salami1_ Lynsey AddarioGetty Images Reportage_domestic violence africa Lynsey Addario/Getty Images Reportage

Africa’s Domestic-Violence Epidemic

Domestic violence is a silent scourge across Africa, and it will remain so until the cultural and legal norms that condone it have been rejected. Progress will depend on leaders at all levels – but especially in religious institutions – acknowledging that there is a problem and investing in solutions.

MINNA – In April, the beloved Nigerian gospel singer Osinachi Nwachukwu died at the hands of her husband. Accounts from relatives and friends indicate that, despite enduring severe abuse, she had stayed in her marriage because she hoped things would get better. And Nwachukwu’s situation was hardly unique. Earlier this month, the Kenyan actor Idah Alisha opened up about the violence she suffered before she divorced her husband, a youth pastor.

If even these famous, powerful women are not spared from domestic violence, just think of how many other women are stuck in similar situations. In fact, there is a silent domestic-violence epidemic running rampant through communities across the continent. According to Iheoma Obibi of Alliances for Africa, cases are rising in Nigeria. And the 2014 Kenya Demographic and Health Survey found that, of the 5,657 women aged 15 to 49 who were polled, 47.4% had experienced physical or sexual violence. In South Africa, before the pandemic, medical complications from intimate-partner violence constituted the second-highest burden of disease after HIV/AIDS.

Unlike Nwachukwu, whose story eventually came to light because she was a celebrity, many other women’s deaths have gone unreported. And because prosecuting such violence is expensive, many women who survive never get justice. Moreover, we know from our work regularly interacting with women and girls that they seldom report domestic violence because of the shame and stigma that attaches to victims.

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