When I was just three months out of high school, I fell pregnant with my first child. I will tell the story of three women that I love and respect beyond words, my mother, my mother-in law and myself. All affected by the traditions and beliefs of our people.
My mother. An amazing mother to five daughters and one son, she had the tough job of raising all these girls, to fit into the ideals of the society. Which would be undefiled, married after formal education and blessed with children. Anything outside of that scope would...and still will get tongues wagging and eyes of disapproval shooting.On top of this she had a dream for all her children, to be well educated, each with a certified profession. I tampered with her hopes. The last daughter, pregnant at 18. She asked me multiple times, if I was pregnant and I in turn denied it, until at 6 months, reality hit me and I confessed. In her disappointment and anger at the embarrassment I would cause her, my mother beat me with the buckle of a belt and told me she wished she had stopped having children before she had me. Hurting, confused and also afraid of the shame, I ran away from home. I later returned home and as is custom, I was taken to my in laws house.
My husband, then boyfriend was not even there at the time. Luckily for me, his mother refused to accept me. You can only begin to imagine how much more embarrassment this meant for my family, but for me, I felt relieved to be going back home.My relationship with my husband continued, despite the fact that I had been rejected at his family home and as is typical of stories like mine, two years later, I was pregnant with our second child, a girl. Abortion is illegal in Zimbabwe but it still happens. Once again afraid of the circumstances, I begged my partner to support me through an abortion. He refused.
My mother in law. My lovely daughter was born and my mother in law was then forced by circumstances to acknowledge me. A phenomenal widow who had raised her own three children, she had her own aspirations for her children too, this wasn't one of them. If my son was just out of his teenage years, I would question his judgement too, in terms of being ready for marriage. In her house I felt more like a maid than anything else. Our only common ground seemed to be love for her son. What I went through during that year, remains unclear in my mind. It saddens me that I don't remember the first year of my daughters life.
Me. Despite the emotional wreckage and psychological battles I faced, my story had a happy outcome, I am happily with my husband, in love and peace with both our mothers, but this is not the outcome for too many girls. Traditionaly, in Zimbabwe, when a girl/ woman gets pregnant out of marriage, it brings unbelievable shame and dishonour to her family. Her family must take her to the family of the child's father and leave her there. Many times it is the beginning of a forced marriage, other times a war between families and turmoil for the girl who waits at the mercy of both families. The custom follows that when a pregnant girl is left at the father of her child's family home, she will sit outside until they are willing to let her in. More often than not the father will deny paternity of the child and the girl will be called a prostitute. He will have even more grounds for his accusations if the girl was not a virgin when he was intimate with her; but who is to witness really? Who is questioning his " purity"? By force, the girl is usually abandoned and her life becomes that of a servant, waking up daily before the sun comes up, cleaning and hand washing clothes for every member of the family, being taunted and called names by different relatives, which she cannot respond to, only to be graced at the end of the day by a now " husband" who will constantly remind her that she has come to ruin his life and give him a child that's not his. This girl cannot visit her family until the in laws take a cute sum of money to her parents, as a promise that they will in time pay the bride price, in some cases they may pay what is called " damages" for having " damaged" their daughter. Now really, what does that label already do to a girl?
My heart goes out to all the women holding down unreal marriages, those who were/are made to feel worthless, those mothers who continue the cycle because they know no better, the girls that lost their dreams overnight. I have two daughters now, because of my love and hopes for them, I cannot judge and instead understand why both these women reacted the way they did. But I will also thrive for a new tomorrow, one where sexuality is not a taboo discussion between mothers and daughters, a tomorrow where my daughters will marry by choice and readiness, not by circumstances. One where, women will join hands and speak out about being transported like goods from one place to another. I cannot change the nation in a day but I can make everyday a step towards killing a tradition that has killed too many emotionally and physically.I envision a nation where marriage is the celebration of love, where both families can enjoy the union and not the purchasing of someone's daughter in a long awkward process where her "bride price" will be negotiated in her silence to become a second rate citizen in another family. Many will support this tradition, saying that it's the grooms way of " thanking" the brides parents for his wife. How different is this from the slave trade? As a mother, the best thank you I could ever get is to have my daughter loved and respected. Oh women! Let's stop painting fake pictures and conforming to harmful traditions. Let's change tomorrow if not for ourselves, at least for our daughters.