Critical Pragmatic Analysis of Gender Representations in Media Reports of Domestic Violence

This article is published by the Zamfara International Journal of Humanities.


OAMEN Felicia (PhD)
Department of English, Faculty of Arts
National Open University of Nigeria, Abuja, Nigeria
ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-8080-2673
Email: foamen51@gmail.com; 08024552601 


One of the major Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations is the realization of peaceful and inclusive societies by 2030. Given the devastating effects of domestic violence, this paper provided a pragmatic analysis of gender representations in media reports. Specifically, the paper analysed the pragmatics of representations in order to ascertain the framing of actors in cases of domestic violence in Nigeria. Data were drawn from purposively selected ten (10) media reports gathered from: The Punch, Daily Trust, The Guardian, The Vanguard, Premium Times and Nigerian Tribune. The analysis of this study dwlled on the metaphorical characteristics, speech acts, implicatures, presupposition and politeness norms deployed in the projection of Self and Others in the discourses. The objective was among other things to determine implications of domestic violence against women in Nigeria. The analysis of the data revealed that Nigeria’s media discourse on domestic violence represented women as dominated actors. In addition, the reports demonstrated unequal power relations between male and female genders in Nigeria’s patriarchal society. In light of the findings, it was recommended that the government demonstrates more commitment to the realization of gender equality, as this has implications for the realisation of a peaceful Nigerian society.

Keywords: pragmatics, gender, media, domestic, violence


Cases of domestic violence are on the rise globally. Factors such as isolation due to COVID-19, loss of jobs, and increasing work stress, among others have been identified as the causes of the significant rise in cases of domestic violence. Women as vulnerable members of society have been particularly affected. According to a United Nations’ report globally, 81,000 women were killed in 2020, and 47,000 of them (58%) died at the hands of their husbands or family members. In Nigeria, cases of domestic violence and deaths due to these phenomena have been recorded in the past. According to the National Demographic and Health Survey (2018), more than a quarter of Nigerian women have experienced some form of domestic violence or the other. For instance, in 2017, Olaoluwa Adejo, a bank worker was arrested in 2017 for beating his wife, Maureen to death (Folarin, 2017). In recent times, reports indicate that the cases are significantly on the rise. A UN Women Report provides evidence to show that since the outbreak of COVID-19, 48% of Nigerian women have been subjected to one form of domestic violence or the other (Okafor, 2021).

On April 8, 2022, the late gospel singer, Osinachi Nwachukwu joined the list of Nigerian women who have been allegedly killed by their husbands. Thus, against the background of the United Nations’ efforts at attaining peaceful and inclusive societies by 2030, this paper provides a critical pragmatic analysis of gender representations in some Nigerian media reports. This is in light of the significance of the media in its capacity to frame the news and also disseminate information to a wide audience. Specifically, the paper critically analyses the pragmatics of gender representations with a view to unveiling the social conditioning of naturalised media discourse of domestic violence in Nigeria.

Literature Review and Conceptual Clarifications

i.      Domestic Violence in Nigeria

Perhaps, because of its implications for citizens’ health and general well-being, scholarly attention has been paid to the challenge of domestic violence for many years. Hester (2009) studied perpetrators of domestic violence by tracking reported cases made to the Northumbria police from 2001-2007. The study revealed that there was a slight increase in the number of women who perpetrated domestic violence when compared with past research. Nonetheless, the greater number of cases examined were perpetrated by men. Other studies (e.g. Bakare, Asuquo & Agomoh, 2010; Uzuegbunam, 2012; Abayomi, Kolawole & Olabode, 2013,) investigated women as victims of domestic violence. Similarly, these studies reflect the idea that a significant number of women in different parts of Nigeria are victims of domestic violence. In addition, the studies index the challenge of gender inequality as a major underlying factor which engenders violence against women in the country.

Other scholars (e.g. Fawole, Okedare & Reed, 2021; Onyebuchi, Nwagbara, David & Weluche, 2021) have also studied the direct effect of COVID-19 on peaceful co-existence of partners in domestic environments. On the one hand, Fawole, et al. studied media coverage of reports from an organization that responded to violence against women in the southern parts of Nigeria during the lockdown. On the other hand, Onyebuchi, et al. carried out a content analysis of news coverage of domestic violence during the lockdown. Both studies identified economic downturn engendered by COVID-19 as a major factor that exacerbated domestic violence in homes during the lockdown.

