In northern Nigeria, when you hear the word ‘abuse’, the first thing likely to come to your mind is ‘Drug abuse’. Why? This is because it is one of the most socially recognized and stigmatized forms of abuse.
But before we discuss more on that, let us have a look at the concept of abuse.
The concept of Abuse?
Generally, abuse is the improper usage or treatment of a thing, often to unfairly or improperly gain benefit. Both animate and inanimate things, tangible and intangible things can be abused. For example, one can abuse a privilege, an animal, a human, or a pencil.
The term ‘Yar aiki’ is a local term used to describe a house girl or a ‘female househelp’ which can range from a young girl of ten years to an old woman of fifty or more. She may be unmarried, married, or a divorcee. This is because, in northern society, it is almost a taboo for boys or men to mix with members of the household due to religious and cultural practices. You can learn more about the roles of men in Northern Nigeria here.
Such types of ‘Yar aiki’ may be educated or uneducated, work as live-in or part-time help, and might be from similar or different regions as the household members.
The work of ‘Yar aiki’ usually ranges from cooking, cleaning, washing plates or clothes, and taking care of a baby’s needs—if there are any.
But these ladies are often taken advantage of in many households in northern Nigeria that it has almost become a norm.
Abuse of People
When talking about the abuse of people, however, we can say abuse is that which originates from a difference in power and sprouts from a notion that people can unjustly use someone that they feel are lesser than them. This can happen intentionally or unintentionally.
Types of Abusers
There are two types of abusers. Those that abuse intentionally and those that abuse unintentionally. You can read more about abusers here.
People that abuse others unintentionally are usually victims or witnesses of abuse themselves and may do so due to a lack of knowledge that it is wrong.
Lack of emotional intelligence may also trigger unintentional abuse. Simply speaking, it might have been what was done to them or what they have seen others doing and end up doing it themselves.
Intentional abusers however are very much aware of what they are doing and its implications but continue to do so at the expense of what they deem a small price to pay as long as it will benefit them. Such types of people usually feel they are above all including the law.
Abuse of people by other people may occur in many forms but this article will focus on house help ‘Yar Aiki’ abuse in northern Nigeria.
Are You Abusing Your Househelp? (Yar Aiki)
Often the people who commit abuse are taking advantage of a special relationship in the home, workplace, hospital, or a public place. This can come in the form of disrespect or causing someone physical or mental pain.
Economic and social differences have given many people weapons to implement abuse as they deem please with or without realizing it.
This article will educate people especially women— who are usually the bosses of these househelps— on the different angles abuse can take form and what they are doing to promote it.
Here are sixteen ways you are abusing your house to help with or without your knowledge.
Deliberate and unwanted contact with your househelp which causes or is intended to cause her harm is physical abuse. It also includes using or threatening to use a weapon on her.
However, you may also physically abuse your househelp through rough-handling, scalding, physically punishing, involuntarily confining, assaulting, or forcibly feeding or withholding food from her.
Below are 15 ways you are physically abusing your househelp.
1. You Beat or Punish Her
Physically assaulting your househelp by slapping, punching, kicking, pushing, or shoving her around just because she accidentally burnt your favorite ‘Atamfa’ is simply cruel and is not going to unburn it. Neither is scalding or burning her with the same pressing iron.
Do not deny her lunch or make her do the frog hop as punishment because she took too long at an errand or lost part of the money.
Some of these young girls are just too young to be’ that responsible’ or unfamiliar with your lifestyle. For them, simple things may look like driving a car. If you can’t pardon a mistake in a particular chore, desist from giving it to them. Remember everyone makes mistakes and there are other ways to resolve issues without turning to physical violence.
2. You Overwork Her
Do you feel tired after cleaning, washing, cooking, and ironing? Mmm, guess what, your househelp does too. Because she is human just like you! If you think your househelp doesn’t get to have an excuse not to work or have a break, then you should get her machine parts that run on battery.
Don’t be so lazy that you overwork your house helps too much. Some househelps do everything for everyone including simple household and personal chores. This is worse for the live-in house helps, who are usually the first to wake and last to go to bed.
