My parents are celebrating their 40th anniversary this year, and I am indifferent about joining the party. I bemoan forty years of emotional wounds and scars my mother has endured as a result of marriage. She might have held on to her union with father hoping that he would change one day but no, a leopard will never change its spots.
My father’s definition of fatherhood has always been to exercise authority through disrespect and violence. Since he is a patriarchal figure, he does not see anything wrong with verbal, emotional, physical and sexual abuse. To this day, I have only wished to see mother genuinely smiling in father’s presence just as love birds do. It’s only in the presence of visitors that my parents look like a happy family.
Name calling is quite common in our house, and my father uses it without any shame. When he comes from the beer hall, he spits venom at mother using derogatory terms such as witch, dog, goat and harlot. He throws tantrums, bangs doors and scatters objects across the house. In his own eyes, he is never wrong and his agitation is justified as mother ‘always does something wrong.’ If any of my siblings makes a silly mistake, he vents his anger at her, even for things she is unaware of, he blames her for instilling wrong values in us.
My mother is blamed for everything that goes wrong at home. She is a bad wife because she failed to secure a rural homestead which was supposed to be a family compound after his retirement. She is a bad mother for not taking us to our grandparents’ rural home to visit. She is blasted for issues that happened during the late 70’s when we were not even born. During the few times he attended church, he would sit on a side bench to check whether we were in attendance and if not, he would return in the evening drunk and ready to confront mother for bad mothering.
I have quietly and painfully watched my mother in physical pain after being scourged. My father can use clenched fists to knock mother’s head. In some instances he has tried to choke her with bare hands saying he wanted her to join her ancestors. He also possesses a machete, spear and knobkerrie which he inherited from his dead brother and he keeps them under their bed. He has threatened to cut mother to pieces with his machete and has knocked her with a knobkerrie on the head. To be honest, this man has a temper and when he is angry any object at his disposal is a weapon.
When he scolds her, she is always silent and when he beats her she sobs quietly. In public, she covers her wounds in order to protect herself from societal ridicule. At times, she struggles to move or sit properly because her body would be swollen and even then she pretends everything is fine.
Cultural and religious beliefs are often very influential in why women decide to stay in abusive relationships. My mother is very cultural and religious. Her Shona culture teaches her to endure a marriage with whatever it brings. In some instances when father instructed mom to pack her bags, she refused to leave saying “Ndogarira vana vangu” meaning she would not go anywhere because of her kids. Her religious beliefs ensure that she treats matrimonial vows with sanctity and obeys them at any cost. She has been taught to endure marriage hardships through prayer, because God hates divorce. The society also tends to stigmatise divorcees and single mothers, leaving women to prefer staying in abusive marriages.
Our home is a very conservative home. My father taught us to never disclose family affairs to anyone. We were also taught that, children are not allowed to speak when parents are talking. That said I think it’s fear to report father’s abuse that has always haunted us. I personally fear father’s fury especially knowing that he is capable of knocking my head with a knobkerrie. I fear that if I report, I will still have to come back home for shelter and food, which my father provides. I dread the loneliness associated with being deserted by family because they may not stand with me. I also fear that law enforcement agents may not take me seriously. Trying to solicit the neighbours’ help would also be difficult because they regard father as a humble and cheerful man, and they may not believe me.
Therefore, I have been left very clueless about how to approach my father about his behaviour, on the other hand I am hesitant to sympathise with mom because she is in denial. My elderly sister was courageous enough to enlighten her about how she was being abused. She encouraged her to engage relatives to which my mother responded saying, every marriage has its challenges. My sister also told her to seek for a protection order but she was not keen. In the words of my mother, “Chakafukidza dzimba matenga. Ndozvinoita dzimba. Uchazozvionera kana wave neyako imba” (What goes on in every home is only known by people who belong there. That is how marriage is. You will see for yourself when you get married.) From that instance, everyone including my sister ceased to confront my mother about her situation.
The bystander effect is the result of all this failed intervention. Now, I censor myself from intruding when a woman is being abused because of fear of not breaking through. Recently, a young couple in our neighbourhood had a fight because the wife was attending a church the husband did not like. I heard a noise and went to feed my eyes but I never took any action to help end the quarrel. The next day I saw them up in arms and happy again, and I wondered how embarrassed I would have felt if I had intervened.
Violation of women’s rights within a marriage needs to be urgently addressed because one can be murdered by a spouse simply because she was hoping that he would change. When a woman is being abused, the first step is to realise that violence is not normal. It is wise to seek for help from elders or professional counsellors who are well vested in this issue. Interventions like these can save lives and limit the effects of violence against women.
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