Tag Archives: marriage

Why do I feel I’m nothing without a man?

4 Jan


A lot of mail lands on our desk and invariably the most common theme is men and problem relationships.

Whether it’s the young lady asking for tips on how to find a man to marry, the mother praying for her husband to give up his mistress or the newly-wed whose husband’s ordered her to stop seeing her unmarried friends, they all have an underlying angst.

Without trivialising the experiences of our readers it strikes me that African women, by choice or duress, spend a disproportionate amount of time on issues of ‘finding and keeping a man’ to the exclusion of other potentially enriching activities in their lives. I’ve been known to avoid social gatherings where I know the most stimulating conversation will be how to keep a man from straying. I like to think I have more interesting things to do with my time!

Now don’t get me wrong, I love men.

I grew up with four of them, my brothers and father, whom I count amongst the most important people in my life. I voluntarily married a man and pledged to spend the rest of my life with him. I gave birth to a little man and would instinctively fight a lion with my bare hands to protect him. I have some amazing male friends whose intelligence, wit and humour never cease to amaze me.

HOWEVER, I know that the men in my life make up only a part of the many diverse interests and activities that occupy my time.

So why do many African women feel they’re nothing without a man? To find out we went straight to the horses’s mouth through a mini survey of our readers.

It’s clear that culture has an overriding influence in how we define ourselves and our role in the world. From birth an African girl’s identity is based on serving men and places her firmly in a less powerful position than her brothers. The division of labour from early on is on this basis, the double standard of how we spend our leisure time is blatant and most importantly society’s sanctions against those who don’t fit its definition of a ‘good girl’ are swift and severe.

“African women’s upbringing is that marriage is a top priority in our lives, by age twenty five I was getting pressure from all around me that I was over the hill”

“Being dependent on a man, that’s a culture thing, that a man is a man and he is allowed to do what he wants”

“Women are conditioned from a young age to find a mate for marriage, endless reminders of how decisions in earlier relationships can jeopardize chances of finding a man willing to marry them. Countless lessons on being the future perfect wife”

“It’s expected that a married woman is just there to keep the house in order, breed and look after the kids. She needs no affection, love and so forth, as long as she is called madam. That’s why society thinks Polygamy is OK because women have no feelings apparently”

What’s their perception of African marriages?

“The typical African marriage is one of suppression where the man is the boss – Yebo Nkosi. African men must quit the abuse (emotional, physical, mental etc) stop being so selfish and learn to communicate better”

“Women are subjects to their husbands, often depend on their husbands for their financial well being, submissive to their husband’s and in-laws’ demands. As an African woman you not only marry him but marry his whole family, leaving little room for independent decision making”

“I consider myself spontaneous, adventurous and carefree but I know I’ll have to change my personality after marriage since for African men ego is their priority not my happiness”

“You end up just putting up with their nonsense because it’s easier to just let him always be right”

“African couples often do not view each other as equal partners giving to power struggles within relationships. Women are expected to be docile. Infidelity on the husband’s part is often the norm and acceptable”

“I’ve had to slow down on travelling as they are so much into budget limiting”

Here’s the irony. For all the pressure African women feel to become ‘a door mat’ after marriage it appears this is not what the contemporary African man is looking for. In a quick sample of our male readers the overwhelming majority said they were attracted to a woman with a good dose of self-confidence and independence, financial and otherwise:

“She must also be ambitions in her own right, for the record I found Margaret Thatcher dead gorgeous in her prime years as PM”

“Nothing is more important to me than wit , intelligence and an insatiable appetite to learn. Sadly it would appear that the majority of African women think when they hit a certain age – all this is not necessary”

“I’m attracted to intelligence and a keen sense of humour”

“I like to know that I’m not her only financial plan”

“I’m not looking for women who see marriage, partnerships as some form of financial solution”

“I find neediness a complete turn off”

So why do African women feel pressure to partner no matter what?

“I’m not proud that I’ve put up with my husband having another woman rather than standing up and taking a lasting solution to just leave him. You know when you are married you are a respected someone in society, young people look up to you, the elders respect you and praise you. There’s also the fear of raising four kids alone, what will people say? It’s a whole lot of emotions…and also cultural pressure etc.”