Some scholars have also studied domestic violence from a linguistic perspective. For instance, Leong (2011) carried out a critical discourse analysis of newspaper reports of cases of domestic violence in Malaysia. The author, who adopted and adapted Van Dijk’s social cognition framework, noted that the linguistic elements deployed in the reports ideologically reflected news actors’ covert gender bias in the representation of male/female perpetrators of domestic violence. In addition, he noted that the text producers mostly foregrounded the vulnerability of the women and, thus, represented the female gender as victims in a male dominating society.

Abochol and Adeboye (2015) examined the semantic implications of media reports of domestic violence in Nigeria. Abochol and Adeboye employed Halliday’s Scale and Category theory to study semantics of words and expressions of selected newspaper headlines. The authors noted that the use of violent words in news headlines had semantic implications as they engendered fear and worry in citizens.

Aragbuwa (2021) applied Van Dijk’s socio-cognitive model of critical discourse analysis to the study of discursive strategies employed in fifteen victims’ weblog narratives of domestic violence. The findings showed that the victims ideologically represented themselves as the dominated group, while their assailants were constructed as the dominant group. In this way, the narratives functioned as discourses of resistance against inequality. Similar to Aragbuwa (2021), this paper is also concerned with the critical investigation of media discourse on domestic violence. However, it applies the critical approach to the pragmatic analysis of gender representation in media reports of domestic violence in Nigeria.

ii.       Ideology in Media Framing of Discourse

The term ideology is described from different perspectives. Indeed, Gerring (1997) described scholars’ varied views as reflecting the ‘semantic promiscuity’ of the term. Some of the descriptions proffered by scholars in the field of discourse analysis include, for example, that of van Dijk (2000), which emphasises the cognitive aspects of ideology. He describes ideology as social representations or beliefs shared by members of social groups. Fairclough (1992) and Wodak (2001), on the other hand, views ideology from the social constructionist perspective. Thus, Fairclough explains that ideology is a construction of reality, while Wodak notes that it helps to establish and maintain unequal power relations. Fairclough further notes that ideology is more effective when embedded in discursive practices and expressed in the form of commonsensical discourse.

The media, in the contemporary world, serves as the channel through which information is disseminated to a large audience. Some observers have noted by some observers that the media is significant in shaping perception and constructing meaning for society. Others however, view the media as playing a neutral role in disseminating objective and realistic news (Lassen, 2006). One would, however want to argue that the processing of information by the media is often mediated by media actors’ ideological and, in some cases, political stances on issues.

In addition, it could be argued that ideology could become instrumental in the re(production) of dominance and unequal power relations, particularly when used by social actors in framing events in one way or the other. This paper is therefore focused on the critical pragmatic investigation of underlying ideologies that constitute media representation of gender in reports of domestic violence in Nigeria. The investigation of the mediating role of the media on the representation of gender in issues of domestic violence should aid a better understanding of unequal power relations in Nigeria.

iii.     Critical Tradition and Pragmatics

The main interest of pragmatics is in the study of speaker’s intended meaning and contextual meaning (Yule, 1996). However, Mey (2001), has argued that pragmatics studies should include a critical look at how  power relations and ideologies in society affect how people use language. Proponents of the ‘critical’ approach to the study of language use (for example, Wodak, 2000; van Dijk, 2000), posit that social conditioning of discourse is usually naturalised and taken for granted. Therefore, these conditions are difficult to detect and it is also difficult to determine their effect. In the same vein, Mey (2001) notes that the social conditions of language are difficult to unveil because they are engrained in the foundations of the users’ acquisition of the language. Fairclough (1995), therefore argued for the usefulness of critical analysis of language use because this approach could help to unveil the opaque ideologies which underlie discursive practices. In light of this discussion, critical pragmatics is also expected to be relevant to the study of veiled expressions of power abuse, social injustice, discrimination, sexism in media discourse of domestic violence.

