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Gender based violence is entrenched in the strong patriarchal ideologies of control, subversion and subordination of women and girls. Efforts to resists this has mostly been undertaken at individual level. As a result, patriarchy continues to thrive


This article is a theoretical exploration of the linkages between gender based violence and patriarchy. It seeks to determine the extent to which patriarchy contributes to the perpetuation of GBV in Nigeria. It also examines the degree to which the development assumption that increased incidence of GBV is an indication of the potential challenges to patriarchal institutions and systems especially within conjugal relationships. Arguments in this article are based on theoretical expositions and conclusions of studies on related themes triangulated with anecdotal evidence on GBV within conjugal relationships. It discusses distinct elements of colonial administration in Nigeria and its impact on the roles, responsibilities of women and men. Also, it argues that cultural and religious practices/norms that advantage and privilege men are central factors that exacerbate patriarchy. In addition, the article posits that patriarchy is reproduced at household/family levels and extrapolates into community and public domains through discriminatory character of social relations between women and men. Finally, it concludes that while increase in GBV may be perceived as a challenge to patriarchal control it may not indicate a collapse of patriarchy.



Gender Based Violence (GBV) has been globally recognized to stem from patriarchy which is also based on the ideology and exercise of power. Regulated by the pattern of gender relations and norms which guide allocations of resources and power at household levels, patriarchy ensures and maintains the status quo of ‘power over’ orchestrated by gendered roles/division of labour where male authority and power are dominant. Men and boys are protagonists as heads of households and breadwinners in the private and public domain while women and girls take secondary position and value is relation to their ability to organize efficiently household social reproduction.

Public discourses in Nigeria have begun to ascribe increased levels of GBV to hegemonic manifestations of the power of patriarchy and therefore a consequence of challenge by the ‘oppressed’ (women) against the ‘oppressor’ (men). Indeed, patriarchy is at the centre of increasing powerlessness of women and girls to rescue themselves from poverty; and protect themselves from violence and HIV/AIDS infection. It is a key factor in the lack of access to and control over resources (material and financial) through cultures of dis-inheritance; systematic discrimination and exclusion from decision-making.

This paper discusses the link between patriarchy and the increased incidence of gender-based violence especially within conjugal relationships. It also seeks to determine whether the increase in GBV is indicative of the demise of patriarchy or otherwise. The paper is structurally divided into three parts – Part 1 consists of an introduction; Part 2 discusses the theoretical framework and a review of literature on the origin and impact of patriarchy on women, socio cultural manifestations and sites of patriarchy; while Part 3 concludes on the theoretical arguments of the article.


Patriarchy Defined

Scholars define patriarchy as a set of social relations with material base which enable men to dominate women (Stacey 1993, Lerner 1986, Aina 1998, Kramarae 1992). Aina (1998:6) further argues that patriarchy is a system of social stratification and differentiation on the basis of sex which provides material advantages to males while simultaneously placing severe constraints on the roles and activities of females; with various taboos to ensure conformity with specified gender roles. The term was originally used to describe the position of the father as a household head but it has progressively been used to refer to the systemic organization of male supremacy and female subordination. Cobertt (1998:11) perceives patriarchy as ‘the rule of fathers’. However, he argues that today’s male domination goes beyond the ‘rule of father’; it includes the rule of husbands, of male bosses, of men running most societal institutions, in politics and economics.

Walby (1980:15) agrees that patriarchy is a system of social structure in which men dominate, oppress and exploit women. Patriarchal societies or cultures are initiated and primarily maintained by men. Wamue-Nagare etal (2011a:14) further explain that patriarchal culture is institutionalized through a rigorous socialization process in which every member of the community is aware of what duties, responsibilities and roles are expected from them which is perceived as the correct order crucial for family and communal harmony.

Power is fundamental to regulate human relationships especially in martial relations. Wamue-Nagare etal (2011b:13) observe ‘that marital power is two dimensional. First it is noted in decision-making and associated conflict that influences strategies. In this, lack of decision-making, conflict, or influence strategies are a result of one partner anticipating and deferring to the position of the other. This can result from the less powerful partner believing that they are unable to have influence or fearing negative reprisal. Second, invisible power refers to an unconscious process in which social and psychological systems of inequality result in one partner being unable to even conceive the possibility of having input in decision-making, engaging in conflict, or using power strategies. Power relations as succinctly described in the foregoing significantly influence the onset of conflicts in marital relations and define the boundaries of arguments for this article.