“As more of your friends couple up they tend to slowly isolate you, make you feel incomplete like you no longer belong to their group. Even when giving advice or in general talk it’s like what would you know?, it’s implied you have no idea about life until you’re married”

“Many times I’ve been placed in a position where I feel guilty even speaking to my friends’ husbands. Because I’m single there’s an asumption that I’m a flirt and a fear that I might snatch their husbands who know no boundaries”

“Some husbands advise their women not to hang out with you just to cover their mischief and you have no opportunity, no voice to express your innocence because you’re being judged on your marital status. Single women are a bad influence seems to be the motto”

“I’m so sick of feeling like I owe everyone an explanation for being single. I get questions like what exactly are you waiting for as beautiful as you are and you’re not getting any younger”

So what’s a girl to do when her whole value is dependent on her relationship status?

There was a certain resignation among the female participants that it was ‘hard’ to change culture and they did not expect much change in their own relationships. However, they all felt change was inevitable for future generations.

When asked what advice they would give their daughters there was a strong feeling that the key to improving the lot of African women in relationships is education, financial independence and careful choices:

“My sage wisdom would be – understand why you are getting into a relationship and what you want to make of it. Take your time to fully understand what the other party wants and expects of the same. If you are not of the same mind at the beginning it is unlikely you will get round to agreeing in future. I would also advise that every relationship has its own settings that it must live within and it is no different in the African culture – its demands and expectations will weigh heavily on you from the days of youth up to the dying day. Define for yourself and decide whether the expectations are what you want to live with. Some things change but culture does not do so easily as by definition “it is the way we do things around here” – and Africa is a very patriachal society.”

First things first, educate yourself, make sure he finds you independent and self sufficient in order for him to respect you and that way you can have a say in the relationship. Don’t let anyone tell you that it’s too late to improve yourself, it’s never too late. Study him and be careful in your choices and do not tolerate his miscellaneous activities. Know his worth because you’re the one that will be stuck with him for the rest of your life.”

“Never give up your dreams in order to hold on to a relationship, find someone who will let you be comfortable in your own skin and not expect you to bend over backwards to be a perfect partner. Take your time to find a long term partner and don’t succumb to any pressure that you will be past the prime of your youth”

“I would advise her not to let any man put her down, she must remain independent such that she can continue to pursue her interests despite being married. eg. further her studies, travel and so forth”

As I look through these frank comments again I wonder whether the time spent by African women talking about relationship issues is wasted after all? I’m struck by the words of one reader who said,  “As Africans we prefer to talk to each other about our issues where non Africans might  prefer a more public media”. I’m reminded that culture is not static. I’m convinced that for change to happen there must be enough people disatisfied with a status quo and willing to act to change it.

What if each of these conversations about men and relationships is not a waste of time at all, but in fact many small steps that collectively will one day make that big cultural shift we so desire for our daughters?

What is the point of marriage?

18 Oct

point of marriage
by Carol Dube

I have just learnt, with terror I must admit, that some of my relatives and a few friends are becoming worried that I may never settle down and get married. I am in my early thirties and strangely, I am assumed to be more than ripe and ready for marriage.

As if that is not enough, just the other day, I had a terrible misunderstanding with my paternal aunt – she fears I am becoming too successful that finding a man to marry me may prove to be just too difficult. I am advised men don’t really like successful women. I can’t help but be concerned.

Are men truly afraid of a successful woman? Isn’t it quite humorous how our society views men and women so differently? It is not in dispute that a successful man is very attractive, quite a catch. A friend of mine the other day was telling me that it is no longer necessary to take stock of the ratio of men versus women but rather, successful men to women, and I am told it’s 20 women: one successful man. Such figures are obviously unofficial, but this portrays just how on demand a successful man is.

The odds are, however, not the same for women. The more successful or the more educated a woman, the less attractive she becomes. It’s really an issue of double standards on the part of our society.

I became so concerned over this issue that I went as far as doing an online survey in some social forums I subscribe to in order to ascertain just why successful women aren’t viewed as marriage material. What became so obvious is that most men do not find a successful woman attractive because they fear that they may not be able to control her.

Just why men find it so macho to control a woman puzzles me. Are women so erratic, unpredictable, wild and dangerous that they ought be tamed and controlled? Is it really proper to control another human being? More importantly, is it profitable for any person to conduct their lives in accordance to another’s rule book?

