Monica Nale* 43, is a “chicken cuts” and tomatoes vendor in the popular Kuku Market, in Zambia’s capital, Lusaka. Her husband, pretending to be supportive, gathers dirty coal to lure customers who throng to Monica`s stall. Monica´s chicken business alone is the most prosperous inside the market, racks 360000 Zambia Kwacha ($70) in weekly profits. Her trade seems peaceful – only when her husband is not drunk.
“I founded this business but my husband cleans out all the profits three times daily – forcefully, to drink it, nearby,” she says hiding the bamboo whip scars on her cheek, evidence of her husband´s nasty handiwork.
“Please don’t post my picture, he`ll scald my arm with warm porridge as punishment,” pleads Monica, pointing to blaring speakers that lure revellers, including her husband to a “Mosi Lager” beer binge raffle at next by tavern. “Mosi” is one of Zambia´s celebrated liquor brands.
Monica has been married for fifteen years, and says, she aborted school at grade 7 in primary school. She is saddled with four children of her own and two dependent orphans. Her chicken, imported 476 kilometres from touristy Livingstone town, are favoured by long distance bus travellers going north to neighbouring Malawi or south to Zimbabwe.
Like dozens of Zambia´s unregistered street markets female traders, she is living a painful hidden marriage laced with fists, whips and calculated starvation.
She twists her swollen neck, “I don’t inform my husband of some profits. I used to hide some money under a stone in the bedroom. When he found out, the beating darkened my tongue for a week.”
Why?, we ask her.
“My husband visits my chicken stall to grab the profits at 9am, 1pm and 4 pm daily.”
“He drinks the cash at the pub, flirting openly with foreign girls who thrive in the commercial sex business,” she says touching on the emotive topic of some Zambian housewives who are accusing some immigrant girls from Zimbabwe of streaming to Lusaka for the motive of enriching the commercial sex business and “ruining our husbands.”
To her competitors at Kuku market, her chicken stall profits are envied.
But she is embarrassed: “I sell chicken but sometimes sleep hungry as punishment whenever my husband says I have not brought home the mandated weekly profit of 200 800 Kwacha ($40).”
“My neighbour, Dineo* sometimes pities me, helps with Kapenta fish and salad oil from her leftovers to feed me.”
“My profits are among the best in Kuku Market, but only two of my children attend school. The rest of the profit is guzzled in alcohol by their father.”
“I suffered a miscarriage in 2013 when he kicked me to the stomach accusing me of hiding profit for forty chickens.”
Friend and coconut seller in Kuku Market, says in her own case, she has finally adopted the courage to divorce her husband of 10 years who broke her hand in a beating over coconut profits. “It´s pathetic. Violent Zambian men scoop away women vegetable market profits. They shout it is their revenge way of recouping the bride price money they paid.”
In spite of the continuous beatings Monica is distrustful of approaching the police. “If police jail my husband, I´ll lose him, my kids will miss a father.”
“Worse, my family and his will expel me for disrespect.”
Zambia’s rate of gender based violence is 89 percent, making it the country with highest incidences of Gross Body Violence in Southern African despite its government enacting laws to curb the vice. This is from a Southern Africa HIV and AIDS Information and Dissemination Service (SAfAids) survey Gender Links Report of November 2014.
Ku Mwanachi Foundation, a Zambian nonprofit agency founded by US educated Zanji Sinkala, has been intervening forcefully to bring these “profit beatings” exerted on Zambia´s female traders by scheming husbands.
Ku Mwanachi means “To the Woman” in Ms. Zanji´s indigenous Namwanga language.
“I train these women to cleverly shield their profits from violent ruinous husbands and secure some money aside for their children´s health and school.”
“We hold joint Gross Body Violence (GBV) awareness seminars with the Victim Support Unit of the Zambia Police. The message to these female traders is – if he breaks your leg today, next he´ll break your entire existence. Report violent husbands to police early before fatalities occur.”
Zanji, straddles along a path in Kuku Market and hugs a female goat meat seller whose wrists flesh bears whip marks from a wire cord. Like Monica, she pleads, buries her face away from the camera, into Zanji´s chest – some sort of refuge. Her face melts into tears too, recounts her husband´s assaults every times her business profits does not satisfy his “liquor fee ransom.”
“You see, the need is huge, urgent,” says Zanji. “At Ku – Mwanachi Foundation we facilitate the opening of “Low Income Savings” accounts in Zanaco bank for women like Monica.”
Zanaco is Zambia´s leading bank.
“We have to be street smart sometimes,” reveals Zanji. “The women get training on gender violence and sometimes, secret safe bank income saving skills. They could invite bitter whips or divorce if male partners discover they are stocking money away secretly.”
Zanji says her most dismal sadness is the reaction of families to the beatings these women endure. “Families sometimes blame them for hiding profits from their husbands and tell them – make your husbands happy dear, it’s your duty.”
She inspects Monica´s secret mobile phone to peruse an SMS from the bank showing that the 600 Kwacha in her account has earned a modest 50 Kwacha interest.
She concludes: “I lie to my husband I’m attending entrepreneurship seminars and hide the talk about GBV lessons. This secret mobile phone too, he mustn’t know, it is the link to my secret bank savings account.”
All names marked with asterisk * have been changed to guard the interviewee’s identity.
Article written by Ray Mwareya and Zanji Sinaloa, in Lusaka Zambia. Ray Mwareya is 2016 Winner of The UNITED NATIONS Correspondents Association Media Award. Zanji Sinkala is the founder of Zambia´s Ku-Mwanachi Foundation
Main image taken from www.publish.illinois.edu