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Thursday, May 30, 2024

What is Femicide and who would be the Next Victim?

I could feel her joy as she walked down the aisle with the man of her dream. She sniffed at intervals amidst the tears of joy that streamed down her face. I walked behind, cheering her on as she took each step. Then she turned to me and whispered, “Jenny, it has come to pass.” Oh yes! After five long years of breakups and make-ups, my sister and her lover were finally tying the knot.

Winnie and I were not just sisters; we were best of friends. I knew everything about her, especially her relationships. On many nights, she went to bed heartbroken after Gerald had threatened to end their relationship. Even a blind man could see that she was the only one making all the sacrifices. And when I asked her why she wouldn’t let him go, she said she loved him so dearly.

Days turned into weeks, and weeks into months, and eventually, after so much persuasion, Gerald accepted to marry her. In the first 3 years after their wedding, everything was beautiful. They would travel together, hang out, take beautiful pictures and post them on social media. However, in the fourth year of her marriage, I noticed she stopped sharing her life experiences with me. She withdrew into herself and became very quiet. At first, I felt she was overburdened with the responsibility of catering for her two children. I never knew that something worse than that was happening in her home.

On several occasions, I tried reaching out to her to know what the problem was, but she didn’t open up to me. She only said, “Jenny, please always remember me in your prayers.” As a sister who cares so much about her, I began to probe into her family matters. I would show up at her apartment with no prior notice, and on one of those visits, I met her with a swollen face.

Winnie, what happened to your face? “ I asked.

“Don’t mind me. Yesterday, there was a power outage and while I was walking in the darkness, I hit my face on the wall unknowingly.” She said.

While she was speaking, I monitored her body language, and I was convinced that she was lying to me.

“Winnie, you know I love you so dearly and I’m here to help you. Please, can you tell me what is going on?” I said.

“Jenny, I’m fine,” she replied.

“When was the last time you saw yourself in the mirror? Girl, I must confess that you have become a shadow of yourself. I think you need to see a doctor.”

“Oh! Please stop it. I have told you I’m fine. Also, don’t come to my house without informing me. My husband doesn’t like that.” She said.

“Did you say your husband? Anyway, take good care of yourself and your kids. I’m leaving.”

While I was walking out of the premises, I bumped into one of her neighbours. I’m not someone who loves to gossip, but I had a strong urge to ask the lady some questions about Winnie’s family. My fears were confirmed when she told me that Gerald’s attitude had changed completely. He was always returning late in the night and was also beating his wife.

After I got that information, I thought about what to do next. I called Gerald and pleaded with him to permit Winnie to join me at a concert. He accepted, and on that day, when Winnie came around, she poured out her heart to me.

Winnie had suspected that her husband was seeing another woman, but when she confronted him, he denied it. A few months later, Gerrard’s salary was slashed at his place of work because the company was experiencing a financial crisis. On the other hand, Winnie got a promotion at work and her salary was increased. So, she started paying the major bills in the home.

Did you know her husband became jealous of her success? He started complaining about her unavailability at home and also suggested that she should resign from her job. Winnie refused, and that was how they started quarrelling almost every day. Gerrard started abusing her physically, emotionally, and verbally. He tried to make her feel worthless and always reminded her of the poor background she came from.

Things turned sore over time, and the most painful part was that she didn’t report him to the police. After she told me everything, I was so angry and wanted to tell my other siblings. However, she begged me and insisted that he was already turning into a new leaf. I even suggested that she should separate from him for a while, but she was scared that he might bring another woman into the house in her absence.

One day, I was at home when my phone rang. When I picked up the call, it was Winnie on the other end. Her voice was low, and I heard her say, “Jenny, please come, I’m dying.”

While I was driving to her apartment, I tried calling her again, but no one picked up the call. So many thoughts were running through my head. Was she really dying, literally? I couldn’t wait to find out.

