By Constance Meju
I have always been fascinated by the way women reactto issues around their husbands and this is not peculiar to Nigeria. I was anundergraduate many years ago and holidaying in Benin City, capital of Edo Statewhen a close friend’s respected uncle, a director then in the state civilservice put his house-help in the family way. The poor thing in her teenage wasquickly rushed to the University of Benin Teaching Hospital, UBTH to flush outthe 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 thescenario. The wife and mother of that girl was in that house and probablycooking food for the imprisoned sex prisoner of her perverted husband. Shenever raised a voice to announce a missing daughter nor complained toneighbours or authorities. She just accepted things in order not to rock the boator 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 bythe women of the man’s kindred when she chose to stand up against women andgirls’ abuse. Her husband had found afountain of delight between the legs of his daughter and his sister-in-law.When the wife discovered, she spoke out. The Federation of International FemaleLawyers, FIDA, promptly stepped in, and got the police to arrest the incestuousman. 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 thatnobody has a right to violate the sexual rights of girls.
Incest isan everyday affair especially in thevillages. Police have even confirmed this to me, surprised that I considered itenough reason to travel to the community from Port Harcourt and this is sobecause, rather than speak up like the Enugu woman and halt abuses, womenpretend nothing is happening, living in denial to hush the shame while theirhearts 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. Thetoo disadvantaged to protect herself victim is then further abused and dubbed ahusband snatcher, someone who bears the blame for tempting an innocent wellbehaved and faithful husband. She is mercilessly beaten and sent out or forcedto flush the accident.
Twice have Iresponded to issues on girl-child abuse on Facebook,- Ochanya the 13 year oldgirl from Benue State that wascontinually sexually abused till she took ill and died by a Benue Statepolytechnic lecturer and his undergraduate son. Ochanya was living in theirhouse and the wife and mother to the criminals was her relative. The husbandwas a Knight in the church and the claim then was that Madam was not aware.
My position was that she must have been aware becauseit was not a one-off thing and for an observant guardian, there are signs thatmanifest when a girl is facing sexual abuse of that nature. I received someattacks on Facebook for speaking out, pointing fingers at the woman and evenOchanya’s mother who simply dumped her daughter with someone without checkingon her. I was even asked to delete my comment on Facebook. I am satisfied toknow that the aunty has joined her family in police custody over the uglymatter. I also expressed anger that Ochanya’s real mother was still alive andliving in thesame state but did not know that her daughter was going throughhell.
I was asked to delete my comment, some called me afool. But I stood my ground because for over 30 years, I haveworked on women and children and I knowwhat I am saying.
My second attack was from an innocent response to aFacebook question: “Your husband puts your housemaid in the family waywhat would be your response?” Isimply responded, “Violence Against Women”, because while youpsychologically and physically violate the housemaid, you are emotionallyabusing your wife, devaluing her and breaking her trust in your relationship.
What did I get? another barrage of abuses, thistime, from people I consider young; girls who with the flood of informationreadily available thanks to ICT, ought to know better but are still wrapped inthe cocoon that has kept our greatgrandmothers 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 idiotConstance saying here? If you don’t know what to comment can’t you just closeyour 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 agood ground to spread the message of an end to gender inequality responsiblefor the jaundiced perspectives of these women and girls, I told them they areall suffering from IGNORANCE!.
Weeks later, i was toldthe initiator of the discourse, a young man, told the ladies or should I saygirls, they were wrong. He understands better because he sees what the womenwould rather not see.
A similar situationcame up just days ago on the Igboist Forum still on Facebook. A man posted: “Awoman denied her husband sex for two months, he went out and had sex withanother woman who is now pregnant. Who is to blame?”
That elicited volumesof responses some blaming the woman, some blaming the man. I was happy tonotice that a few persons asked my question, ‘What did the man do to bringabout such a long denial? General response was that the wife had no businessdenying her husband sex so she should be blamed for the outside pregnancy. Thegeneral impression was that having paid her dowry, she was supposed to bearilldeeds from the husband and open her legs any time he demands.
I was howeverdistressed over a comment from a fellow woman who scolded the wife for tryingto deny her husband his right with the clear statement that the essence of payingdowry on women is to allow husbands unhindered access to sex because, women aremarried for sex only. That statement diminished me ; it made me uncomfortablebecause even in our village setting, the training for me was that a husband isa life partner carefully chosen so you can share partnership which coversaffection, sex, companionship, encouragement; raising children and building the family together. Ifit were just sex, there are easier ways to satisfy yourself rather than goingthrough the rigour of marriage.
I was happy though thata few women understood enough not to outrightly condemn the wife but thestronger support came from men who suggested the husband should have soughtavenues of resolving the problem either through family elders, church leaders,etc. They acknowledged that the man must have done something grievous for thewife to have taken such a drastic action.
Truth is that becauseof the patriarchal system we operate which recognizes the man as the superiorbeing, despite levels of development, majority of women are still entrenched inthe belief that they are second class citizens without a right to demandrespect, speak out or even own anything worthwhile without the approval of a man, especially, ahusband.
A woman who believesher only worth in her matrimonial home is to warm her husband’s bed will notraise her voice when vital issues are being discussed nor will she be boldenough to demand self-respect from that family bugged by the knowledge that herhusband spent a lot of money to get her into his family. Under the FundamentalHuman Rights, every person, man or woman has rights which must be respected forharmony to reign. According to theUnited Nations Population Fund, UNFPA, akey agency promoting gender equality and quality family life, “Gender equalityis not a women’s issue. It is a human rights issue and a peace and securityissue”. Women and girls deserve respect andprotection from abuse in society, especially within the family because that iswhere the greater percentage of abuses against them are perpetrated.
For this reason, womenought 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 basedNewspaper publisher and women advocate