I don’t normally write about things to do with relationships and marriage but after watching a recent edition of Insideout by Agatha, I was compelled to do so. They showed a video clip of a woman with severe burns because her husband threw a burning stove on her following an argument.
My heart goes out to this lady and I hope she recovers and get the justice that she deserves. But I want to look at the underlying issues that are challenging relationships and marriages in Nigeria today. I will try as much as possible to avoid viewing it from the prism of one gender or from the blame game that normally characterises discussions of this nature. Where has it all gone wrong for us that after all the fanfare of a colourful wedding what seems to follow is emotional and physical abuse on both sides; perhaps more on the women than men.
My take on this very thorny issue is that we need to look at it from the cultural perspective. Let me make it clear that this is not an attempt to blame culture for where we find ourselves but we can no longer be in denial and continue maintaining our myopic view on an issue that threatens the future of our children’s future relationships. In most Nigerian cultures (if not all), children are raised to think that there is a particular role for the female child usually to do with domestic chores like cooking, cleaning etc while the male child does so-called masculine chores like washing the car, mowing the lawn etc. So from an early age we are raising children with the psychological notion that they are different with an emphasis that the female child is subservient. That may have been ok 50 years ago but we now live in a changing world. In a world where we want to embrace western culture whilst keeping hold of the part of our culture that suits us. Unfortunately, that would always going to lead to conflicts and horrible stories like the one at the start of this piece.
We need to change our attitudes if we are ever going to make progress and that needs to start at an early age in the way we raise our children and what we teach them in school. There is no point getting very hysterical or hypocritical when we hear news of domestic violence when it is happening everywhere around us.
A lot of work needs to be done in families. Top on my list is communication. Do we as parents talk to our children about their relationships? How many mothers talk to their young daughters about their boyfriends? Or do we pretend that they don’t have one? Even if they don’t have one they will eventually do so. How many fathers talk to their young sons about girlfriends? Or are male children given the impression they can do what they want and get away with it?
Our young girls need to be taught that they don’t need to look up to a man to shower them with gifts, because in my view that is not the essence of relationships. Relationships are built on love, trust and respect for each other. But sadly, there are far too many young women in Nigeria who are growing up in a society that makes them believe it is a man’s responsibility to look after them. Self-worth is lost when individuals are made to believe it is somebody else’s responsibility to buy them body cream for example when they need one, I don’t think so.
Our young men on the other needs to be taught early on that a woman should be treated with respect and dignity. They should be made aware that a woman is a symbol of love not sex like seems to be the case these days. These messages need to be reinforced in schools, it shouldn’t stop in the home. Let us not underestimate the value of schools as a force for social change. To achieve this, I will advocate for teaching of relationship education in our schools. One that is based on a curriculum whose core input are made by parents in its formulation to ensure that the good works that is started in the home is not undone in school.
What is happening today is that some people are under this wrong illusion that when they get married, marriage will change them, no it won’t. If your would-be husband is a cheater or abuser, chances are he will continue to do so even in marriage unless you ofcourse are prepared to put up with it. If your would-be wife is a nag or the type that expects you to foot every bill, chances are she won’t change any time soon when you marry her.
We need education not blame on both men and women if we are ever to succeed and halt this disturbing but nonetheless growing trend of domestic violence. Women need to be empowered but empowerment doesn’t need to start and end at giving them opportunities and education alone. They need social empowerment to understand they can look after themselves when in a relationship with a man; a point I cannot stress enough. Men also need social empowerment to understand women cannot only be seen but heard and it doesn’t make them any less a man if their views are challenged.
The time has come when we need to have an open and honest debate about how we can move forward in our marriages and relationships. The endless blame, accusations and counter-accusations has led us nowhere. Waiting until people get into marriages is a no-no because by that time it is too late. We need to target our young whose future relationships will also be in great danger if we fail to act now.