By Constance Meju I have always been fascinated by the way women react to issues around their husbands and this is not peculiar to Nigeria. I was
By Constance Meju
I have always been fascinated by the way women react to issues around their husbands and this is not peculiar to Nigeria. I was an undergraduate many years ago and holidaying in Benin City, capital of Edo State when a close friend’s respected uncle, a director then in the state civil service put his house-help in the family way. The poor thing in her teenage was quickly rushed to the University of Benin Teaching Hospital, UBTH to flush out the pregnancy with stern warning not to mention the culprit.
Reason, madam was a senior matron at the hospital and both Oga and Madam were front-liners in the Anglican Cathedral so there was no room for slips or anything that might bring Oga and Madam’s well nurtured good name to disrepute. That was some 40 years ago.
Since then there have been numerous incidents of such nature even beyond our shores. Recall that a few years ago there was a shocking story of a man somewhere in Europe who locked his daughter in the basement of his home and was freely sleeping with her. He even fathered two sons with her. He lived in that house with his wife, the mother of the imprisoned girl or woman! The girl became almost a mental case when the world, thanks to the prying eyes and the spirit of non-concealment of evil by neighbours, drew world attention to this evil. That set the poor girl free but by then much harm had been done. The shameless father was sentenced to imprisonment in jail.
Don’t ask me about the sons, only imagine the scenario. The wife and mother of that girl was in that house and probably cooking food for the imprisoned sex prisoner of her perverted husband. She never raised a voice to announce a missing daughter nor complained to neighbours or authorities. She just accepted things in order not to rock the boat or put her husband in trouble.
Some six, seven years ago at Igwuruta, Rivers State, Nigeria, a lady from Enugu married to a man from that community was vilified by the women of the man’s kindred when she chose to stand up against women and girls’ abuse. Her husband had found a fountain of delight between the legs of his daughter and his sister-in-law. When the wife discovered, she spoke out. The Federation of International Female Lawyers, FIDA, promptly stepped in, and got the police to arrest the incestuous man. The wife was dubbed a Jezebel, set to destroy a hardworking man by many.
Thoughlife was made difficult for this woman, getting the man to face the law rang a bell in that community, announcing that nobody has a right to violate the sexual rights of girls.
Incest isan everyday affair especially in the villages. Police have even confirmed this to me, surprised that I considered it enough reason to travel to the community from Port Harcourt and this is so because, rather than speak up like the Enugu woman and halt abuses, women pretend nothing is happening, living in denial to hush the shame while their hearts burn so high they end up with high blood pressure.
They come alive when the helpless domestic servant, molested by Oga till a bulge juts out, dares to mention her silent partner. The too disadvantaged to protect herself victim is then further abused and dubbed a husband snatcher, someone who bears the blame for tempting an innocent well behaved and faithful husband. She is mercilessly beaten and sent out or forced to flush the accident.
Twice have I responded to issues on girl-child abuse on Facebook,- Ochanya the 13 year old girl from Benue State that was continually sexually abused till she took ill and died by a Benue State polytechnic lecturer and his undergraduate son. Ochanya was living in their house and the wife and mother to the criminals was her relative. The husband was a Knight in the church and the claim then was that Madam was not aware.
My position was that she must have been aware because it was not a one-off thing and for an observant guardian, there are signs that manifest when a girl is facing sexual abuse of that nature. I received some attacks on Facebook for speaking out, pointing fingers at the woman and even Ochanya’s mother who simply dumped her daughter with someone without checking on her. I was even asked to delete my comment on Facebook. I am satisfied to know that the aunty has joined her family in police custody over the ugly matter. I also expressed anger that Ochanya’s real mother was still alive and living in thesame state but did not know that her daughter was going through hell.
I was asked to delete my comment, some called me a fool. But I stood my ground because for over 30 years, I haveworked on women and children and I know what I am saying.
My second attack was from an innocent response to a Facebook question: “Your husband puts your housemaid in the family way what would be your response?” I simply responded, “Violence Against Women”, because while you psychologically and physically violate the housemaid, you are emotionally abusing your wife, devaluing her and breaking her trust in your relationship.
What did I get? another barrage of abuses, this time, from people I consider young; girls who with the flood of information readily available thanks to ICT, ought to know better but are still wrapped in the cocoon that has kept our great grandmothers down to our mothers, in bondage, recognizing the man as infallible, the head whose sins must e accepted.
One of them wrote, “What is this idiot Constance saying here? If you don’t know what to comment can’t you just close your well?” Another simply said I was, “going nuts” And my response? As usual, not one to back out of a fight especially since I see the social media as a good ground to spread the message of an end to gender inequality responsible for the jaundiced perspectives of these women and girls, I told them they are all suffering from IGNORANCE!.
Weeks later, i was told the initiator of the discourse, a young man, told the ladies or should I say girls, they were wrong. He understands better because he sees what the women would rather not see.
A similar situation came up just days ago on the Igboist Forum still on Facebook. A man posted: “A woman denied her husband sex for two months, he went out and had sex with another woman who is now pregnant. Who is to blame?”
That elicited volumes of responses some blaming the woman, some blaming the man. I was happy to notice that a few persons asked my question, ‘What did the man do to bring about such a long denial? General response was that the wife had no business denying her husband sex so she should be blamed for the outside pregnancy. The general impression was that having paid her dowry, she was supposed to bearill deeds from the husband and open her legs any time he demands.
I was however distressed over a comment from a fellow woman who scolded the wife for trying to deny her husband his right with the clear statement that the essence of paying dowry on women is to allow husbands unhindered access to sex because, women are married for sex only. That statement diminished me ; it made me uncomfortable because even in our village setting, the training for me was that a husband is a life partner carefully chosen so you can share partnership which covers affection, sex, companionship, encouragement; raising children and building the family together. If it were just sex, there are easier ways to satisfy yourself rather than going through the rigour of marriage.
I was happy though that a few women understood enough not to outrightly condemn the wife but the stronger support came from men who suggested the husband should have sought avenues of resolving the problem either through family elders, church leaders, etc. They acknowledged that the man must have done something grievous for the wife to have taken such a drastic action.
Truth is that because of the patriarchal system we operate which recognizes the man as the superior being, despite levels of development, majority of women are still entrenched in the belief that they are second class citizens without a right to demand respect, speak out or even own anything worthwhile without the approval of a man, especially, a husband.
A woman who believes her only worth in her matrimonial home is to warm her husband’s bed will not raise her voice when vital issues are being discussed nor will she be bold enough to demand self-respect from that family bugged by the knowledge that her husband spent a lot of money to get her into his family. Under the Fundamental Human Rights, every person, man or woman has rights which must be respected for harmony to reign. According to the United Nations Population Fund, UNFPA, a key agency promoting gender equality and quality family life, “Gender equality is not a women’s issue. It is a human rights issue and a peace and security issue”. Women and girls deserve respect and protection from abuse in society, especially within the family because that is where the greater percentage of abuses against them are perpetrated.
For this reason, women ought to be looking out for women especially by standing up against injustice. And we must encourage survivors to speak for according to the UNWomen, “survivors who break their silence are the cornerstone of justice”.
*Constance Meju is a Port Harcourt based Newspaper publisher and women advocate