I walked into her sitting room fifteen minutes later, and the house was quiet. When I looked around, I discovered that a fight had happened there. While climbing the staircase, I saw blood on the floor. I quickly rushed upstairs, and when I got into Winnie’s room, I saw her lying on the floor, in a pool of blood. She was already cold and lifeless. What about her husband and children? They were nowhere to be found. I was so confused. Was she attacked by armed robbers? Was it Gerald that killed her?

I called the ambulance, and my mother to tell her what had happened. When the police came, I told them my part of the story. However, we needed to know the full story. We tried calling her husband’s phone number, but it was switched off. So we had to keep our fingers crossed and wait for the police to carry out the investigation.

On the first night after Winnie’s death, I couldn’t sleep. My mind was filled with thoughts of her. I took her phone and started watching the pictures in the gallery. I was shocked when I saw different pictures she took after she was beaten by her husband. I also opened her journal, and the messages I found in it were heartbreaking.

My dear Winnie died due to domestic violence. Although her husband was caught and sent to jail, I’m still finding it so hard to forgive him for murdering my best friend.

What is femicide?

According to Wikipedia, it is the intentional killing of women or girls by men, and it could be motivated by pleasure, animosity, a sense of ownership, derision, or male dominance. In a broader scope, it involves the killing of the female gender for whatever reason. Another term used for femicide is feminicide.

According to a report published by the United Nations, over 47,000 females were killed in the year 2020 by their family members. Africa had the highest rate, with 2.7 victims per 100,000 inhabitants. In other words, a woman or girl was killed every 11 minutes in their home. A research conducted in 95 countries shows that the rate of gender-related killings of women has not decreased over the past decade. The average number of killings that occurred between 2019 and 2020 shows an 11% increase in Europe and an 8% increase in North America.

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There are different forms of femicide, but in this article, I will focus on the ones that are predominant in Nigeria. The socio-cultural and religious practices of the people can influence the rate and form of femicide. For instance, patriarchal societies (e.g. India) have more cases of femicide.

Forms of Femicide

  • Femicide by an intimate partner
  • Honour killing
  • Killing for religious reasons
  • The killing of women for witchcraft reasons
  • Femicide due to sexual orientation
  • Killing because of dowry disputes
  • Death resulting from genital mutilation
  • Rape and murder
  • Female gender-selective abortion
  • Female infanticide

Femicide by an Intimate Partner:

They say that love is blind, but after being married for a while, your eyes will certainly open. It is in marriage that you will see those bad characteristics that were hidden during courtship.

Over the years, most women have been killed either by their present or ex-partner. In 2020, the rate of domestic violence increased rapidly during the lockdown period. Physical, sexual, emotional, and mental abuse are different forms of domestic violence.

A UNODC report stated that over 87,000 women and girls were killed globally in 2017, and 60% of them were killed by an intimate partner or family member. A total of 852 cases were recorded in Lagos State. Let us take a quick review of some femicide cases that occurred in that same year.

Solape Oladipupo, aka Shomzy, was killed by her lover, Mr. Kalu Bernard. They were both working in the air force. Kalu allegedly killed his fiancé at their air force base in Makurdi, Benue State. He suspected that she was having an affair with another man. So, he went to her house and shot her in the neck at close range. Sadly, the victim died and the man was arrested by the Nigerian Airforce. After a series of trials, he was sentenced to death.

In another report, we heard the case of Mr. Olaoluwa Adejo, a 32-year-old man who killed his wife, Maureen, at their home located at Peluola Street, Bariga area. The young man was fond of beating his wife, and on that particular day, he used a belt and machete to flog her. Their four-year-old son, who was an eyewitness, stated that before killing her, he forced her to consume a locally produced insecticide. After she died, he ran away but was apprehended by the police.

In Akwa Ibom State, Mr. Sunday Akpan also killed his wife, Mrs. Martha Akpan, in the presence of his three children. After she died, he used a machete to cut her body into pieces and put them in two bags. At midnight, he carried the bags in a wheelbarrow and disposed of the corpse at a refuse dump site close to NDLEA’s office, off Nwaniba Road, Uyo. After he was arrested, he pleaded guilty to the crime.

