Featured Storyteller

CAMEROON: Free Our Sisters From Forced Marriage

Clodine Mbuli Shei
Posted January 18, 2017 from Cameroon

As she watched a friend struggle to survive a nightmare marriage, Clodine knew she had to do everything she could to help.

“I knew the choice to speak out would be Agnes’s alone.

My colleague Agnes was drowning in depression. At 32, she had been trapped in a forced marriage for close to a decade. She met her husband when he arrived in her village one day for temporary work. Soon after, he invited her to visit him in the city.

At the time, Agnes was exhausted by the pressure to marry and believed this invitation would answer her prayers for a husband to save her family from shame. There were no marriages among Agnes’s siblings and no in-laws, the pride of most homes.

Like many young, industrious women, Agnes was pressured to marry and compelled to stay in her marriage to a heartless man to preserve ‘family dignity’. Her story is part of a larger problem of forced marriage in Cameroon—an issue that especially affects our country’s youth. UNICEF reports that more than 1 out of 3 girls in Cameroon are married before they turn 18.

Agnes suffered domestic and sexual violence at the hands of her new husband. Like many women in her situation, her outcries fell on deaf ears. Family members blocked her attempts to walk away from her woes. They believed leaving the ‘marital home’ is a taboo.

“No one leaves their marriage no matter what. It can’t happen in our family,” they claimed. This lack of support compelled Agnes and her two children to stay in an abusive home. I have witnessed women like Agnes die in silence, while their stories remain untold.

I told myself I would not watch my fellow sister die. But what could I do to help her? I tried to let myself into her world of trauma and pain, but she would not confide in anyone, not even me.

I persisted, knowing just how calamitous Agnes’s destiny was. But my attempts to get her to speak out looked like throwing water on a duck’s back. She appeared to have given up on her life.

Neighbors pleaded with me to help if I could, adding to my burning determination. I went to the organization where Agnes works and advised them to refer her for psychosocial counseling. I tried everything I could think of, but I knew the choice to speak out would be Agnes’s alone.

As cumbersome administrative procedures delayed the much-needed intervention in Agnes’s case, I watched her deteriorate. Her husband continued verbally and physically assaulting her. Whenever I saw her, she was shivering, she could barely walk, and she was no longer oriented in her speech. I invited her to my house, where I challenged her to either speak out or die in silence.

That day, she opened up to me, recounting her ordeal:

“I am a married widow… I am not even married. My ‘husband’ has not paid my bride price and does not care for me as a wife. He knows I will soon die and does not want to bury me in their family compound as tradition demands. He says this will mar his chances of remarrying soon after I’m gone.

"We’ve been ‘married’ for 9 years and it’s been all years of pain. I wonder if other marriages are like mine. He is a drunk and a smoker. He had been married twice before but two of his wives before me died. He has children everywhere and imposes them on me.”

She paused, as tears ran down her cheek.

“I didn’t even know he was HIV positive until I was pregnant with my first child. Every month, he seizes all my salary and leaves me with nothing because he thinks I’ll send money to my parents.

"I’m dying but he’s vowed not to use any money on me. He tells me outright that his wish is for me to die soon so he can remarry. He insists I bear children for him but my CD4 count is so low and I fear I may die in the process. He is also HIV positive and has refused to take drugs. He doesn’t believe AIDS is real. He rapes me always and when I cry he tells me it’s satisfying when women cry during sex. I hate sex, I hate him, I hate marriage, and I regret ever knowing him. I have attempted several times to leave him but my family insists I must stay in the marriage.

"To my family, people know that I’m married and I must stay in the marriage even if that will cost me my life. One time when I took ill, I pleaded with him to assist me to the toilet but he blatantly refused, cursing me to die so he can get another wife. I crept to the toilet like a baby. Please, help me! I’m now HIV positive and I don’t want to die!”

Agnes’s story sunk deep into my heart. I went to her husband to ask about his plan for his wife’s treatment.

“Let her die,” he said. “She’ll be buried in their home, not ours. I can’t spend a dime on her. She claims she is wise but I’m wiser. I have bought a farm in the Southwest Region and I’ll abandon her to die here while I go start a new life. Madam, don’t waste your time!”

His words fell on me like a bomb. However, I was unstoppable in my fight for the vindication of this fellow sister. I rallied Agnes’s family members. Once more, I went to the organization she works for. This time, a delegation was dispatched to her house and she was immediately taken to the hospital. Her husband was given stern words of caution.

Agnes’s organization transferred her to a different city to work far away from this man who treated her with disdain. With her employer’s support she is starting a fresh beginning. She now manages her own finances without bullying. She’s even able to save for the rainy days through a microfinance institution. She is alive. She is an overcomer. Each day she celebrates her health and success.

