Navigating life as a woman in the world today is incredibly difficult. From Nigeria to Timbuktu, it’ll amaze you how similar all our experiences are.
Every Wednesday, women the world over will share their takes on everything from sex to politics right here.
Last week I spoke to 7 women about their experiences with gender-based violence. Their responses ranged from experiencing GBV in mundane situations to dating violent men. This week, I decided to go a little deeper.
On this week’s What She Said, I talk to a woman and her mother on how growing up with a violent father and husband shaped the people they are today.
What was your earliest memory of the violence?
Daughter: I was probably in Primary 2. I was six years old, that was 18 years ago. I don’t really remember the details because I was really young but I remember my father was fighting with someone, telling them to leave the house. I personally hadn’t experienced any violence with him yet.
Mother: It was 22 years ago, in my second year of marriage. My daughter was very small, so she can’t remember. I can barely remember what even happened. I know I questioned him about certain things and he refused to answer. I decided to go out with him that night. I told him, “Wherever you’re going, I’m going to go too.” As soon as I got into the car, he started to shout and threaten me, so I went back into the house. He followed me and started to beat me. When it seemed like he wasn’t going to stop, I had to pretend like I was bleeding. I was pregnant with my second daughter so he took me to the hospital. I stayed in the hospital overnight, and he came to pick me up the next day. That was the first time he beat me.
But that wasn’t the only time?
Mother: (Laughs) That wasn’t, that wasn’t. So many times.
Daughter: So many times.
How did it make you feel?
Mother: I was shocked, I was just shocked. I never thought he could beat a woman.
Daughter: He was a church man, very involved in church activities.
Did you tell anyone about it?
Mother: I didn’t intend to immediately. Unfortunately for him though, my mother came to visit the next day. Back then, our house was set up in such a way that we lived upstairs while his office was downstairs. I was sitting in the house when he came rushing in, telling me that I shouldn’t open the door for any visitor that knocks on the door. At that point, I didn’t even know my mother was coming, but he had seen her approaching from his office, that’s why he rushed upstairs. My face was swollen and I had bruises all over my body. When I heard the knocking, I didn’t go to the door. I decided to obey my husband. It wasn’t until I heard my mother’s voice and that I went to the door.
When she saw me she started shouting “Who did this to you?” I didn’t answer. I tried to cover my face with a scarf. She yanked it off, so I explained everything to her and she marched me to the police station. On the way there, she called my aunt. My aunt told her, “See this is between your daughter and her husband, do you want to send her out of her matrimonial home? Moreso this girl is pregnant if you take her to the police station, they’ll arrest the father of her child.” So my mother changed her mind. But she wanted documentation, so she took me to the studio to take pictures of my face and body. My mother went back home to warn him and that’s how it died down. I still saw those pictures in my father’s archives a while ago.
Do you remember the first time he hit your mum?
Daughter: Yes, yes I do. I was in JSS1, I was 11. That was 13 years ago, but that wasn’t the first time he hit her. It’s just the one I remember. I remember hearing both of them shouting, I don’t know what led to the fight. I remember coming out of my room because I heard some noises from my dad’s room.
Next thing, my mum ran out and into the room, I shared with my sister. He had already started beating her. I remember she was wearing this white lace and it was already torn. There was blood on it. He got a hammer and threatened to break the door open. I was scared and confused. As he tried to break the door down, my mum was shouting that she wanted to leave with my sister and me, but he won’t let her. It was so late. It was just horrifying. My mum ended up leaving that night, but he didn’t let her leave with us.
How did this make you feel?
Daughter: He hadn’t started hitting me yet at that time. He had hit me in the past but it was not as bad as when he started hitting me later on in life. At that point I wasn’t scared of him hitting me, I was just worried about my mum. It was late and I didn’t know where she went to.
Where did you go that night?
Mother: I wanted to go to the police station, so I called my sister and told her what was happening. Her husband discouraged me. He told me not to be the one to bring the police into my husband’s home. So I stayed over with a friend and she said to me: “Please go back to your father’s house don’t stay with this man anymore.” The next morning I went to pick my things.
Daughter: I remember you came home the next morning. It was a Sunday.
How often did he get violent?
Mother: I noticed he mostly got violent when he was broke.
Daughter: Yeah, even with me too. When he started hitting me later on, it was usually when he had financial issues that he’d pour his frustrations on me.
Was he the breadwinner?
Mother: Yes, he didn’t allow me to work. One day, sometime after I had her, I had a job interview at 9 am. He was supposed to take me, but he kept on posting me till around 12 pm. When I said I was going to go with or without him, it caused a fight and I ended up not going.
Daughter: The same thing happened when I got a job last year. It wasn’t even a high paying job. I used to close around 6 pm and get home around 7 pm. One day I got home and he started shouting at me. He was asking why I was working, and if he wasn’t providing enough for me. “What are you looking for outside?” He got really angry and started hitting me. This incident was the final straw for me. He hit me so much, I was deaf in my right ear for a while. He kept on shouting he’ll kill me.