The list is actually an elaborate one. However, I always wonder if those victims did not perceive traits of aggression in their partners before the incident. And if they saw the signs of danger, why didn’t they run for their lives?

Rape and Murder:

Social media is a powerful tool that connects people all over the world. Many people have met their soul mates or even found their dream jobs through social media. Sadly, nowadays, some people use it to commit crimes. They set a trap and lure females into it.

Cynthia Okogosu was a victim who lost her life because she trusted a man she met on social media. Before the incident, the young lady was running a fashion boutique. Some of her goods were purchased overseas. One day, she got a Facebook friend request from a man named Okwumi Echezona Nwabufor.

The young man posed as an agent who could assist her in purchasing clothes overseas at a cheaper price. They chatted for four months and became very close. Then one day, he was able to convince her to travel from Abuja to Lagos to see him. On arriving at the airport, Cynthia was picked up by Okwumi Echezona Nwabufor and Ejike Ilechukwu Olisaeloka. They took her to Cosmilla Hotel in Lakeview Estate in Festac Town.

They offered her a Ribena drink, which had been drugged with Rohypnol. These two men stole her phones, jewellery, and money. They also raped her before killing her. After they fled the hotel premises, her body was found naked with her limbs tied behind her back. The final autopsy report stated that she was suffocated to death.

Unfortunately, those guys didn’t know that Cynthia had disclosed her location and the identity of the so-called business partners she was meeting up with. Also, the hotel had a hidden CCTV camera. So the faces of the perpetrators were captured. Later on, the two guys were arrested along with other suspects that were, directly and indirectly, involved in the crime. The trial for the case started on August 27, 2012, and lasted for five years. Thankfully, on March 23, 2017, the men were sentenced to death.

Honour Killing:

This is the act of murdering a woman or girl who is accused of committing an abominable crime. The murderers often claim that they killed her to save the prestige of the family. Some methods used to kill the victims are flogging to death, stoning, pouring of acid, or forced suicide.

Child brides and forced marriage are popular in countries like India, Nigeria, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Jordan, Yemen, Egypt, Palestine, etc. There are many cases where females were killed for running away from their husband’s houses or for having an affair.

According to the data published by the United Nations Population Fund, every year, over 5000 women are killed by family members to save the honour of their families. Did you know that some of those murderers are praised within their local communities? They call them heroes. A survey was carried out in Diyarbakir, a city in Southeastern Anatolia, and over 40% of the respondents stated they supported honour killing.

In June 2009, Mohammad Shafia, his son and his second wife planned and executed the murder of his first wife and her three teenage daughters. Their corpses were found inside a car that was submerged in a canal near Kingston, Ontario. What was their offence? They had embraced the western lifestyle and denounced their family’s religion. The three daughters dropped their hijabs and started dressing like western people. Mohammad Shafia was against their new way of life and cautioned them. However, his first wife supported her children, and when the conflict in the home became overbearing, she asked for a divorce. Instead of giving them their freedom, Mohammed, his son and the second wife planned and killed the woman and her three daughters. The three defendants were found guilty and sentenced to life in prison with parole eligibility in 25 years.

In Bangladesh and India, we have heard cases of young girls who were poisoned by family members or forced to commit suicide because they got pregnant before marriage. Even the ones that were raped also faced stigmatisation and murder. If the necessary precautions are not taken, such practices will continue to spread globally.

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Killings for Religious Purposes:

Nigeria is a country with over 200 million people. The two major religions that exist here are Christianity and Islam. Due to religious differences, tensions, clashes, and killings are common in some geographical zones of the country. A few months ago, the news of the gruesome murder of Deborah Yakubu Samuel, a Christian student at Shehu Shagari College of Education, was spread over the internet. She was attacked and stoned to death by an angry mob at the school premises. The killers went further to burn her body. It was indeed a painful experience.

According to the videos posted online, the mob were seen chanting “Allahu Akbar ” a phrase used by Muslims to declare their faith or thanksgiving. They killed Deborah for allegedly blaspheming the name of the Islamic prophet.

