8 March, 2009 was the International Women’s Day. It was a day for women to celebrate their womanhood; to be shown a little more respect and consideration. Although there is no one particular theme, the general bent seemed to be towards the right of the woman and girl to education and protection from violence.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve come to know 4 very special women. They range in age from 30 to 22. They all dropped out from school years ago, one can neither read nor write and they are either single moms or have husbands that are not really husbands. Lily’s man refused to marry her, through the courts and traditionally. She had been living with him for 13 years and had 4 children with him. He still claims she’s his wife but he brought in another woman into the home they both shared together. That woman had a daughter with him. Lily tried to co-exist with her man and his woman but after constant verbal and physical abuse from both of them, she moved out of the house. She had no qualification since she had dropped out of school and so could not get a job. She brought her battered body and spirit to her father and though he loved his daughter, he said he could not accept another man’s children; she should take the children back to their father and come back home. She could not leave her children so she left her father’s house and found herself in a shack made of aluminum roofing sheets. It had neither windows nor facilities and they were existing from hand to mouth. That was were my mum met her; she gave her a job as a cook in the school for missionary kids and gave her an apartment to live in with her children. Lily not only put her boys in school, she went back to school herself and is sitting for her Secondary School Certificate Examinations (SSCE) in May, 2010. Her ‘husband’ traced her to where she is now and comes regularly to visit; she loves him so she lets him. I think he still beats her but I have no proof. If anybody needs protection from violence, it is Lily but no one can give that to her. Luckily, she is exercising her right to education. Her Day is coming.
Ruth left School when she was 14 to get married. Things were alright for a while then he also brought in a second wife. He stopped giving her money so she got a job and is trying to put her life together. She has a daughter so she will not leave him. What struck me the most about Ruth is her cheerful disposition; she has refused to allow life’s knocks to keep her down. She says she wants to go back to school, I hope she does.
Hanna was a few months from her SSCE when she became pregnant and dropped out of school. She decided to move in with the man. She was the third woman to do so; he had run his wife off even though she had three kids for him. The second woman had one and he had also run her off. Hanna lived with him for months and in those months she went through a hell of a kind. The man was a chronic womaniser and she lived in constant fear of HIV/AIDS; he was also violent. When she could not stand to see the poor girl suffering anymore, the man’s mum advised Hanna to return to her parents. Hanna was by that time broken and wounded in spirit, so she packed her meagre possessions, put her son on her back and went back home. She works as my assistant and is studying for her SSCE.
Jancy is a Sweeper that is, she sweeps the guest house. She came to work a few days ago with swollen eyes, it was not the first time. What was unique about this day however was that she could not stop crying – all through the day she was in tears. I finally discovered that her husband had asked her to get out of his house. I tried to comfort her but she was inconsolable. She had been married before, but the man turned her into a punching bag. One day when he beat her till she was half dead, she was carried to her father by neighbours. Gradually, her family nursed her back to health until she could move about and feed herself. Then the man came to the house to beg her to come back. By this time Jancy’s dad was FURIOUS. He left the man in the sitting room and came back with a big stick. After locking the doors, he proceeded to give the young man the thrashing of his life! That, he said, was for his little girl.
Thereafter, Jancy met and fell in love with another man. This man already had a woman in his house but she was older than he was and had already had children in a previous marriage. Unknown to Jancy, the man was looking for a brood mare; a younger woman who would bear his children for him. The other woman felt threatened and was always coming up with one fabrication or the other against Jancy. The beatings resumed, only this time it was another man. This new episode was the result of another beating and finally Jancy had had enough. I encouraged her to go back to his house that night, if he insisted on her leaving the house, then she should go rent rooms of her own. She’s moving in to her own place today and is so excited.
I suppose it is for women like these that the International Women’s Day was founded in 1909. They may be ignorant of the existence of such a day, but that does not mean that they do not deserve to have a womanhood that can be celebrated. Since no one will fight or give them the right to education and to be protected from violence, they have decided to take that right and fight for themselves.