It appears the brothers in my society are not too keen on marrying for the sake of gaining an equal partner. They seem to want a docile kind of a lady: the one who drops everything for her man and will bend over backwards just to please him; the kind that suffers in silence and dares not question him on any issue. A door mat. One that can easily be tamed.

Just take a closer look at most marriages in our society. Don’t wives seek permission to do just about anything? Most wives hardly ever make any decisions without consulting. Is it that they are incapable of making decisions or maybe they are just not competent enough?

Some men go as far as demanding that their wives dress a certain way; be home at a certain time; associate with certain individuals and obviously disassociate with others. Are women truly incapable of making their own choices on fashion, lifestyle and friends? Must one abandon their person for the sake of becoming what a man demands and expects from them? What is it that strips wives of their power and vests it with their husbands ? Could it be the fact that one pays the bride price for the other?

When a man pays lobola for his wife, is he not merely extending his gratitude for being blessed with a wife? How then does lobola become a symbol of ownership of a wife by her husband? It is beginning to appear as if a wife, like a couch, is just another household item.

The way this institution called marriage is understood in our Zimbabwean society leaves women in a very feeble position. I do not feel I am losing out on anything by not marrying.

What do I stand to gain from marriage? A man? I have one. Furthermore, I certainly can get and keep any man, if I put my heart to it.
Becoming Mrs so and so? Why? I already have a surname. I have been using it for over two decades, and I am sure using it for the rest of my life would not kill me.

Babies? I already have and I did not marry their father by choice. What really is the achievement in marriage? Am I missing out on anything? I have seen so many people marry only to divorce a couple of years later. Why then must I set myself up for heartache, pain and a life of misery?

Maybe one day, I will change my mind. Maybe one day I will choose to be tamed. Maybe I will choose to be controlled, to live a life according to the husband’s strict instructions. Maybe one day this institution of marriage will make perfect sense – I may even regret not having jumped into it earlier.

Until that very unlikely day, I refuse to marry to conform to societal expectations of me. I refuse to marry for the sake of my family and friends, the pleasure of them watching me tie the knot at the expense of my independence and joy.

Carol Dube is a social commentator who tells it like she sees it

*This feature first appeared on http://www.newzimbabwe.com

This doesn’t happen to people like me

3 Mar

when a man loves you

Two weeks ago, I sat down for a transatlantic Skype interview with Alice* who got in touch with us to share her personal experience of an abusive relationship. Being South African herself, the recent headlines on the violence in her home country  prompted her introspection and she felt she had an important message for other African women. This is her story:

EAW: Thank you for getting in touch with us to share your story Alice, it was very brave of you.

Not at all, it’s something I’ve always wanted to do but I’ve never known how to do it anonymously because I’m not proud of it.

 EAW: I was struck by the fact you said an abusive relationship doesn’t happen to people like you, what did you mean?

I was brought up in a normal family in South Africa, went to a good school and had some strong female role models in my life. I consider myself smart, street wise and independent and in my mind I didn’t fit the profile of the sort of woman to be in an abusive relationship. I’m still trying to work out how it happened and why I put up with it for so long.

EAW: Tell me about the first time it happened.

I’d just come out of a relationship with yet another player when I met Tom. He was the sweetest, most attentive man I’d ever met. He was so romantic and unlike the other guys I’d dated he wanted to spend all his time with me and I very quickly became his whole world. On hindsight that should have been a warning sign.

The first time he hit me was in public, at a party with lots of people around. We’d gone out with a group of friends and as the evening progressed he became more and more moody and standoffish. I was talking and dancing with a couple of my girlfriends when he suddenly marched over, pulled me and said we were going. I told him I wasn’t ready to go when he slapped me in the face and pulled me out of the party. I was shocked and didn’t know what to do, it was in public. I screamed but nobody came to help. He bundled me into a taxi, I was screaming and the taxi driver did nothing. When we got to his place I was still crying and trying to get away, the security guard at his building just looked at me and did nothing.

When we got upstairs he suddenly burst into tears and started apologising and telling me how much he loved me. I remember feeling this deep shame; I was humiliated and couldn’t believe this was happening to me. I think I just wanted to put it behind me and forget it ever happened.

The next morning one of my friends came to his place to check up on me. I took the opportunity to walk down with her and ran off to my aunt’s house nearby. My aunt was furious when I told her what had happened. She’d been in an abusive marriage which had left her with permanent injuries. She took me down to the local police station and insisted I make a report against Tom, which I did.