Gender Based Violence and Patriarchy

The paucity of discourses/studies that effectively link the incidence of GBV to patriarchy within marital relationships may not allow for robust analysis of the focus area of this article. However, theoretical articles and empirical studies on related themes provide opportunities for discourse. In situating GBV within the Human rights discourse, Rico (1997:13) attempts to describe GBV within households to human rights violation when he argues that GBV is a violation of the right to identity, since it reinforces and reproduces the subordination of women to men, leading to a distortion of the human being; of the right to affection, since violence is the antithesis of any expression of that sort; of the right to peace and enriching personal relations, since it is a negative form of dispute settlement; of the right to protection, since it creates a situation of defenselessness; of the right to personal development, since its victims suffer a form of psychological paralysis which prevents them from developing their creative potential; of the right to social and political participation, because it inhibits activities outside the household (with the exception of the bare minimum of activities related to traditional roles, such as participating in organizations, groups or meetings); of the right to freedom of expression; and of the right to an optimum state of physical and mental health.

Simpson etal (1998:1-10) opines that patriarchal gender constructions contribute to GBV. They argue that not only has it got its roots in political and economic inequality but also stems from gender identification in terms of masculinity and femininity. It is an expression of identity and the way in which identity is constructed and reconstructed by society. Furthermore, a study based in South Africa further links GBV to women’s challenge to gender roles within patriarchal systems. Results of the study show that violence is strongly influenced by community norms regarding the use of violence to resolve conflict, women’s challenge of traditional gender roles, and sexist attitudes among men (Jewkes,2002:1423-1429 ). Similarly, Hiese etal (1998: 262-290) postulate that GBV is culturally patterned and prevalent in societies with rigid gender roles or in patriarchal communities in which male dominance is engrained in a masculine identity.


Various schools of through have sought to trace the origin of patriarchy to African or Western roots. A school of thought argues that patriarchy is inherently African since the culture of Africans, and indeed Nigeria, gives it expression and life while others agree that patriarchy was brought about by the occupation and colonization of Nigeria by Britain. The positions of women in pre-colonial Nigeria differed according to ethnic divisions and the existing occupational divisions and roles of women within the economic structure and prevailing kinship systems. Women’s roles during pre-colonial times were perceived as complimentary to men rather than subordinate. The difference in sites of role performance did not detract from the value of such work performed by women. Dennis (1987:14) argues that the imposition of colonial rule reversed gains in political and social power for women in Nigeria. Before colonial administration, Igbo women played an important role in agriculture as well as Yoruba women who had the responsibility of providing material resources for the care of families. However, in Hausa societies prevailing interpretation of the Islam tended to confine women to the households except in cases where the male spouses were too poor to provide for household needs or to procure labour to ensure such provision.

In addition, many Nigeria tribal societies ascribed positions of importance to women and they undertook functions that were seen as complimentary to the roles of men. According to Dennis (1987b:15) ‘the religions of many Nigerian societies recognized the social importance of women by emphasizing the place of female gods of fertility and social peace, but women were also associated with witchcraft which appeared to symbolize the potential social danger of women exercising power uncontrolled by men’. This assumption may have promoted the need for men to keep women within their sphere of control especially in conjugal relationships.


