Economic Dependence and GBV in Nigeria 

The next time Ojonwa received a beating from her husband, she had tried to convince him to allow her to get a job. Appalled, he asked how the children will be cared for during work hours and refused all her suggestions.

One form of gender-based violence 1(GBV) that has been largely ignored is the economic stifling of married women by their spouses due to different myths, all rooted in the idea that money makes women stubborn and not as submissive as they should be. This serves to hold women down in violent marital situations with little or no hope of rescue. With things fast changing and women becoming leaders of industry, situations of men finding ways to hold on to the economic dominance of their homes in order to keep their wives in “check” have manifested in different instances.

According to the United Nations Population Fund2, Gender-Based Violence (GBV) is one of the most popular human rights violations in the world. Gender-Based Violence (GBV) manifests in different forms and studies over the years have shown these different forms to be prevalent in Nigeria. A study from IMF Working Papers on The Heavy Toll of Gender-Based Violence: Evidence from Sub-Saharan Africa, highlighted the economic dependence and inequality of the female gender as one of the root causes of domestic violence ​(Rasmane Ouedraogo, 2021)​. Forms of gender abuse that range from refusal to send young girls to school as they are bred for marriage to mature women held back by their spouses from getting a paying job are popular situations on the continent. Over the years, the patriarchal norm has placed women as demure and shy home builders who should be completely financially dependent on their husbands.

During the COVID 19 pandemic, surveys recorded a 175 percent increase in reported cases of sexual and Gender-Based Violence (GBV), hugely attributed to the heavy toll of economic dependence of a large percentage of women on men especially in remote areas.3

In developed countries, the number of women who are primary breadwinners and are open about it is on the rise. According to a 2018 research from the U.S Census Bureau, 1 out of every 4 heterosexual married couples have the woman making more money than their male partners. Furthermore, a new study from the University of Bath that examined 6000 American married men showed that the men felt more anxious when they were the sole breadwinners in the family, and became less stressed when their women partners were contributing 40% to the household income. 4

This is a far cry from our clime. In this part of the world, there are men who mandate their wives to resign after marriage in order to keep her “humble”. Some others aim to marry young women who are fresh out of school and have not found time to build a career yet.

Ojonwa (Not her real name) who found herself a victim of this form of GBV after her marriage gave some insight into these kinds of situations in an audio interview.

She glumly recounted her experience of awe and excitement that turned into a harrowing cycle of shame. Ojonwa had just completed her HND degree requirements at the Polytechnic when her boyfriend and sometimes benefactor asked her to marry him.

At first, I was so excited to be the first to marry in my class. At 19, it was a big achievement for me. I agreed and quickly informed all my friends in class so that the news can spread fast, she recounted wistfully.

Though Ojonwa expressed her desire to join the NYSC batch of her colleagues at the graduating class of her school, she was quickly shut down by her husband to be and her mother who reminded her that marriage is far more important than any degree or green cap to any woman, and her wedding plans began in earnest.

A few months into her marriage, Ojonwa discovered she was pregnant and her plans to try again for the new batch of the National Youth Service Corps was once again shut down by her husband.

How time passed, I cannot tell. I just became relaxed into my new life. I felt like my marriage was a perfect Nigerian home; a working husband who provides, me as a submissive, hardworking and respectful wife who keeps the home and gives birth to healthy babies, a two-bedroom flat with a big deep freezer of food and a big generator. Should this not make me happy?

With the economic decline, things became harder for the family and after her second child, Ojonwa realized that total dependence on her husband’s business was not viable. She explained,

“Any money I ask for, he would quiz me as if I were facing a panel. One day, I asked for money to buy sanitary pads. He asked me how many I use in a day and how often I see my period. In my anger, I told him my father never asked me this question and he slapped me. While I was crying in shock, he hit the side of my head with his fist, and I fell. Then he reminded me that he is over ten years older than me and warned me to never talk back to him again. I knew then that I was in trouble”.

The next time Ojonwa received a beating from her husband, she had tried to convince him to allow her to get a job. Appalled, he asked how the children will be cared for during work hours and refused all her suggestions.

She bitterly reminisced,

I tried to beg him, and he just kept saying no. I reminded him of how he made me delay my NYSC until it never happened and asked him if all my schooling will end with me suffering in his house. His face changed, and before I knew it, I was on the floor with him hitting me. My children were crying, and he was just beating me. When he was done, he told me that I had not even started work and I was already disrespectful like this. Imagine if my hands touch money. I kept asking myself, if I run away where would I go? When I don’t even have money for transport.

Many women like Ojonwa exist in our society, holding on to varying degrees of depression and helplessness as they continue to experience physical and emotional abuse due to economic dependence. The effect of this on the children brought up in these homes cannot be ignored.

According to Harrison,

My mother never worked till she died. I thought it was a norm because most of the women in our hood were housewives and petty traders. My mother was always angry or sad. I rarely saw her happy. She and my father would argue for long at night and he would beat her too. She died of an illness when I was 14 years old, and we went to leave with my Aunt. I don’t want to have a wife that was sad like my mother, that I am sure of.

Creating a world where domestic violence becomes a thing of the past can begin with ensuring economic equality between the genders and this can begin from the training of young girls and boys on the empowerment of the female gender. 5

Rasmane Ouedraogo, D. S. (2021). The Heavy Toll of Gender Based Violence: Evidence from Sub-Saharan Africa. IMF Working Papers, 1-4.
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