As mentioned above, the media has the potential to shape opinions and present particular realities of issues in a pervasive manner (Ameli, et al., 2007). The ideological operation of media discourse is reflected in the fact that language is deliberately selected when used to describe situations and events (Kress & Hodge, 1981). The institutional discourse of the media also puts some constraints on the framing of news by the actors involved in the event. This study therefore views institutional media discourse as channels through which language could be employed to express the ideologies (particularly, ideologies of patriarchy and sexism) of social actors in domestic violence-related matters.

Aim and Objectives of the Study

The paper is tailored towards critically investigation of the social conditioning of media use of pragmatic features in the representation of gender reports of domestic violence in Nigeria, which is the principal aim of the study. Therefore, this perspective on discourse study is considered as emancipatory, and so it is expected that the study could help bring about positive social change with regards to female gender rights in Nigeria. Therefore, the specific objectives of the study are as follows:

a.        Identify pragmatic features employed in the selected media reports,

b.       Critically discuss the deployment of the pragmatic features in gender representation, and

c.         Relate the texts to the socio-cultural contexts of their production.




The analysis of data was carried out following Mey’s (2001) perspective on the critical approach to the pragmatic analysis of texts. The data were drawn from national newspapers’ reports on domestic violence from 2020 to 2022. The choice of this period was informed by media reports which indicated that there has been a significant rise in cases of domestic violence in Nigeria from the inception of the COVID-19 pandemic in the country till date. 10 selected news reports were drawn from the websites of 7 (seven) Nigerian print media. The media include, The Punch, Daily Trust, The Guardian, The Vanguard, Premium Times, Sahara Reporters and Nigerian Tribune. These media were selected because they have a national presence and also represent news coverage from the different regions of south west, south east, south south, and northern parts of the country. The samples used were delimited to only those which demonstrated ideological representation of gender in domestic violence-related cases in Nigeria. The analysis was carried out using the critical approach to the study of pragmatic features. For ease of analysis, the samples were labelled as DVR to represent the Domestic Violence Report. Each of the samples was subsequently labelled 1, 2, 3, etc.

Discussion and Findings

The critical pragmatic approach is adopted in analysing of the data for this study. The focus of the analysis is on the ideological study of pragmatic features in the representation of gender in newspaper reports of domestic violence in Nigeria. A qualitative analysis is carried out on a few samples to validate the findings of the study. One of the pragmatic elements employed in the reports is reference.


I had a baby boy before the family came to marry me off. Johnson was the one they presented to marry me. After the traditional marriage, I went to stay with them. Then they told me that James was my husband. I discovered that James is mentally ill, epileptic, and impotent. He does not talk to me from morning till night. In the night, he would attack me with a cutlass. He wanted to kill me one night as I was sleeping and he nearly strangled me. At a time, I spent three years in my father’s house without any information from his family. So, now, I want to be free from them. They should come and collect the bride price they paid to my parents.

(The Punch, July 1, 2021)


Elizabeth is my sister. It is true that they told us that he (James) is sick, but the damage is too much. He is mentally unstable and wanted to kill her. For three years, now they have never asked about her. I don’t want him to kill my sister one day. I am appealing to the court to take another step and save my sister’s life.

(The Punch, July 1, 2021)

 In DVR 1 and DVR 2, the use of reference categorises the social actors as powerful or dominant actors in marital matters in traditional Nigerian society. The utterances made by Elizabeth and her brother demonstrate this observation (1). “the family came to marry me off” (2) “they told me that James was my husband” (3) “I want to be free from them” (4) “they told us that he (James) is sick” (5) “now they have never asked about her”. For example, the third person pronoun, ‘they’ represents a marital relationship in the traditional Nigerian context as a communal affair rather than that between a man and a woman.

In addition, the speech act in the form of directives is enacted through the utterances: ‘marry me off’, ‘told me’, ‘told us’, ‘never asked us’, represent the woman and her family as voiceless participants in marital relationships. In this way, the negative face of the woman and her family is threatened. In addition, Elizabeth’s brother employs the speech act of pleading rather than commanding in DVR 2. For instance, he declares helplessly, “I am appealing to the court to take another step and save my sister’s life”. Where the female/victim employs the speech act of directing or commanding, the utterance is not assertive. Rather, it is presented in the form of a request: “So, now, I want to be free from them. They should come and collect the bride price they paid to my parents”.