Do not take advantage of her financial vulnerability and overwork her till she crashes. If you can afford to replace her, she may not be able to replace her health. Give your househelp enough sleeping hours and an hour or 30 minutes break at a time during the day. Encourage other house members to engage in chores and know that she may not complain, but her body certainly does.
Verbally abusing your househelp includes the use of language to criticize, name-call, put down, threaten, or blame her. This behavior makes her doubt her abilities and subjugate herself to you, resulting in a loss of her self-esteem.
This can interfere with your househelp’s positive development and over time, lead to significant detriment to her person’s mental and physical wellbeing.
Below are ways you are verbally abusing your househelp.
1. You Say Things That Make it Clear Her Opinions Don’t matter
“Nobody asked you” when she attempts to suggest a better way of doing something your pride is unwilling to accommodate. “keep quiet and go back to your work”. Saying such things will definitely hurt her even if her suggestion will not work.
Instead of reducing her to the status of a mere toad, find humbler ways of declining or rejecting your househelp’s opinions or suggestions where you feel they won’t work. However, strive to give her objective listening ears and hear her out from time to time.
2. You Disrespect Her
You always call your househelp names, shout at her, give her indirect sarcastic comments, and you never say please but instead speak to her rudely and condescendingly when you need her services, making it possible for others to step on her.
“Are you going to spend the whole night cooking, your stupid girl” or “I don’t know I got stuck with a worthless person”, whenever she does things you don’t approve of?
This is totally wrong and you need to stop. It pays to be polite to your lesser ones. It is a true reflection of you are.
3. You Say Things That Blame Her for Everything That Goes Wrong
The food you started cooking in the kitchen and left got burnt. Your money is missing in the purse. Someone spilled pap on the living room cushions. The weather is too hot. It’s always her fault.
Then you make it clear to her that she is the only one careless, untrustworthy, clumsy, or stupid enough to do so? Everyone is a saint except her. You did not raise a thief in your house and she couldn’t be in two places enough to stop your food from burning. Don’t be unrealistic. Own up to your mistakes. Or at least don’t make her suffer for it.
Emotional and Psychological Abuse
Emotional and Psychological abuse is any physical and nonphysical act towards your house’s help including confinement, isolation, insults, humiliation, intimidation, or any other treatment which may diminish her sense of identity, dignity, and self-worth.
This causes her anxiety and depression and heightens her insecurities if she has any to make her withdraw from everyone or everything around her.
Psychological abuse will affect her inner thoughts and feelings as well as exert control over her life. She may feel anxious and unsafe at all times. Physical and verbal abuse might also result in emotional and psychological abuse.
Below are ways you are emotionally/psychologically abusing your househelp.
1. You Deny Her Contact With Her own Family
Everyone needs and deserves love and the warmth of a family they can feel safe and at total ease with. A Househelp is not a slave.
Give your part-time or live-in househelp the benefit of attending important family occasions and holidays to go home to her family from time to time.
Related: Is your House Really a Home?
Keeping her away from them will take away a significant part of her emotional needs.
2. You Deny her Other Kinds of Socializing
If she can’t join you to your family outings to fancy places because she doesn’t belong, at least let her have a few friends she can laugh and talk with from time to time.
Stop ignoring and then isolating your househelp as if she were a plague. Include her in outings and let her have positive contact outside your home.
3. You Make Her Feel Worthless
The super old or half-cracked plates and cups are by birthright hers. Who needs tattered clothes? Just give them to her.
Her toothbrush is only 2 years old. Your househelp is so worthless that she doesn’t have the right to be clean. Neither does she need to own or use reasonably good things.
She is always looking unkempt because she is a dumpster for everyone’s old stuff. Then you stigmatize her and isolate her further for it. If you cannot give your househelp expensive things, at least provide her with new and cheap or old and good cheaper ones. Encourage her hygiene and let her sit together with the family.
4. You Ignore Her Rights to Spiritual and Intellectual Progress
Educate your househelp on western education at home if you cannot afford a school for her.
Let your children also teach her. Give her the freedom to attend church or go to religious schools and gatherings.
Encourage your househelp to have intellectual and spiritual progress so she can fit in the society and have confidence, worth and inner peace.