The next day the police asked me to drop by and told me they had called him into the police station and how remorseful he was. They said they dealt with lots of domestic cases and they’d never seen such a remorseful guy. He’d cried and apologised and assured them it wouldn’t happen again. Suddenly he was this angel and even the police were asking me to give him a second chance.

EAW: So did it end there? Was that the last time he hit you?

Of course not, if anything it became more frequent after that. Each time he hit me he’d break down and apologise and tell me I was his life and he couldn’t live without me. I stayed so I must have felt flattered by this sick love.

My dad had recently died and I guess I was feeling vulnerable and enjoying the attention to the point I was willing to overlook the abuse. He also had a way of turning my friends and family against me so that I would always end up as the bad guy and he was this wonderful man who loved me to bits. The more isolated I became the more the beatings escalated and almost always in public.

He was extremely jealous and possessive and didn’t want me paying attention to anyone else. The funny thing is it was never about me talking to other men; he was jealous of my female friendships and just didn’t want to see me happy or having friendships or a life outside him.

 EAW: You went ahead and accepted his marriage proposal despite the beatings?

Foolishly yes, he’d been asking me to marry him from the word go and I finally agreed. I’m just glad I refused to have his baby, something he’d been begging me to do for ages. I look back now and think the day he paid Lobola for me was the day I became a child in the relationship and all the gloves came off, excuse the pun. My family loved him and thought he was the best thing since sliced bread. My auntie warned me that abusive men never change but I went ahead anyway. Perhaps I wanted to be married more than I hated being beaten up.

EAW: So how did you finally leave him?

The last time he hit me he started choking me and that was the final straw. It had always been slapping before but this time he was choking me and tearing off my clothes. This time I fought back, I thought he was going to kill me. I told him I was leaving him and he choked me some more. I managed to bite his hand hard and ran out of the house. I called the police from the street but they didn’t turn up. He ran down after me crying and apologising but I knew I was done. I stopped a taxi and went to my aunt’s house. She was furious and yelled at me to wake up because the man would end up killing me.

EAW: What did Tom do when you moved in with your aunt?

He called my uncle, who had handled the Lobola, as usual trying to make me look like the bad guy. My uncle phoned me begging me to go back to him, that all marriages had their problems and I was embarrassing the family. Tom was very good at spotting the weak links in my family and working on them to put pressure on me. I felt trapped and was getting a lot of pressure from my family to go back to him.

I’d been thinking of leaving the country for a while and then one day I came home and my aunt handed me a bundle of money and said I should go and buy an air ticket and leave the country. She could see the pressure I was under from everyone and felt I wasn’t going to hold out much longer, she was probably right.

So while Tom and my family were calling me begging me to go back to him, I quietly bought an air ticket and slipped out of the country. The next time I spoke to him I was in the UK and he was shocked. He begged me to let him join me and promised he would change but I was through making excuses for him. It’s taken me two years to get my life back together and regain my self esteem but I’ve not looked back.

EAW: You’re very calm and matter of fact about your experience, what did you take out of it?

The biggest learning for me was that the first time someone lays a hand on you walk away, they’ll never stop. It sounds like a cliché but it’s so true. There’s a reason a man lifts his hand to a woman and it has nothing to do with you. Tom obviously had psychological issues that had nothing to do with me, I took those problems and made them mine and lost my own self esteem in the process.

I’ve also learnt to make my own decisions and not involve my family too much, especially my uncles and extended family. Everyone has their own agendas and they are not necessarily aligned to yours. I found out later that Tom had been buying my uncle stuff so no wonder he was on his side. Next time I’ll take the time to get to know and love the man on my own without introducing him to my family. Once Tom had a relationship with my extended family it was easy for him to manipulate them and isolate me. My family are also quite traditional and probably felt that it wasn’t a big deal that he was beating me because all African women are beaten.

I think ultimately we are responsible for our own well being and I should have acted sooner.

 EAW: Alice thank you again for taking the time to talk to us and we wish you all the best with your future.

It was a pleasure.

*name has been changed to protect her identity

Let’s talk about Oscar Pristorious

23 Feb

fistula pic
I must admit I was glad to see the back of Oscar Pristorious, at least for now, so I can finally get some sleep!

After three sleepless nights following live court updates from a time zone nine hours ahead, not to mention the lively debates on Facebook, I was physically and emotionally exhausted and waited in weary anticipation for the big decision.

