This article was written originally by: Faizat Badmus-Busari*
Please note that this article concerns only abusive marriages, particularly where the wife is the victim and not the perpetrator.
It is no news that a lot of Nigerian women stay in abusive and unhappy marriages due to numerous reasons. Divorce is one word that is hardly discussed or spoken about in the Nigerian society; it is not even considered an option despite repeated spousal abuse in the marriage. Even those brave enough to go through the justice system have to endure the stigma that attaches to a divorced woman.
The most tangible reason why Nigerian women in abusive relationships find it difficult to leave their spouse is due to the fact that Nigerian Law is not favourable to the plight of Nigerian women. Comparing the United States (US) and Nigerian laws on matrimonial causes and divorce, it is apparent that matrimonial causes and divorce laws in Nigeria are hardly on the side of women. Although divorce laws in the US vary from state to state, all states allow “no fault” divorce proceedings and in many states a court may still take into account the behavior of the parties when dividing property, debts, evaluating custody of children, and awarding spousal support for either spouses.
Unfortunately, in Nigeria, once a man and woman decide to call it quits, the woman is automatically sent packing out of their matrimonial home regardless of the extent of her contributions to the acquisition of the home. Depending on the age of their kids (which at times is also irrelevant), the man retains custody of the kids while the issue of spousal support is a “no issue” and there is nothing like division or settlement of property between the spouses. In effect, the woman is basically left homeless, without any property from the broken marriage and could even find it difficult to return to her parental home as even culturally some parents may refuse to accept a “divorcée” daughter back in their home. Unlike in the US where the option of a shelter, government loan, Section 8 housing or subsidies housings are available, Nigerian Law has no succor for women escaping abusive failed marriages or other forms of broken unions.
As a result, a typical Nigerian woman, despite been severely battered in the marriage, would remain in such a union after considering all the above factors and sometimes this leads to death. Notwithstanding all these factors, the question remains, should a woman remain unhappy in an abusive relationship? Or gather her strength and move out of the home/union irrespective of the fact that she has to start all over again to rebuild her life?
The major factor restricting Nigerian women from taking the bold steps in such situations is the fear and uncertainty of starting afresh in an unforgiving hostile economy without any form of social security welfare or government support. Often therefore, remaining in the abusive marriage appears a better choice than the uncertainties that abound in having to start afresh. Until the government introduces concrete social support measures targeted at women to enable them stay on their feet financially and economically even after leaving their abusive/failed marriages, Nigerian women will continue to be stuck in abusive relationships without any way of escape.
In your opinion, what is the way forward?
* Faizat Badmus-Busari is a qualified Lawyer, and recently obtained her masters of Law in International & Comparative Law. She is expected to start her doctoral studies focusing on Gender/Child Rights and Religious/Cultural pluralism in Nigeria. She is happily married with a daughter. Her LinkedIn profile can be viewed here