violence Against Persons Prohibition Law (VAPP) in Biu and other communities in southern Borno.
Officials in the state and Biu local government said though some of the local courts in the area lack jurisdiction to make VAPP operational, its domestication at the Social Welfare Department and the sensitization done about the new law have significantly mitigated the prevalence of Gender Base Violence GBV.
The Chairperson of FIDA, Hafsatu Isa Baffa, said “The state had been using other extant laws, like the Penal Code Laws of Borno 1994, which are less potent, to address gender issues. But with the adoption of the VAPP 2021, “we were able to sensitize both male and female traditional rulers through the traditional justice system in the locality on how the different laws operate and how they can resolve issues within the community with the help of the security, emirate council and people in the law,” she explained.
“Setting up a record-keeping centre in Biu, went miles on achieving our basic objective of mitigating violence against women in the area,” she said.
“Through the records, we have about 120 cases and over 90 cases were resolved as they forward the ones they cannot handle to the state level.”
“These reported cases that are charged under the VAPP law follow certain procedures considering it was recently introduced” she explained
Way forward using the law
An Assistant Chief Registrar (1), High court of justice Biu, Barrister Mohammed Yahya acknowledged that “We have been encouraging community leaders in Biu, to keep on enlightening women to report any form of assault as it can result in life-damaging.” Adding that, community leaders are like a bridge between victims and the law.”
“The aim of the enlightenment by district heads is to develop the women’s courage to report their plights,” he said.
The GBV focal person, at the social welfare department Biu, Yusuf Ibrahim, said the abridged version of the VAPP Act that was adopted in the locality has guided them in redesigning their policies and giving them legal power as local government agents.
“Our office is a go-to place for women with intimate partner violence cases and any other form of assault against women and girls,” he explained.
“To bring the men who deliberately fail to take responsibility for their wives yet assault them to justice, we liaise with the people in the law and designed some strict rules like making the offenders sign an agreement and making them compensate for physical damage caused by their actions,” he said
“We also have the support from our head office, which is under the Ministry of Women Affairs, security personnel, particularly civil defense and the police department, in dealing with anyone who attempts to violate our rules or any signed agreement.”
According to WHO, intimate partner violence has an effect on women’s health. Data from the organization showed that 1 in 3 (30 per cent) women globally, have been subjected to physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner. 42 per cent of women who experienced intimate partner violence reported an injury as a consequence. The organization also says women between 15 and 49 years, who have been in a relationship, report that they have been subjected to some form of physical and/or sexual violence by their partner which negatively affects women’s physical, mental, sexual, and reproductive health, and increases the risk of having HIV.
Also, National Network to End Domestic Violence reveals that Over 90 per cent of homeless women have experienced severe physical or sexual violence at some point in their lives, and 63 per cent have been victims of intimate partner violence as adults.
A 2013 study also showed that women who experienced intimate partner violence were 16 per cent more likely to suffer a miscarriage and 41 per cent more likely to have a pre-term birth. Its effect is extended to children suffering a range of behavioral and emotional disturbances. Other effects of intimate partner violence may hinder social and economic cost, as women suffer lower self-esteem, isolation, inability to work, loss of wages or lack of interest to participate in regular activities.
It was earlier reported that Borno State Governor signed the VAPP Law on January 10th, 2022, and FIDA, Borno State branch presented the same abridged document to Biu Local Government Area on October 1st, 2022.
The World Health Organization further stated that Violence against women is preventable. The health sector have an important role to play to provide comprehensive health care to women subjected to violence, and as an entry point for referring women to other support services they may need.
This story was supported by African Women in Media (AWiM) as part of the Reporting Violence Against Women and Girls initiative.