By Dr. Alaba Oludare
The Greater Houston area has been identified by the U.S. Department of States to have the highest number of Nigerian immigrants. About 150,000 Nigerians live in Houston as of 2014. Although most of these families are very progressive and highly educated, the problem of gender based violence plagues the community. Research on gender based violence among African communities has been very scarce, hence little is known about the challenges faced by women particularly in these communities. Although men are also likely victims and do suffer gender based violence, research has shown that male victims of gender violence are often those in an intimate partner relationship with an American citizen especially for green card reasons where the gender roles are played differently based on cultural differences of the partners. The discourse here is focused on gender based violence among Nigerians in diaspora.
Some of the reasons advanced for gender based violence in these families include stress, economic hardships, social and cultural expectations, third party interventions and mental/ psychological or spiritual problems. Often, migrants are faced with the challenge of balancing the traditional gender roles with the realities of lifestyles in the western world. Generally, females acquire an enhanced sense of independence; the males are faced with a diminished perception of power and control. In the family’s quest to attain the American dream and possibly take care of people at home, both partners go out to work long hours. Sometimes, the female works longer than the male; and sometimes the males are either unemployed or under employed yet the female is still required to come back after prolonged hours of work to cook, clean up and perform other duties while responsibility for bills and upkeep are shared. Many Nigerian women especially those in the Nursing field have died due to pressure, ill-health or physical violence (including being stabbed, shot, strangled, scaled with hot liquids etc.) because of the conflicts arising from these roles.
Unfortunately, gender based violence is largely unreported for many reasons and particularly, because of cultural beliefs that, “you don’t go to court or police and come back home as friends” and patriarchal hierarchy where the male is accorded a superior position in the marriage relationship. Patriarchal hierarchy is not uniquely Nigerian so that some critics have argued that it is not a license for abuse in a relationship. Reportedly, most women‘s approach at resolving the dilemma is first to report to family members and or close friends. The next step is usually to report to religious leaders. Unfortunately, these strategies are often unsuccessful and the woman is viewed as a prostitute, disrespectful or proud. She is stigmatized and in some churches seen as a backslider or no longer fit to minister, she is perpetually stigmatized and shamed.
Spouses in a violent relationship should not be intimidated to seek help or even get out of danger as an alternative to being maimed or killed. All stake holders must be educated and informed about the consequences of violence on the individual, the family and society. Religious and community leaders should be trained on how to handle domestic violent cases without stigmatizing anyone. Everyone especially men should be educated on the legal consequences of domestic violence and physical assaults regarded as felony under the law. An aggressor could end in prison for any period of time from 1 to 10 years or more with fines in addition to disenfranchisement, loss of earning potentials, citizenship, student loans and other benefits. Children are the most impacted in violent homes. First, these children are learning by experience that it is alright to abuse and/or be abused, inadvertently producing a next generation of abusers. Research has shown that first generation immigrants have lower criminal records than their children. Why is this so? Second, violence in a home is unhealthy to all both physically and spiritually.
Violent behavior is a product of anger, an inability to rule one’s emotions. It is a character flaw, and often an episode of insanity. It is self-destructive. All religions and civilization condemn manifestations of anger whether implosive or explosive. Love is a choice that God made in our favor, giving us such grace that we do not deserve. If you love your spouse, you will not beat or destroy him/her. No man in his right mind destroys what he loves rather he cherishes and seek to keep that which he loves forever in perfect condition.
Dr. Alaba Oludare is an Attorney and a Professor residing in the United States. She obtained her first law degree (LL.B, B.L.) from Lagos State University and Nigerian Law School. She has tertiary institution teaching experience including teaching Administration of Justice courses at Texas Southern University, teaching and coordinating the criminal justice program at Rust College, Holly Springs, MS as well as serving as the Pre Law Adviser. Alaba also has legal practice experience including Legal Advising to the Federal Road Safety Commission, and Corporate Attorney with LLM degree in Tax Law from University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa; She is presently teaching criminal justice courses at Mississippi Valley State University and actively involved in health disparity research training as one of 25 scholars from different universities across the United States.