Blasphemy is a sensitive topic in Nigeria, and that is why hundreds of people protested after two of Deborah’s killers were arrested. The mob even besieged the palace of the Sultan of Sokoto for condemning the act. While we continue to wait for the latest report on the case, I hope that justice is served in the end.

The Killing of Women for Ritualistic Purposes:

Due to the high level of unemployment and poverty in Nigeria, many young people are using traditional charms to attract wealth. These ritualists believe that the blood and body parts of a woman are very potent in preparing money charms, and for that reason, women are no longer safe in the country.

A few months ago, Bamise, a 22-year-old girl, boarded a BRT bus from Chevron Bus Stop at Lekki. She was going to Oshodi to meet with her sister, who had given birth. After boarding the bus at around 7 pm, she noticed that the driver refused to pick up other passengers. He also turned off the inner lights in the vehicle. She hurriedly sent a voice message to her friends, stating her suspicions about the driver.

Unfortunately, she was kidnapped and killed by the driver. The following day, she was declared missing, and when her corpse was found, they discovered that some of her private body parts were missing. Thankfully, the bus driver has been tracked and arrested. Hopefully, he will get a severe punishment for his crime.

According to the Foundation for Partnership Initiatives in the Niger Delta (PIND), over 150 girls and women were killed between January 2018 and December 2021. In a recent report, we found out that more females were killed in Imo, Cross River and Delta State. All these happenings are a serious threat to the security of the female gender, and if they are not addressed, there will be repercussions at every regional level of the nation.

The Killing of Women for Witchcraft Reasons:

In Africa, most people believe in the existence of witchcraft, and that is why they link every negative occurrence to witches and wizards. In some locations, women, especially the elderly ones, have been accused of being witches. The people torture and persecute the victims to accept the allegations. Sometimes, even without undergoing any trial, they are banished or lynched.

The major groups of women that are vulnerable to extrajudicial killing are poor women and people living with disabilities. Evangelical pastors and the government instigated most of the witch hunts incidents. In the Gambia, there was a time when some government agents raided rural villages and abducted most elderly people who were alleged to be witches. The victims were tortured and forced to drink a magical concoction, and most of them developed severe health complications because of that.

I also heard about the case of Jonathan, who was told that his 75-year-old mother was a witch. So, he went to her room and shot her with a gun. He went further to cut her body with a cutlass and set her apartment ablaze. After the Edo State police arrested him, he stated he killed her because he felt she was responsible for all the failures and setbacks in his life.

To combat the spread of such barbaric practices, Mr Leo Igwe established the Nigerian Humanist Movement in 1994. The goal of this initiative is to campaign against the practice of witch-hunting in Nigeria and Africa. After the Humanist Movement began, it gained both local and international support. A project called Advocacy for Alleged Witches (AfAW) was also founded by Leo Igwe. According to him, the goal is to “use compassion, reason, and science to save the lives of those affected by superstition.”

The battle against the intentional killing of women has been ongoing for decades now. On national and international levels, different laws have been enacted, but obeying the laws is very challenging for some people. That is why we still hear news about domestic violence and gender-related killings every day.

Even the police have failed to enforce the laws. They have also failed to protect female citizens. In locations where bribery is accepted, they set some male offenders free without punishing them. If these are not addressed, then gender-related killings will be recurring.

Everyone has a role to play in eradicating femicide from our present and future generations. I would suggest that the government should increase its awareness campaigns against domestic violence, gender discrimination, and inequality. Also, more techniques and policies against femicide should be implemented.

The role of the judiciary is to ensure that stern punishment is meted out to every offender. Non-governmental organisations can organise programmes aimed at orientating women to build resistance against gender bias and inequality. Also, they should be encouraged to report every threat they receive before it becomes too late.

Even in the family unit, the role of the parents is to teach their sons to respect women and never lay their hands on them. Also, the main reason some women remain in abusive marriages till they are killed is because our society stigmatises divorcees and single mothers. Therefore, we should say no to such practices. Marriage is good, but if your life is in danger, save yourself first before it gets too late.

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