Thus, the illocutionary force employed by the woman and her brother in the extracts presents them as powerless, dominated, and voiceless participants who are at the mercy of spousal control. This is understandable when viewed against the background of the influence of the extended family on a marital relationship in Nigeria. Although, modernization has liberated male factors with regards to marital choices, in traditional Nigerian societies, the extended family still wields a vital influence on the marital choices of the male children (Aniche, 2017). In addition, some scholars (e.g., Makama, 2013) have noted that patriarchy affects women by creating a sense of low self-esteem, making them perceive themselves inferior to the male counterparts.


In his reaction, James said his wife was amusing, adding that they had no problems. “She is making me to be amused. We don’t have any problem. The day she left home, I went for a burial and she asked me to have sex with her and I said no, because I was tired. I beat her and she left that day,” he stated.

(The Punch, July 1, 2021)

On the contrary, in DVR 3, the husband/aggressor employs reference in the form of a face-threatening act. He erases the woman’s identity by using the personal pronoun ‘she’ in his comments. By avoiding using direct naming such as ‘wife’ or ‘Elizabeth’, the man tacitly demonstrated a lack of acknowledgment of marital connection with the woman. The husband’s address style therefore shows disrespects and at the same time ridicules and belittles the woman’s negative face. In addition, the male actor’s use of bald on record impoliteness undermines the female gender power of his wife and signals his assumed masculine control. His utterance: ‘she asked me to have sex with her and I said no, because I was tired. I beat her’, demonstrates the hidden presupposition that it is shared knowledge that a wife does not argue with her husband in the traditional Nigerian society. This is best understood against the background of scholars’ (e.g. Moughalu & Abrifor, 2020) observation that in traditional patriarchal Nigerian society, women are not expected to have a voice in public discourse. This practice it is argued, engrains gender inequality and domination.

Moreover, the material process ‘beat’ also demonstrates masculine force and domination of the female gender. In addition, the speech act of asking/begging employed by the woman, portrays unequal power relations in a marital relationship. The woman is thereby represented as powerless with regards to her status as a wife. Gender representations in DVR 1 to 3 therefore show an underlying patriarchal influence on women-men domestic relations. In addition, power relations in the three extracts reflect Ebukue’s (2017) observation that in Nigeria’s patriarchal traditional society, women are dominated in issues of power sharing and resource control.



She did not die of cancer. The husband, Mr Peter Nwachukwu hit her with his leg on the chest. All these while, he had been beating her but my sister hid all that she was passing through from us. Before now, we told her to come out of the marriage, we told her that they are not divorcing, that it’s just separation. But she felt that God is against divorce.

                                                                                 (Vanguard, April 10, 2022)



Recounting an encounter with the singer, he said, “One time in a studio, this man slapped her in the studio just because she wanted to record the song in Igbo against his will. She does not do anything on her own.” “She would say, please beg my husband. She was at his mercy. I didn’t know the intensity of what she was going through; I didn’t know how somebody would be jealous of their wife or claim to love.

(Premium Times, April 9, 2022)

Unequal power relation in gender relations is also demonstrated in DVR 4 and DVR 5 where social actors’ use of reference, implicature and illocutionary force demonstrate male domination of women in Nigeria’s religious context. The bald on record assertion: ‘She did not die of cancer’ is foregrounded to establish the claim that the late Osinachi died from domestic violence at the hands of her husband, Peter Nwachukwu. In addition, she employed the illocution force of ‘attacking’ in the utterance: ‘Mr Peter Nwachukwu hit her with his leg on the chest’ to assert that the female/victim’s death was as a result of masculine brute force rather than a medical cause. In addition, the mental process, ‘felt; is used by the narrator in the utterance: ‘But she felt that God is against divorce’ to indirectly reprimand the victim’s emotional assessment of an abusive marriage on the basis of spiritual ideology.