Agnes has renewed my passion to work toward the emancipation of women and girls who are losing their pride and voices to oppressive systems. My motto is, “Free my sisters from bondage.” Let’s shout this loud until all our sisters are freed.

Comments 16

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leila Kigha
Jan 18, 2017
Jan 18, 2017

My dear Clodine

i am so touched by your drive to effect change in a fellow sister's life. Thank you for standing up to her husband and giving her a chance for a new beginning. 

I know many more will come to light through your work.

keep keeping on sista!

juliette
Jan 20, 2017
Jan 20, 2017

Very touching story! Thank you for saving Agnes' life! You are trully unstopable! Keep up Clodine!

Juliette

Clodine Mbuli Shei
Jan 23, 2017
Jan 23, 2017

Dear Juliette,

Thank you for your comment. Lets be unstoppable in our fight. Our sisters cannot be held captive in the 21st Century

Clodine Mbuli Shei
Jan 23, 2017
Jan 23, 2017

Dear Leila, Thank you for the comment. I hope many come to light through our  work. That is our joy

Rahmana Karuna
Jan 23, 2017
Jan 23, 2017

a true friend! thank you Clodine. and writing the story is a true friend to all. blessings for your work liberating oppressed and oppressing.

Clodine Mbuli Shei
Jan 26, 2017
Jan 26, 2017

Dear Rahmana,

You're welcome! I had been looking for such an opportunity to tell my friend's story. It's been on my mind and I really appreciate World Pulse for providing the agency for the word to be dished out. Trusting this makes a difference. 

Melvin
Jan 24, 2017
Jan 24, 2017

i am so impressed and congratulate your level of support given to this young lady. This will and has surely been a spring board to her and people in her community. Keep the Flame burning Clodine

Clodine Mbuli Shei
Jan 26, 2017
Jan 26, 2017

Dear Melvin,

Thank you for your kind comment. Yes, she is a different person now and now can speak for the others. Empowerment is key and we can't be empowered unless we are opened enough and are able to speak out. I'm in this full swing! 

Anjana Vaidya
Jan 26, 2017
Jan 26, 2017

So good to hear that Agnes is recovering and managing her own finances. Salute for your good work dear Clodine. Keep it up and keep inspiring people. Love, anjana

Clodine Mbuli Shei
Jan 26, 2017
Jan 26, 2017

Hi Anjana,

It gives me joy too to see my friend back on her feet and doing well now. Unlike before she can now manage her own resources and take good care of herself and two children. 

Gwei Mainsah
Jan 26, 2017
Jan 26, 2017

Thanks for your initiative. Going through your story one could understands that she has been going through all the sufferings not at her will but at the will of her family who considers marriage as the best option for a girl. Much need to be done in the various communities to stop such issues.

Clodine Mbuli Shei
Jan 26, 2017
Jan 26, 2017

You are welcome Gwei! It's really disheartening that most women in forced marriage stay in it just because of pressure from family members. The sad thing is the women who suffer in forced marriage are hidden from the public. Pent up anger/depression is all they live in. Sad, but we must intentionally and strategically free them one at a time.

Adahmbah
Jan 28, 2017
Jan 28, 2017

As i read, i see many women and girls swallowed by pain and frustration,You just reassured and gave them hope.They are millions of Agnes who now believe they can be save.HIV is still a night mare for many women and girls.We need to break the silence.Thank you Clodine for sharing and may your journey to free many our sisters from bondage be unstoppable.

Thank You.

Adah Mbah

Carol Sunborn
Jan 29, 2017
Jan 29, 2017

Many people in the world let their daughters go, bad marriages are legion, and the woman is on her own often with children. It makes me so upset. I am glad this story has a pretty happy ending even though your friend still has HIV. So many sisters are not in her place. It is only through women standing for other women as you did, that things will improve. Hope for her and praise for you. Thank you.

Feka
Feb 01, 2017
Feb 01, 2017

Stories like this only increase my dreams of studying Trauma Management and Mental Healthcare because many women like Agnes die out of such situations. Thanks very much for being by her side.

BrittaB
Feb 04, 2017
Feb 04, 2017

I admire and appreciate your persistence and support for your friend. In abusive marriages, financial abuse is a crucial part in trapping the woman in the situation. I love how you rallied her network outside of the household - her work, her family, counseling resources - so that when she was ready, they were ready to support her. I am thankful for your unconditional love for your friend and for your friend's strength to choose a life outside of the abuse. Thank you for sharing your story.