Colonialism reconfigured the pattern of gender relations in Nigeria. With the colonialization of Nigeria, new patriarchal perceptions regarding appropriate social roles for women emerged and received nurture from by the systems of governance and household organization, production, maintenance and application of labour as propagated by British colonizers and missionaries. Agricultural production and marketing systems privileged men and encouraged their domination in the cultivation of cash crops for international market. Men and boys benefitted from utilization of new agricultural implements and enjoyed greater access to agricultural extension services. They took over the production of palm oil and kernel from women, who had monopolized this activity in pre-colonial times while women were involved in the production of food and subsistence frming that kept them close to household’s thresholds. Colonial administrators’ conceptions of women also prevailed in the allocation of positions of authority in formal administrative tasks. Women were not encouraged to hold administrative positions in colonial government because of the prevailing perception that the domain of women and girls were in the domestic sphere (Chuku, 2005a:115) . Stereotyped perceptions of women with regards to their roles in domestic and public domains further diminished their status and progressively diminished the important positions they held in communities.
Emerging perceptions of surbordinacy of women and their inferiority to men deepened with the restrictive legislations and attempt to control their sexuality and fertility that came with colonial rule. The overt and covert policies of colonial masters and missionaries paved the way for new forms of social, political, and economic order which restricted women and prevented them from undertaking previous roles. Changes in the traditional system of production in indigenous cropping systems affected social relations of production and household organization. This brought about oppressive forms of social stratification that inspired many Nigerian women to hold protests throughout the colonial period against colonial policies and colonial systems of governance in general (Dennis, 1987c:24)

From the foregoing, it is pertinent to conclude that although patriarchy existed in pre-colonial Nigeria, colonization deepened the gender chasm through entrenching and reinforcing discriminatory gender division of roles for women and men which encouraged the supremacy and importance of men’s over women’s roles. The economic systems introduced by colonialism denied women the use of public space and confined them to the domestic sphere. The implication was the further invisibilization of women and the negation of their economic, political and social roles.

The changes that occurred during the colonial period entrenched the ideology and perception of women’s roles in social reproduction and household provisioning as marginal to the more visible financially remunerative ‘productive’ roles of men. Women’s roles especially at the household level were perceived to be outside the production parameters because they remain un-remunerative in financial terms. In a way, the structure of societal organization introduced by colonial masters may have calcified the patriarchal cultural systems in Nigeria and negatively impacted on the status of women in the country today.


Gender based violence reinforces and is perpetuated by gender inequalities. Patriarchy operates to maintain and reinforce women’s subordination. Households and household productions are key sites of women’s subordination which permeate the public arena. The structure of patriarchy differs in forms - household and workplace (institutional) and utilizes different strategies to maintain gender inequality and the subordination of women. The household strategy is exclusionary while the public structures strategy is segregationist (Golombok and Fivush 1995: 45) This may well represent the situation in Nigeria given the severely regimented division of labour at the domestic sphere and the discriminatory practices in public structures that encourage gender exclusion at various levels of private and public decision-making arenas. The male patriarch in the household is both the oppressor and the recipient of women’s subordination. Individual patriarchs and public institutions use their powers in a manner that reveals the linkages between the structures of patriarchy operation in the domestic and public domains. Public institutions do not have power to oppress individual women or exclude them directly from public structures; this is done at the household level. Rather power at the institutional level is used collectively in the public arena to maintain the exclusion and marginalization of women in positions of authority and decision-making.

Indeed, the common argument against the campaign for the 35 percent affirmative action in Nigeria is that there is neither law nor provision in the Constitution of Nigeria that prevents women from aspiring to gain political power through vying for elective positions. However, gendered barriers operating in formal and informal structures including unwritten and invisible family codes of behaviours, resource and power allocations work in tandem to ensure that women’s participation in governance and decision-making in Nigeria is sustained at levels of minimalization and inconsequentiality. This is evidence of a conscious or unconscious agreement among patriarchal forces to maintain status quo and keep women out of the corridors of powers to ensure that male privileges accruing from the continued operation of patriarchy are maintained. This is inconsistent with the dynamism of a changing world and the character of changing social relation but consistent with the argument of Golombok et al (1997) as they posit that patriarchy operates across the borders of private and public and is exerted collectively through institutions and structures to maintain a calcified gender strata in social relations between women and men.

From the foregoing, the power of patriarchy is asserted in symphony at both the private and public levels to reinforce, maintain and sustain itself regardless of the prevailing economic and social environment in Nigeria. These sites of patriarchy also host various forms of GBV. At the household level, resistance to patriarchal control especially within conjugal relationships manifests in physical forms such as wife battery, marital rape, acid bath, harmful traditional practices (Female Genital Cutting – FGC), widowhood rites/disinheritance and deprivation of material and economic resources which promotes continued dependence on the male spouse for financial and material needs. Restriction of mobility and use of the public space are also some of the measures that men have utilized to keep women and girls in consistent subjugation. Women who have overcome these barriers also face issues of GBV in the public arena in the forms of political violence, denial of promotional opportunities in the formal work environment, psychological abuse through intimidation and negative media posturing.


