By Joy Ngwakwe
Nigeria - Domestic violence against women is one of the most debilitating forms of violence as it happens at home - a space that ought to be safe for everyone.
The word “home” often connotes a place of peace, comfort and safety. Given that the world is made up of small units of families, the state of the world peace is often derived from what happens in majority of homes in a given society.
Experts have stressed the importance of the home in shaping children into responsible adults. In fact many cases of adult dysfunction are traceable to the home environment. Testimonies of successful adults often point to the role their homes played in contributing to their success in the larger society. In the same vein unsuccessful adults, including those that end up in prisons for crimes also trace their behavioral pattern and habit to the home in which they grew up.
Of course this does not, by any means, justify bad behavior or crime as the court system ensures that criminals face the consequences for their actions. Failure to tackle violence in the home, however, hinders breaking the violence cycle and dealing with the destructive impact of domestic violence against women as well as children.
Domestic violence against women has become one of the most pervasive forms of gender-based violence and violation of women’s human rights. According to the United Nations, about 35% of women “have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or sexual violence by a non-partner at some point in their lives. However, some national studies show that up to 70 per cent of women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence from an intimate partner in their lifetime” Domestic violence transcends cultures and social class, and cuts across continents, societies, formal and informal settings with its devastating consequences on women/girls in particular and the society in general.
Whereas all forms of violence against women are very debilitating wherever they occur, violence in the homes, a supposed safe space, leaves very lasting impressions and consequences on both victims and those who observe the violent act such as children. Domestic violence against women is often perpetrated by significant others such as husbands/partners and therefore highlight issues of gender power relations and women’s dependency on the men occasioned by either societal expectations of women or poverty. Societal expectation and economic status of majority of women are factors that often combine to make many women remain in violent relationships even in the face of certain death.
In addition to the massive impact of domestic violence on women is its impact on children who grow up in homes where their mother is constantly battered by the father figure. Research by a Nigeria-based organization conducted in Lagos in 2009 concluded that: “Children born in abusive and violent homes grow up with violent and abusive habits. Frequently, men that batter their wives often confess that they grew-up watching their father beat their mother. The family is the smallest and closest unit of every society and what happens at the family unit is a reflection of what to expect in the larger society. When gender-based violence against women and girls is practiced in a large number of our families, the society becomes generally violent.”
This was confirmed by another research which found that “Children who witness violence in the home and children who are abused may display many similar psychologic effects. … Child witnesses display inappropriate attitudes about violence as a means of resolving conflict and indicate a greater willingness to use violence themselves”.
The impact of domestic violence on women and children thus has very significant implications for the status of peace or violence in the larger society- the world in general. The notion “From Violence in the Home to Violence in the World” has therefore become an issue that requires urgent attention from all stakeholders who seek to combat all forms of violence. In an apparent understanding of these linkages the 2015 16 Days Campaign Against Violence Against Women is focused on the theme, “From Peace in the Home to Peace in World: Make education Safe for All”. Conversely the 2015 theme may therefore be substituted to say: “From Violence in the Home to Violence in the World”.
One of the most difficult factors in dealing with domestic violence is the culture of silence which makes it deadlier than other forms of violence against women. Many suggestions have been proffered to counter the culture of silence but until the women are systematically supported and encouraged to report domestic violence they will continue to abide by this culture and thus embolden perpetrators of domestic violence to continue to act in impunity. Breaking the culture of silence must also be juxtaposed with stricter penalties on perpetrators in order to encourage more women to report such violence
Many countries, including countries in the global south have provided legal platforms for redressing domestic violence, however, these laws are often subject to personal biases of interpreters and enforcers, including security and judicial officers. Greater efforts should be made to not only ensure that women receive the required legal aid but also that they are not shamed in the process of obtaining such services
Children born into violent homes should be given specialized counseling and help to re-orient them with correct information that violence is a criminal act and that perpetrators must face the consequences.
Finally, as part of this year’s 16 Days Campaign Against Violence Against Women specific efforts must be made to secure the homes, and make it the safe space it should be. The need to undertake specific interventions that seek to prevent, protect women and redress gender-based violence against women in homes cannot be overstretched.
It is the very foundation on which a violence-free world may be built.
Joy Ngwakwe is Executive Director of the Nigeria-based Center for Advancement of Development Rights (CEADER) and an African Women Development Fund (AWDF) Fellow.
 Kudrat Initiative for Democracy (KIND), “Women in Peril: A Research Report on Women & Girls’ Experience of Gender-based Violence in Lagos State” ISBN: 978-978-901-453-8-2009- Research conducted and written by Joy Ngwakwe assisted by Peju Olaniyi
 Melissa M. Stiles, Witnessing Domestic Violence: The Effect on Children