When is it time to leave an abusive relationship?
This week, a young woman was gunned down by her husband in front of her work place – he had threatened to kill her that same week. She chose to not report the threat to the police, which was captured on camera – she lost her life not long after. This news was shocking, as obviously a young woman had been murdered but also because of who the suspect was and gun culture is not something common to Ghanaians even though the couple lived in the USA. In my sadness and shock for what had happened to this young couple, I started thinking about how marriage is portrayed in my culture and how we are conditioned as women towards it in every facet of society.
As a young girl, I remember how I was raised with the end goal of being chosen to be someone’s wife. Some aspect of education for girls was done to ensure that you landed an educated man and also to get a higher dowry when the time came. I would hear comments like, ‘you need to be a good cook so your husband does not bring you back to your parents with a sample of your bad food in a bottle/jar as evidence to justify why he was leaving you’. The shame that was attached to not being enough for your husband because you were not a good cook or home maker is so great that it is ingrained in you as a young girl to ensure you do not become a victim and thus bring shame to your family.
When I often heard of a marriage ending, it always seemed to point to a woman not being good enough as a wife and therefore being brought back shamefully to her father’s home. Ones whole life was dedicated to ensuring that you were able to manage home chores and studying to a point where you never complained – after all, when you finally became a wife and a mother, you must master both worlds of being a home maker and career woman without any of these areas suffering. So from the very beginning of life, a wife is raised and you know how to do all these things without questioning – however, no one raises a husband and these boys grow up with the power to choose a woman that embodies these qualities with a sense of entitlement.
Ultimately, it is the job of the woman to prove to the man and his family that she is good enough to be chosen as a wife. If ever a man stepped out of his marriage, it was always the woman’s fault; she was not a good cook, she was not good at keeping the home clean and welcoming, she nagged too much, she was not good in bed or she simply did not look presentable and appealing to him. So for years, women have endured abusive relationships because if she leaves, the fault is hers and with leaving also comes stigma and exclusion from certain societies(religious mostly) and activities one may have enjoyed when married.
The disappointing aspect of this for me is the set-up of our religious institutions that have decreased the significance of women to a point where suffering in marriage is a sign of spiritual maturity – because in these tribulations, you learn to pray to God and rely on him to sort it out. There are several church councillors who advise women to take back chronic abusers because they should never leave their men to be ‘snatched’ by another woman. So who are these men who are easily snatched by ‘strange’ women? There is no accountability for these men and they behave and abuse women however and when ever they want and there is little to no consequence to their actions.
Barbara, the young 27 year old lady who was murdered, was married to a man of the cloth – yes he was a self titled prophet who pastored a church. He, who was to be the ultimate example of christianity, this week, had taken a life in a very violent way. From his social media posts and comments he made to his wife’s family in videos that have surfaced, he had no regard for the life of his wife and previous reports of domestic violence on police file proved it further. This had me questioning why we are conditioned to put up with men who have no respect for the vows they made and no regard for the welfare of their women.
If you have ever been to a Ghanian traditional marriage ceremony, it is fun, colourful and all activities seem to centre on the woman – it really is her day. However, behind all that fanfare is most times a man who feels he has paid for the ceremony and all the dowry and gifts for his bride and her family – and to most of them, this translates to owning the woman. And you truly get a sense of this when the section comes for the elders at the ceremony to give the couple advise – you will always find about eighty percent (80%) or more of the advise is always for the woman. You are advised to not talk over your husband, make sure he always comes home to a good meal, never deny him ***, don’t provoke him to anger and make sure he is always happy. Then there is always the one person that will throw in the novelty of – ‘don’t hit her no matter what she does to provoke you – if she upsets you come and tell us, her family, and we will talk to her’. Wow!
In the event your husband actually reports you to your family to advise you because you have provoked him, the woman almost always ends up apologising even if it is glaring that the man is at fault. And the church who should be leading the way in ensuring that men are held accountable for the breach of their marriage vows have started a new doctrine of blaming women for the breakdown of their homes because they were not prayerful enough. And there is now a new trend of female church marriage counsellors who are telling wives to take back cheating husbands in a HIV rife environment like Africa! Why do we seem to treat our women like we hate them?
There are many people expressing shock that poor Barbara died so violently – and the shock is mainly because Ghana does not have much of a gun culture. But we have heard, read or seen women being butchered by boyfriends and husbands, being beaten to an inch of their lives and the latest craze of dousing women in acid. I was a bit miffed about the shock people were expressing at this particular horrid event, my anger was about the everyday abuse no one wants to address.
How many women have to die, maimed, endure mental torture and abuse until we say enough? Should our religious places not be a refuge for broken and abused people? Why do we shame single, divorced and single mothers so much? Why is it their fault that life got broken for them? It is such a taboo to be single at a certain age in my culture that it almost feels like you must get a husband at all cost – but must that cost be our lives?
It is such a taboo to be single at a certain age in my culture that it almost feels like you must get a husband at all cost – but must that cost be our lives?
If you are a woman in an abusive relationship seek help – please don’t risk your life by staying! It cannot be easy, I know it’s not easy. But there are people out there who will really love to see you smile again than to see you in a hospital bed or in a coffin. If you know someone in an abusive relationship, support them by not being judgemental – it’s not so easy to leave and they will need your strength more than you telling them what to do. Seek out and accept help.
I also think it is time we started talking about men’s mental health and perhaps start encouraging these men who are abusing women to seek help. I am also very aware that there are men out there who are being abused – please seek and accept help.
To Barbara Tommey’s family, my deepest condolences – she was too young and did not deserve to be gunned down the way she was. I pray you find some healing in this very difficult time. To her brother who insisted that she reports her husband’s threat to the police and get a restraining order against him, your advise was sound and it was her choice to not follow through – don’t blame yourself for not pushing for her to do what you advised.
No relationship is worth dying for – if you dont feel safe, leave and seek help. I would love to hear from you and if you or someone you know is in an abisive relationship, get in touch and we will assist in seeking out help suitable for your situation. Don’t suffer alone.