The calcification of patriarchy in Nigeria is perpetuated by several factors that lower the status of women. Although, many efforts have been made to advance women’s rights in Nigeria, women continue to face discrimination and oppression from their male counterparts. In some parts of the world, women are able to free themselves from such abuse if they are of high status, wealthy or educated. However in Nigeria, the subordination of women occurs though in different dimensions to both educated and uneducated women, rich and poor, urban and rural. There are no boundaries that protect women from such injustice.

The incidence of GBV breeds essentially on the lower status of women. Subordination is the central weapon to exercise patriarchal control over women and girls in Nigeria. It is successfully perpetuated through cultural and religious socialization to the degree that most girls and adolescent women in Nigeria grow into adult women believing that these occurrences are natural and divinely ordered. As a result, most often change is resisted by such women themselves as they tend to perceive messages about gender equality as an aberrance to cultural dictates of appropriateness of behavior for women and men.

Subordination is perpetuated by several factors that are mostly subtly ingrained in cultural practices, norms, unwritten family codes and discriminatory provisions of the tripartite legal system in Nigeria (Statutory, Customary and Sh’aria). Some of the factors that reinforce the subordinate status of women are discussed below:


The Constitution of Federal Republic guarantees the rights of citizens to practice their religion without interference. While the intent of the constitution is not to inhibit freedom of worship and religion, the constitutional provision most of the time provides the very basis for the violation of the rights of women and girls.

Religion is at the forefront of the factors that foster female domination. This is because most religious traditions of the world are patriarchal. All the founders and great names of major religions of the world (Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Judaism and Buddhism) are male. Any other great names in these traditions are mainly masculine. This is why in a great majority of the cases, the ideological tenets espoused, the elements of faith, and the imageries employed in worship are masculine. For instance, in the Catholic Church women cannot become deacons or priests despite the fact that women are majority worshippers and demonstrate stubborn abidance to the tenets and ideologies of the faith. Biblical accounts also provide ample evidence that women were major actors in the fulfillment of the ministry of Christ while he was on earth as is shown by the episode of his resurrection and the work of women after his ascension. The resistance to change can only be adduced to the desire by such actors to maintain prevailing patriarchal religious tradition and practices that privilege men.

As is the case with Christianity, the possibility of women attaining the position of an Imam in any division of Islam is farfetched. Basic education is still deprived women in Islamic societies in Nigeria. This has continued in spite of the various provisions in the instruments of the Islamic religion that guarantee the rights of women to education and the pursuit of viable employment avenues and sustainable livelihoods.

Religion is a critical weapon to enforce subordination given the high spirituality and connectivity that Nigerians, especially Nigerian women, attach to religion. The unequivocal reverence enjoyed by custodians of spiritual authority ensures an almost unquestionable adherence to the proclamations by such figures. Patriarchal interpretation of religious texts by proponents aggravates women’s situation and the use of religious text to enforce compliance in a way that privileges men/boys. Women and girls are constrained to obey to prevent social sanctions or branding that may occur as a result of non-compliance. This ultimately eliminates the possibility of challenge to the supposed divinely ordained core tenets that regulate appropriate behavior in accordance with expectations of such religions.


Until recently, in most communities in Nigeria, the birth of a son was more acceptable than the birth of a daughter. Sons are accorded more importance and a mother of sons enjoys greater pride and security than a mother of daughters. While in some communities the privileges granted to a mother of sons are not explicitly poignant, subtle manifestations of superiority are inferred by mannerisms and actions. A son is expected to bear the family name while marriage terminated the erstwhile limited rights of the girl child in her birth family. Oftentimes, men sought to take second wives because of their first wife’s inability to bear an heir. Therefore a woman with no sons is plagued with social insecurity as she lives in constant fear of losing her marriage and her homestead to another who may be brought in to correct her inadequacies. Son preference dictates that more resources will be invested into the education and upbringing of male children with high expectations on the future dividends for linage survival, protection and promotion. Girls are perceived as expendable commodities who will eventually be married out to other families to procreate and ensure the survival of the spouses’ linage by bearing sons.