Mother: He was financially down then.
Daughter: Yes, he was financially down. In fact, I think that was one of his lowest lows. He just kept hitting me until my sister came to intervene, then he started hitting her too, shouting, “I’m going to kill you, I’m going to kill you.” Neighbours came out to intervene, but he locked the door and said no one is going anywhere. This was around 9 pm. My sister ran out and jumped out of the balcony. It was the first floor, and she just ran out and jumped without even looking. I decided to escape the same way, but I decided to collect our certificates and some other important things first.
At that point, he had stopped hitting me and was looking for something. I don’t even know what, but that’s how I got the chance to pack my things. I just threw them in a box and threw the box over the balcony, then I started climbing down the balcony. He saw us, came down and started hitting us again. Then he took the box and went back up. He said that we had to leave his house empty-handed. No cash, no phones; he took our phones because he bought them for us. The neighbours gathered around and gave us cash. Luckily, we had a place to go. It was the same house my mum was talking about, the one she ran to the first time he beat her (22 years ago).
Have you been back since then?
Daughter: I’m never going back to live there, I’m done. I go once in a while to see my half-siblings but beyond “good morning sir,” we don’t talk at all. I’m just happy he even lets me see my half-siblings I don’t want to lose the bond I have with them.
I know you left early on into your marriage, did you ever go back?
Mother: Yes, I did. The first time I left was just after giving birth to my second daughter. I took both my daughters and left but we had an arrangement that allowed him to have them on weekends. This was three years into our marriage. Years after when he moved to Abuja, he reached out and asked me to come. I thought he had changed so I went. I ended up only staying a month before I went back to Lagos. This time around he didn’t allow me to leave with my children.
Have you seen him since then?
I saw him for the first time in over ten years yesterday. I ran into a friend who was at our wedding and didn’t really know what had gone on between us and she insisted on going to visit him. Getting there, he started telling my friend all sorts of things he claimed I had done to him. That I used to curse him, that I prayed he’d be arrested and disgraced.
Was this what he used to justify the violence?
Mother: Yes. He said everything that I said about him came to pass. That he only beat me when I started cursing him and if he let me finish cursing him, it’ll come to pass.
Daughter: He didn’t have anything tangible to say.
Mother: I was even surprised he agreed to see my friend yesterday. Over the years, he won’t even see his own family about this issue. When they told him he was behaving like a bastard, he changed his name.
Daughter: Oh so that was why he changed his name? The truth is whenever people come to mediate they always focus on the woman. “Oh just apologize, beg him” or “kneel down, beg him.”
Mother: Yes! “Tell him you regret your actions and you are sorry.”
Daughter: “It’s not good for a woman not to have a husband”, “it’s not good for a woman to be living outside her husband’s house”. With me the last time he hit me, I said this is not happening, he does this to every woman in his life and he keeps doing this to me, but I’m the one who’s supposed to go and beg and pat his ego. So this last time I didn’t. Even yesterday my mum’s friend kept saying, “Even if you have to kneel down and beg him, just beg.” Beg for what again? After 20 something years.
How would you describe your relationship with him
Daughter: Nonexistent. When I think about our relationship all that stands out is the violence. Even when he did something nice, I didn’t see it as an act of love. It was just someone providing for me. When he gets violent, he doesn’t behave like a father or even a stranger; he behaves like…
Mother: The devil.
Daughter: The devil, like someone I did something bad to. I still have pictures on my phone of the many times when he beat me and my sister until we bled. Those memories stand out more than anything nice he ever did.
How did growing up in such a violent environment, affect everything outside of home?
Daughter: I was very withdrawn growing up, I didn’t have many friends. It was hard to open up to people. Even now, it’s hard to open up. My mindset towards relationship is very weird. My mum has been asking, “Where’s your boyfriend? Where’s your husband?” but I’m just not interested. Marriage is not in my plans. I don’t see myself doing it. For a very long time, I had trust issues. I couldn’t trust anyone except my mum and sister.
I wasn’t good socially but I was good academically, so I just focused all my energy there. And doing well academically made me happy. It changed my perspective on life. I’m a feminist; I think growing up with him is why I’m such a staunch feminist. At some point, I had to learn to enjoy pain. There’s almost nothing anyone can do to me that will really hurt me because I’ve been through it.
I’ve forgiven him now. But I can never forget. I choose to not forget so that I never go back.
Mother: I also thought I had forgiven him and forgotten about it all, but what he said yesterday kept me up all night. That he could say all those things after all these years. It’s his life, let him live it.
Is there anything you wish I asked?
Mother: Nothing, except you want to get his perspective, you know how people say there are two sides to every story (Laughs).
No. There’s never an excuse.
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