The speech act also critically alludes to the biblical instruction: ‘For the Lord God of Israel says that He hates divorce (Malachi 2:16). Structured in this way, the utterance implicates religion as having a disempowering influence on women in abusive marriage in Nigeria. It should however be noted that some scholars (e.g. Woodhead, 2013) have argued that religion could reinforce existing gendered distributions of power. In other words, social actors who belong to a traditionally patriarchal society may likely manifest inequality in gender relations as a result of cultural influences rather than Christianity. This implicates the fact that Nigerian Christian women’s submission to abusive marital partners may perhaps be the outcome of cultural ideologies of the status of females in marital situation rather than the influence of Christian religion on women.

In a similar vein, in DVR 5, the male actor (Frank Edwards), a third party in late Osinachi Nwachukwu’s domestic violence case, employed the illocution of criticizing in challenging female gender domination. His narration: ‘this man slapped her in the studio just because she wanted to record the song in Igbo against his will’ reflected the resistance of masculine dominance in a domestic relationship in Nigeria. His use of the material process: ‘slapped’ projected the brutal force with which Osinachi’s husband/aggressor physically oppressed his wife. In addition, Edwards indirectly criticized Osinachi for demonstrating powerlessness in the face of male domination: ‘She would say, please beg my husband’. The speaker’s illocutionary force of ‘begging’ reflected his evaluative attitude which implied that the victim lacked emotional and perhaps physical power to resist an abusive marital situation.

It is important to note that Osinachi’s (the victim) illocution of begging demonstrates female gender’s compliance to male domination in a traditional context. In other words, the utterance: please beg my husband’ demonstrates internalized domination. It has been observed that gender domination could become internalized. In this case, women having been exposed to male discriminatory behaviours in society, also go on to enact the behaviour in everyday interactions (Bearman, Korobov & Thorne, 2009).


A 23-year-old mother of two, identified as Mercy Samuel, has been allegedly killed by her husband, Samuel Matthew, in Jos the Plateau State capital. Her husband reportedly ripped open her stomach and cut the intestines during a disagreement on Sunday night. After he disemboweled his wife, Mr. Samuel fled with his wife’s phone so she cannot call for help. She was discovered and taken to hospital on Monday morning.

(Vanguard, April 20, 2022)



She explained that her daughter had packed out of her matrimonial house five days to the incident and was living with her when she decided to return for a party at the children’s school. She said she never returned alive.

(PUNCH, November 28, 2017)


The State Project Officer, Women’s Right Advancement and Protection Alternative, WRAPA, Jummai Madaki, who was trying to get support for the late Mercy before her demise, asked all people of goodwill to rise and ensure justice for the deceased. “They live in a small apartment, so I wonder why no one heard her scream. We were told help did not come until the early hours of Monday, when she was rushed to the hospital and was placed on oxygen.

(Vanguard, April 20, 2022)


In DVR 6, the writer sustains journalistic neutrality and objectivity in a story involving the alleged gruesome murder of a woman by using of the third person pronoun. Mercy Samuel was allegedly killed by her husband, Samuel Matthew. The illocution of attacking is enacted through the use of material processes such as: ‘ripped’, ‘cut’, ‘disemboweled’ which sustained the idea of the use of brute force in the domination of a woman in domestic relationship. The disempowering power of the traditional status of women in marital relationship is also demonstrated in DVR 7. In the extract, the mother of Mercy Samuel alluded to the fact that the woman could not completely detach from the oppressive marriage because of her sense of duty to her children. Thus, it is observed that the illocution of reporting: ‘she decided to return for a party at the children’s school’, contains the hidden presupposition that the victim would not have died if she had not been too committed to her children’s welfare.

In DVR 8, the state project officer for a gender rights organization indirectly criticized societal neglect of women in the hands of male aggressors in the country. The utterances: ‘They live in a small apartment’, ‘so I wonder why no one heard her scream’, ‘surprisingly, the matter was not reported to the police, carry the implicatures of lack of support for vulnerable groups in Nigeria. In addition, the utterance: ‘We were told help did not come until the early hours of Monday’ presuppose that the woman’s life could have been saved if society had been more responsive to providing medical assistance during an emergency. Therefore, these discursive moves indirectly implicate the Nigerian environment as a domain where life is precarious for women due to domestic violence.