The practice of female genital mutilation further deepens the perceived inferiority of women to men because of the explicit intention of privileging the men by preserving the chastity of the female child until marriage. While the virtue of virginity and abstinence from sex is commendable (especially in the are of HIV/AIDS), it becomes discriminatory when the expectation and responsibility of chastity becomes the burden of women/daughters while rascality and high risk sexual behavior is tolerated and encouraged for men and boys by the society.

The practice of disinheritance of women and girls in some cultures in Nigeria contributes to the subordination of women. Cultural and religious systems of inheritance differ according to ethnicity and provisions of religious practices in this regard. For instance the system of inheritance among the Igbos reflects the lack of male responsibility to his wife and children. If a husband dies intestate, the woman usually receives nothing. If she has no children, the treatment is worse. Since property can only pass between the same sexes, women are not expected to inherit from their fathers. However, religious and cultural systems of inheritance of the Muslim Hausas and the Yorubas reserves a percentage of inheritance from fathers to daughters but this is no in way equal to that of sons. Early marriage also further aggravates women/girls powerlessness to escape poverty and discrimination. It deprives them of the opportunity to fulfill their potentials as critical actors and beneficiaries of mainstream development process in Nigeria. Nevertheless progressive autonomous legislations against these practices at state levels provide an opportunity for improvement in the status of women and young girls.


As in most patriarchal societies in Africa and Nigeria, boys are taught to be dominant and aggressive (masculine), while girls must be polite, gentle and adept in domestic chores (feminine). These roles are emphasized at various expositions and teaching through the levels and process of socialization including using the media. In addition, the portrayal of women in the media especially through home video production in Nigeria further vilifies them. Women are portrayed as witches, promiscuous and immodest. Movies that show women in great positive and strong roles are rare. The content of home videos in Nigeria show that producers are responding to the patriarchal values of socialization process ingrained in them from childhood to adulthood. These values are given expression in the movie scripts they write and produce. These kinds of movies also have great audience appeal because they do not challenge any traditional pre-conceptions on the traditional roles of women nor do they deviate in the cultural expectations of society for women and men alike. The value of such products to transform gender relations is almost at zero level. Furthermore, the gender role socialization weapon is a traditional and most accepted instrument to ensure that women’s work in the household is undermined. The household is essentially the site for social reproduction in the maintenance and sustenance of the future labour force. Despite its importance in sustaining the supply of critical labour for the productivity and market sector, hierarchical value placement locates it much lower than the more visible labour undertaken by men in the productive economy.

Nonetheless, linkages between the domestic and the productive sector cannot be over-emphasized because the activity of social production at domestic level ensures volume and value for the critical labour force necessary for the sustenance of the productive sector. Therefore a lack of activity in the social reproduction sector will impact on the productive sector negatively. Also, activity in the productive sector produces resources that serve as input in the reproduction of human resource in the domestic sector. It is therefore important that the systemic operation of mutual dependence between these sectors is understood to enable national accounting systems recognize and devise mechanisms to quantify women’s work in the domestic sphere. The non-recognition of the women’s work in the domestic sector increases women’s invisibility and subjectivity. It also precipitates situations for/and increases women’s vulnerability to GBV.

Nevertheless, it may also appear that the pressure to compel a recognition of such domestic roles to enable a significant re-valuation at household levels and the ascription of remunerative value at public arena is also a factor that could induce GBV. The Nigerian society is plagued with a situation where the ‘oppressed’ are seeking new values for hitherto invisible tasks and advocating for a total change of the value of the woman and the girls as human persons. Despite progressive change in gendered roles for women and men as a result of global economic crises and poor economic performance of the state, resistance to acknowledge women’s roles as primary breadwinners is still very strong. These new roles of women as major economic actors at family and community levels are regarded as a major overthrow of the traditional provider roles of men and a direct assault on men’s authority as heads of households and holders of political and economic power. This inevitably increases opportunities for the occurrence of GBV.