Sexually abusing your househelp comes in any unwanted sexual contact that stops short of rape or attempted rape. This includes sexually touching or fondling your househelp. It may also be by you insisting she acts out certain fantasies of yours against her will.
This goes to everybody in the house, do not touch your house helps in inappropriate places without appropriate cause or consent. refrain from looking at her intimately in a sexual way either. All this amounts to sexual abuse.
Below are ways you are sexually abusing your househelp.
1. Giving Snug Sexual Comments
Do not offer to massage your househelp tired muscles. No, she probably doesn’t want to come in and see ‘something’ and she definitely doesn’t appreciate hearing she is beautiful from you.
2. Blackmailing Her to Sleep With You
Stop threatening to tell on your househelp if she doesn’t agree to your sexual advances. This is a very serious form of sexual abuse and you can be charged duly for it.
3. Coercing Her to Participate in a Sexual Fantasy
Still can’t believe some couples in Northern Nigeria try to engage their house helps in weird sexual fantasies and activities ranging from threesomes to one person watching while the other two get off.
If you are doing this forcibly to your househelp and threatening her not to tell, the law will be right by your door soon.
4. Raping Her
Your househelp is still not cooperating to have sex with you so you slip by her room when everyone is asleep and have your way with her. You are not safe even now as you read this. This is the highest form of sexual abuse.
Financial abuse occurs when you deny your househelp pay after services she has rendered you. It could also include selling her possessions without permission. Below is how you are financially abusing your househelp.
1. You Don’t Pay Her
Your house help messed up so you decide not to pay her. She works and you just decide not to pay her because you feel she doesn’t have a family to go back to or the means to report you. Or you pay to that shady person who claims to be her uncle and is ‘keeping’ the money for her. Totally wrong and intense abusive behavior.
If you have any issues to settle with your househelp, sit her down amicably and discuss over it but withholding payment is simply not the solution and is a type of abuse.
This means an unequal treatment on your househelp in comparison to others due to her age, a disability she has, marital status, religion, or belief.
Below is how you are discriminatorily abusing your househelp.
1.Mocking or Maltreating Her Due to Her Religion or Tribe
I trust you did not hire your househelp without knowledge of her tribe or religion. Even if you did, you lack the right to maltreat or mock her because of it.
Accept and treat your househelp kindly and with respect wherever she may come from and whatever beliefs she holds if you can.
If you can’t, pay for her services so far and dismiss her. There are too many discriminators in this world without you adding to the list.
These are the 15 ways you abuse your househelp intentionally or unintentionally. But there are many more.
In summary, ways you are abusing your househelp and how to directly address those issues include:
- Beating or punishing her: Talk to her amicably to resolve conflicts
- Overworking her: give her ample rest, moderate work, and encourage household members to take care of their own personal chores
- Making it clear that her opinions don’t matter: Encourage her to make useful contributions and give her listening ears
- Saying things that disrespect her: Speak to her politely and smile often.
- Saying things that blame her for everything that goes wrong: Allow her to voice out her plea of innocence.
- Denying her contact with her own family: Give her a day or days off to go to important family occasions or visit her family
- Denying her other kinds of socializing: Allow her to interact freely with members of your household, including her in family gatherings, and allow her to have friends of her own.
- Making her feel worthless: Supply her with good clothing, eating wares and go encourage her to maintain good hygiene practices so she can mingle freely with the society
- Ignoring her rights to progress spiritual and intellectual progress: home school her or enroll her in a decent school and allow her to take part in religious events.
- Giving snug comments which could give a sexual meaning: stop
- Blackmailing her to sleep with you: Stop
- Coercing her to participate in sexual fantasy: Stop
- Raping her: Stop
- Not paying her: Stop
- Mocking or maltreating her due to her religion or tribe: Stop
If you are doing any of the above-mentioned things and you are finding it hard to address them or change your mindset, you are advised to address any abusive behavior of someone else that is rubbing off on you, educate yourself with books on social and emotional intelligence, go for therapy and treat others as you would have them treat you. You can also click here to read how you can stop being an abusive person in ten easy steps.
Finally, find the humanity within you and review your mind and conscience from time to time so you treat not only this house helps but also other people around you better.
Atamfa: local Hausa term for ‘Ankara’