He was the most respected man in his family because he was the first person who went to find a job in the city during the colonial era in Namibia. Leaving the village to look for a job in the city was already a sign of bravery because one had to walk 700Km to get there. He was multilingual whereas she was an uneducated village girl; she had only attended school up to grade 7 and then she was forced to get married. She and her family were very happy. Marriage was after all the family’s ultimate goal and every village girl’s greatest hope/dream. She didn’t know the man well; her uncle was the one who negotiated (made the arrangements). The girl couldn’t refuse because they wanted to be seen as a good family who had raised a good girl, deemed suitable for marriage.
She got married and three days after their wedding the husband travelled back to the city while she remained in the village with her husband’s relatives. She had to work hard not only to prove that she didn’t come from a lazy family, but also to uphold the family honor.
Five (5) years later the husband decided to move his family to the city and by that time the wife had already had three (3) children. This was the first time the wife and the husband lived together for along time. The wife was very confused by the husband’s change in behavior: He drank too much alcohol and started unnecessary fights with his wife. This caused her to really dislike the environment at home.
Although her sister was living in the same city as her, she couldn’t go and tell her because the culture dictates that what happens in your home can’t be shared with outsiders. So, she suffered in silence. The family grew; they now had six (6) children: two boys and four girls. All the while, the abuses continued. No one believed her. She was to blame for her husband’s actions. If she had gone to her mother or sister they would have sent her back and told her not to shame their family by asking for a divorce.
The wife continued to suffer in silence as no one believed her and it was considered normal for a man to beat a woman. Even Her mother-in-law explained to her that if a husband doesn’t beat his wife, then he doesn’t love her. Moreover, her husband’s behavior is no different from his father’s. So, she suffered in isolation and took all of her pent-up frustration on her children. The situation got worse. The children were not performing well at school which was blamed on the wife. The wife was very strict with her daughters; she taught them all the household chores and to be strong. The boys grew up without good role models and no one to talk to. All the children hated their father.
The husband didn’t see that something was wrong in his family and didn’t know that he was destroying his family. He thought he’s was showing his power as a head of the family because that s how his father was to them and their mother.
Finally, after fifteen (15) years of marriage the wife took the courageous step of asking for a divorce; it was a tough decision but good for her children and for her health. Her family hated her as she was the first person in her family to divorce. Her in laws hated her and she suffered alone with 6 children. No one wanted to help her; nor did her family because she was a divorcee and an embarrassment to her family. She was uneducated and worked as a cleaner at a school. Through her small salary she managed to give her children an education, to support them and to save them from the abuses of their father. A year after her divorce she had to undergo surgery on her kidney which was surrounded by blood clots owning to the numerous beatings from her husband.
She is now a free woman and has shared her story not only with her daughters and so that they can be strong and stand up for their rights, but also with her sons in order for them to learn how to respect women and treat them with love.
Yes, it took her fifteen years to make that decision, but she wish if it was this years after independence where there are women and children protection centers are all over the country, she couldn’t have take that long to make that decision. As women we have to stand together and support each other. Boys turn out to be abuser because they didn’t grow up with good male role models. Let us not only empower girls, but also talk to our boys about self-awareness and self-respect because if a person respects himself it will be easier for him to respect others, irrespective of their sex. Lets speak out.
Take action! This post was submitted in response to Ending Gender-Based Violence 2012.