The institution of marriage in Nigeria is key to the organization of production and reproduction at household levels. It prescribes and reinforces the gender division of labour with clear delineation of authority, responsibility, invisibility and superiority. Marriage in Nigeria is patrilineal. For example, the Igbos believe that when a woman marries a man, she marries his whole family. With the exception of conjugal obligations, the woman in question is expected to extend the same kind of courtesy she has for her spouse to other members of the man’s family including his parents, brothers and sisters, their grandparents and great grandparents. On the other hand, the male spouse adopts the gendered ideology of the male provider and protector to the family and relatives of his wife.

The process of contracting a marriage in Nigeria reinforces the dominance and the superiority of the male as main actor and protagonist. Courtship and eventual proposal are expected to be undertaken by men. Women are less dominant and encouraged to be chaste to promote the culturally expected façade of future good wives and mothers. Therefore, the surbordinacy ideology that is entrenched from birth is reinforced through childhood and adolescence years and trespasses into adulthood and marriage.

The payment of bride wealth signifies to most men the act of acquisition of property – the woman. It provides a basis for men to insist on certain privileges in the marriage that violate the rights of their spouses to bodily integrity and security. Often a woman's position in society changes vastly once she gets married. She becomes a possession and may not have any rights in spouse’s family. The symbolical expression in the act of payment of bride price as an act of bonding between families is perceived as an outright act of transfer of woman’s rights in source family to spouse’s family. Through this process of exchange, the commoditization phenomenon of a woman’s body as a site of reproductive potential is given ultimate interpretation.

Moreover, parental pronouncements and advice during the conduct of cultural marriages nullifies whatever chance could be available to women to be equal partners in marriage in terms of decision making. For example, pronouncements by parents of the woman during traditional rites of marriage that encourages their daughter to stay in the marriage at all costs and discourages her from entertaining the thoughts of seeking comfort in their house even in the event of life threatening occurrences of violence against her person further complicates the situation for women in marriages. This act not only puts the burden of ensuring marital success on the shoulders of the woman but also exonerates the man in advance from responsibility of safeguarding the marriage covenant. These factors contribute to the intolerant attitude of the male to behaviours they may consider insulting. Such intolerance may also result in the exhibition of violent behavior towards the female spouse such as battery, psychological abuse and denial of economic sustenance. Most women are trapped and unable to escape from such threatening situations because of the contradictory legal provisions concerning divorce, inheritance and children custody. In most situations where women have made efforts to activate their agencies to implement their human rights have led to occurrence of GBV.


Gender based violence is nurtured by the misinterpretation and generalization of the cultural ideology of the male head of household as the central authority in decision-making at family, communal and public levels. This is produced and reinforced through the verbalization and radicalization of such behavior by the male species that controls, marginalizes and decapitates the essence of humanness of women and girls. Cultural and religious interpretation of appropriate behavior and attributes of men and women within conjugal institutions are also sometimes misconstrued to provide more quasi-legitimate basis of men’s control over women in marital relationships. This contributes to the violation of the rights of women and the tendency of the male spouse to restrain by all means the supposed ‘erring wife’ with the instruments of subjection and subordination that culture, mis-interpreted and misapplied religious tenets afford.

The need to control women by men is embedded in the dominant underlying principle of strict patriarchal operating cultural systems. However, the tendencies to ensure that women bow to the authority of the male over-extend the chief patriarch in the household and trespasses into the realms of other forms of social relations. It is generally expected that women and girls show such deference within their families, kindred and other males that do not in any way have blood or kinship ties with them. Societal expectation of subservience of the female is a commonly accepted phenomenon that demands preservation from men and most of the women gatekeepers of culture and tradition. A publication of Think Africa Press on Domestic Violence: the Problem Pervading quotes a study by Amnesty International indicating that ‘subservience of women is accepted as part of marriage in Nigeria -- many believe that a woman is expected to endure whatever she meets in her matrimonial home and to provide sex and obedience to her husband who has a right to violate and batter her if she fails to meet her marital duties’ (Think Africa Press, 2012). Financial dependence of wives on their husbands also makes it difficult for women to escape life threatening conjugal relationships for fear of the withdrawal of such support. Men take advantage of such dependency to provoke situations of threatened divorce or abandonment of their spouses to command unalloyed loyalty and faithfulness. Poverty of women in Nigeria is also connected to high illiteracy rates [1] which is also a manifestation of the low status of women and girls.