In addition, DVR 5 to 8 reflect Van Dijk’s (1997) observation that the discourse of power does not only express top-down relations of dominance, but also demonstrate resistance to power abuse. In DVR 5 to 8, social actors discursively resisted gender domination in domestic-related violence. However, it is observed that the social actors who are females (Mercy Samuel’s mother and the state project officer for a gender rights organization) employed indirect speech acts in their criticism of the oppressive treatment of the victims. For example, the fragment: ‘she decided to return for a party at the children’s school’, indirectly queries assigned female domestic role in traditional Nigerian society. On the other hand, the male social actor overtly expressed his anger over the death of Osinachi, who he believed died from injurifes sustained through domestic violence. This observation can be seen in the following extracts: ‘She does not do anything on her own. She was at his mercy’. (DVR 5); ‘she decided to return for a party at the children’s school’ (DVR 7). We were told help did not come until the early hours of Monday (DVR 8). These extracts, therefore show that in cases where citizens expressed resistance to unequal power relations in domestic violence, the female gender was not as assertive as their male counterparts.


What haven’t we weathered together? You witnessed so many in my womb and when you arrived this world, you were barely four months old when you witnessed your mother being beaten like a puppy,” she added. You were in my arms that night at the Wheatbaker Hotel after he was released from Ikoyi prison; it was all laughter at first, then prayers of thanksgiving and next, punches.

(SAHARA REPORTERS, February 1, 2022)

DVR 10

I am Richard Adejo. I am five years old. My daddy beat my mummy with a belt; machete her here (shows arms), machete her here (shows legs). He used the belt on her here (points at face); forced my mummy to drink otapiapia (insecticide). My daddy took my mummy away.

(PUNCH, November 28, 2017)


In DVR 9 and 10, the utterances of the narrators are structured in the form of victim discourse. For instance, a mental model of unequal physical power is activated in DVR 9 through the metaphor: ‘beaten like a puppy’. In DVR 10, material processes such as ‘beat’, machete’ ‘forced’ and ‘took’ are employed in the form of face-threatening acts to create a vivid image of a man’s use of physical force to dominate the female gender. In DVR 9 also, the reference ‘you’ is employed to foreground in the mind of the reader, the addressee who is a baby. This is juxtaposed with the pronoun ‘he’ as a reference for the husband, who is presented without a name. By addressing her husband as ‘he’ the discourse of the ‘unsayable’, which reflects an underlying traumatized narrator’s mind, is enacted. This observation agrees with Rogers’ (2007, cited in Busch & McNamara, 2020:9) position that sometimes traumatized actors employ specific words as ‘placeholders for the unsayable’. In DVR 9, the female actor’s chronological enumeration of events: ‘after he was released from Ikoyi prison; it was all laughter at first; then prayers of thanksgiving; and next, punches’, tacitly represents the male aggressor as mentally unstable. In DVR 10, the local word: ‘otapiapia’ (which means insecticide) represents the male aggressor in a domestic violence situation as criminal and murderous.

Conclusion and Recommendations

This paper investigated a critical pragmatic analysis of gender representation in Nigeria’s media reports. Ten (10) purposively selected newspaper reports of domestic violence were analysed. The findings revealed the use of pragmatic resources of reference, presupposition, illocutionary force, face-threatening acts, implicature among others in the representation of asymmetrical relations of genders in domestic violence-related matters in Nigeria. Generally, the discourse represented women as powerless social actors in cases involving male aggression in domestic environments. In instances where male gender dominance was resisted, the female social actors employed indirect speech acts in their criticism of female gender subjugation. The male actor, however, employed a more direct and overt discourse in his criticism of gender dominance. Using the case of Rwanda as an example of African nations where political leaders are making deliberate efforts to empower women, the findings show that Nigerian women are still very much subjugated in domestic affairs. In light of the findings, it is recommended that the federal government demonstrate a stronger political will in its enforcement of punishments to erring social actors. In addition, it is recommended that the government work in partnership with relevant Non-Governmental Organisations to facilitate women empowerment through grassroots enlightenment programmes. This could be effectively done through programmes that help to remove the stigma around domestic violence; encourage feedback from victims and guarantee protection for the female gender. These actions among others should help to ensure the realisation of gender equality and the reduction of violence among Nigerian citizens by 2030.


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