While the decision to grant bail was a disappointment to many of us, the magistrate gave a well reasoned judgement that was devoid of the emotions the world had become caught up in. In the heat of the moment we all forgot a bail hearing is not about determination of guilt, that’s for the trial.

And so, as we eagerly await what’s sure to be an explosive trial, the spotlight now shines on an issue that’s often swept under the carpet in African societies – violence against women.

Personally, I think the man did it and his story has all the markings of a narcissistic, controlling man who blows his top when he’s not able to control the object of his obsessive affection. The global adulation he’s received recently had no doubt created an air of invincibility.

Under the light walk the key characters that illuminate the complex nature of this discussion:
1.The alleged perpetrator who challenges society’s beliefs of what an abusive person looks like.
2.The Magistrate representing a justice system that often gives unequal treatment to victims and perpetrators.
3.The bumbling ‘African’police who are easily corruptible and undoubtedly swayed by a defendant’s race, wealth and social status.
4.The legal eagle who’s been described as a ‘legal gun for hire’ and represents the best ‘getaway card’ that money can buy.
5.The victim whom many wonder if she stayed too long in the relationship and ignored warning signs.
6.Society, whose opinion holds great sway but is rarely supportive of the victims.

Over the next few weeks we’ll focus on violence against women within the African culture. Please get in touch if you have personal experience and even if you don’t, join the discussions!

Next week an interview with Alice*, ‘This doesn’t happen to people like me.’

*Name has been changed to protect her identity

Three quarters of African girls are out of school

12 Oct

On 11 October as the world celebrated the very first International Day of the Girl Child, I had the privilege of speaking at an event to highlight the struggles of girls around the world and advocate for greater empowerment.

I spoke about my passion for ensuring that all children, particularly girls, have access to an education.

Reviewing general statistics about girls globally, I was saddened that Africa still features so prominently amongst regions where girls struggle the most for their basic rights.

That should make all of us even more determined to do whatever we can to make the world a better place for African girls.

Some Key Statistics

On girls globally:

  • 75 million girls do not attend school
  • 100 million girls are engaged in child labour
  • Girls under 16 are the victims of 50 per cent of sexual assaults worldwide
  • More than 60 million girls are forced into marriage each year, many to men twice their age or older
  • Pregnancy is the leading cause of death for girls in developing countries between the ages of 15 and 19

On African girls:

  • In sub-saharan Africa, almost three-quarters of girls are out of school, compared to only two-thirds of boys.
  • African girls aged 15-24 are 8 times more likely than men to be HIV positive.
  • Each year about 16 million girls aged 15-19 years old around the world give birth, with most living in sub-Saharan Africa.
  • Sub-Saharan Africa has the second highest rate of early and forced marriage. 14.3 million girls in the region are married before they reach 18. Among the countries where the rate of early and forced marriage exceeds 70 per cent – Niger, Chad and Mali – adolescent fertility and maternal mortality rates are also high.
  • In African countries where the legal age of marriage differs by sex, the age for women is always lower. In Benin, Cameroon, Gabon, Mali, Niger and the Democratic Republic of Congo, the legal age of marriage is 18 for males and only 15 for females.

Quote of the week – Advice is what we ask

28 Sep

Advice is what we ask for when we already know the answer but wish we didn’t.

Erica Jong

Is marriage a raw deal for African women?

21 Sep

Those of us who’re Zimbabwean…shhh speak softly… just for this week I’m not volunteering this information lightly.

So, those of us who follow Zimbabwean news have watched, with some fascination, the very public marital drama currently playing out in the courts and news.

Strip away the politics and conspiracy theories and underneath it lie some very important questions about marriage and what it means for African women.

Whilst the public profile of  the leading man has given this particular case prominence, we all know it’s a script that plays out every day in African societies and one that rarely causes a stir.

  • Does customary marriage have a place in contemporary African life or is it a mask for bad behaviour?
  • Why do so many women happily enter into polygamous and small house arrangements (or do they)?
  • Is there so much pressure on African women to be married that we’ll take it on any terms?
  • Does the “everyone does it” excuse make it alright to have multiple wives?
  • Does payment of lobola do more harm than good?
  • Is marriage essentially a raw deal for African women?

This is our first open thread ladies, we’d love to hear everyone’s thoughts! Let’s keep it on the issues not the politics.