It has also been argued that the challenge to patriarchy more than not takes place in marital relationships where women have acquired higher levels of education. The NDHS 2008 study reveal that 36.5 percent of women who had acquired secondary education experience physical violence since age fifteen than 15 percent of women who were never educated. Education is an important empowerment variable for women. Studies (Nwaubani, 2000; Hashemie, Schuler & Riley, 1996; Rahmon and Rao, 2004; Malhotra, Pande & Grown 2003) have shown that women who had undertaken formal years of schooling can more effectively leverage diverse meaningful livelihood opportunities compared to women who had not. While education enables women to escape poverty it has not enabled Nigerian women to escape wife battery and other forms of physical and sexual violence. Media reports in Nigeria have progressively indicated the non-effectiveness of formal education and gainful employments as barriers against wife battery. Men who are already accustomed to deferential treatment by women will enforce their authority through the use of sheer brutal strength, the level of education of the man or woman in question notwithstanding.

Given the information provided by the NDHS 2008 survey, it would be expedient to argue that educated women may be truly vulnerable to increasing GBV in their marital relationships premised on the increased empowerment and value of self from the process of formal schooling. It can also be attributed to the demand for the re-defining of the self worth and values of women given their contribution to the financial up keep of the family. This is akin to Blood and Wolfe’s (1960) discourse on the resource theory as contained in Wamue-Nagre etal (2011c:13). They observe that the distribution of resources in the family is crucial to explaining marital power. The implication of this is that power in marriage results from contribution of resources to the relationship and therefore accrues to the person that has the advantage of providing the contribution. Heer (1963) exchange theory of (also contained in Wamue-Nagre etal (2011d:13) marital power supports the view of Blood and Wolfe. They argue that an individual who has the greatest access to alternative resources outside the marriage relationship will have the most power. The prevailing cultural gender norms guiding decision making and participation within families in Nigerian context holds static and does not lend credence to these arguments. Women’s participation in the public production arena in Nigeria have ensured significantly higher incomes and their increased capacity to financially contribute to the family upkeep. The transforming gender roles notwithstanding, the society expects that women continue to be recipients of decision making in households. The balance between access to/and control over resources may be a contributory factor to the power dynamics that fuels GBV in marital relations. The inability of societal perception concerning women’s status to shift in accordance with altered power bases as occasion by the action of resource contribution is key to conflicts in marriages. Wamue-Ngare etal (2011e:19) rightly concludes in their study that inability of this shift to occur to align a balance of power has resulted in women taking over power and authoritative positions in the family and perceived female deviance mainly from wives whose previous loyalty to husbands was directly related to husband’s earning status.

However, Gonzalez-Brenes (2004a:23) in a study on domestic violence and decision making in East Africa found that GBV is also more likely to be present in households in which women have low levels of education, have trouble conceiving, or do not contribute to household income. They explain that data results from the survey may be due to the interactions of behavioural expectations influenced by differences in cultural norms, practices, structures and institutions that regulate social relations in both contexts.

Studies on related themes have been able to establish the connections between GBV and other factors have been identified in this article as major drivers of patriarchy. In assessing the effects of household composition on GBV, scholars have found a negative correlation between the number of male children and the prevalence of violence and a positive correlation between the death of a male child and the likelihood of violence (Heise 2002, Hinden 2003). This is perhaps due to a man’s increased satisfaction with his wife for bearing male children, to male children having more opportunities to contribute to the family income, or to a male child’s ability to protect his mother. The incidence of GBV is positively correlated with the number of children in a family, although, interestingly, there is no relationship between the presence of female children and incidences of GBV (Gonzalez-Brenes 2004b:26). While, specific studies on similar focus is not available to enable valid inferences, however anecdotal evidence on the incidence of GBV within conjugal relationships in Nigeria suggest a likelihood of increased violence in marriages without male children due to the practice of son preference.

Given the increased GBV within marital relationships in Nigeria, it may not be out of place to infer that women are beginning to redefine their identity outside the boundaries of marriages. While marriage remains a desirable institution that most women in Nigeria would like to experience given religious and cultural socializations, women tend to enter marriage commitments in recent years with a clear notion of their identity and expectations. They appear to be increasingly intolerant of GBV as normal happenstance. This kind of resistance may indeed be the precursor of GBV in most households. Indeed women in Nigeria are beginning to seek the implementation of their human rights through a consistent deliberate engagement of dominating patriarchy systems of governance. The persistence struggle against historical socialization processes and the opportunities provided by prevailing masculinity identify crisis mandates a rethinking of ‘master gender sterotypes’ by both women and men in Nigeria.

Current economic recession has undermined the ability of men as husbands to be able to solely undertake family provisioning, the persistent demands for women to be able to participate in the visible ‘productive sector’, their success in obtaining meaningful livelihood and ability to plough same into family upkeep are major factors that have demystified the assumed superior ‘public’ value of men in Nigeria. The consequence has been the inability of some men to understand and tolerate this gender transformation and redefine their own status and importance especially within conjugal relationships in consonance with the present reality. The reluctance to accept the changing gender roles by men often result in increased utilization of GBV against women as a weapon of subjugation.


Gender based violence is entrenched in the strong patriarchal ideologies of control, subversion and subordination of women and girls in Nigeria. Foregoing arguments in this article has shown that as western values gained influence in colonial Nigeria, women lost some of their traditional rights. Efforts to rise above the operation of patriarchy and its impact on the lives of women and girls in Nigeria has majorly undertaken at individual levels with only minimal support from the state. As a result, patriarchy continues to thrive.

Power of patriarchy is asserted in synergy both in the private and public sphere to reinforce, maintain and sustain status quo irrespective of the prevailing economic and social framework in Nigeria. This results in the low status of women in Nigeria which is evidenced in their marginalization in decision-making and governance at all levels, limited access to productive resources, skewed allocation of political power, higher percentage of the illiteracy among women and girls, dominance of women in the unregulated and non-unionized formal sector and dismal health and education indicators for women and girls.

The 21st century Nigerian society exhibits these characteristics of domination and benevolent patriarchy that decapitate women’s values and restrict their ability to rise above societal norms and practices. The normalization of patriarchal tendencies also minimizes opportunities to reawaken the latent power of women to resist subjugation. It could be likened to the powers associated with the colonial ideology; where the pre-existing indigenous governance structures and systems of the colonized are subsumed to subsisting colonial regime. The powerlessness of women to fend off these consuming powers is also similar to the powerlessness of most colonial societies to resist the overwhelming powers of colonial masters. Women who are courageous enough to exhibit a level of dependency and resistance to hegemonic tendencies are regarded as “sup planter” of the societal imbued authority of men in the Nigerian society

The increasing incidence of GBV in Nigeria may indeed reflect a challenge to patriarchy. Resistance by women to hegemonic control at all levels is increasingly being manifested in the acts of violence against them which could suggest a challenge to patriarchy. This may be advantageous to the campaign for gender equality but the disadvantage to the physical and psychological well being of women and their families. It is also an opportunity cost for rights assertion.

Power drives the perpetuation of patriarchy in Nigeria and GBV is utilized as a weapon to produce the level of subservience necessary for continued domination of women and young girls. The essential elements of dominance and control are central to the survival of patriarchy. The consequences for women who manifest lower levels of compliancy is usually the violation of physical security and dignity. The implication is that women and young girls are constantly in danger of experiencing GBV as they seek to assert their personality and personal choices.

The negative impact of GBV on the health and well being of women and girls is well documented. Efforts are needed to reduce GBV to leverage the potentials of women to socio-economic development of Nigeria. In order to reduce GBV, human security has to be promoted by improving the legal and judicial systems to ensure adequate protection for survivors and punishment for perpetrators. Educating women and men about GBV, human rights and human security should drive school and university curriculums. In addition, improving access of women to good jobs and good wages through relevant formal and informal training channels is also an important variable for the empowerment of women in Nigeria.

In conclusion, it is important that in delivering development assistance, actors begin to aim at transferring gender relations using a holistic model psyche re-orientation for both women and men in Nigeria


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