LAST week International Woman’s Day was celebrated around the world with other events to mark the economic, political and social achievements of] women continuing throughout the month.
This year the theme is, ‘The Gender Agenda – Gaining Momentum’ which recognizes the fact that over time and distance, the equal rights of women have progressed.
It is a celebration that marks the achievements of women while remaining vigilant and tenacious for future sustainable change.
Undoubtedly there is a global momentum for championing woman’s] equality, but that might not count for much when] the individual is left to cope alone with the prejudices and beliefs of the dominant male.
It is something I wish to explore in this week’s customary court story, exposing as it does both the vulnerability of women and their resilience and courage to overcome even when all else seems to be against them.
There is a Setswana expression that says: “Lelwapa ke bogosi” and] its equivalent in Kalanga, “Akuna hali inofa isakabika” –one meaning[ of which can be translated as, ‘Every woman must fight to find her way to the alter.’
It is a concept that has debatable social implications, often putting unnecessary pressure on the process of finding a partner and playing games in the minds of individual women, blurring their vision when it comes to an objective assessment of a potential marriage partner.
Let me take you to the customary court where we meet Esther, a young lady who found herself in Botswana in search of greener pastures. She had met with Dick and for many years they were happily married.
All that changed however the day her husband discovered his long lost son Thito.
Esther sought help from the customary court to deal with her husband’s dominating spirit that was now suff ocating her.
Esther and Dick had been married for 12 years and were blessed with three lovely daughters.
They had acquired a tuck shop run by Esther, a small second hand car, and livestock at their cattle post.
They lived in what she described as ‘married bliss’ until one morning when a 17-year-old young man arrived unannounced and introduced himself as Thito, Dick’s son by another woman. Esther had not made much of it until two days later when Dick told her that his son had come to stay.
This threw the family into some controversy resulting in a series of family meetings. Relations between Esther and Dick gradually began to deteriorate.
Dick teamed up with his sisters and other relatives and this left Esther with no one apart from her three daughters.
Dick’s sisters who lived in the neighbourhood started calling Esther a witch that had come to exploit their brother.
Esther stoically put up with this until one morning when Dick dropped a bombshell by announcing that] Thito was going to take over the
running of the tuck shop that Esther had been operating.
As if that was not enough she was ordered to hand over the keys of their small car so that Thito and his elderly cousin could go and get stock for the tuck shop. Esther protested Dick’s rearranging of their lives without proper consultation.
But her protests only drove Dick to implement the threats he had been making since Thito arrived.
Dick confi scated Esther’s work and residence permits, bankcards and travel documents.
He then] showed her the door and ordered his wife to find her way back to her home country empty handed.
That was when Esther reported the matter to the customary court.
Dick was invited to come to the kgotla for reconciliation and he duly arrived in the company of a battalion of his relatives whose murmurs of disapproval exposed their obvious prejudice against his wife.
Undaunted Esther presented her case, after which Dick took the opportunity to ask some questions.
DICK: What must I do with Thito?
ESTHER: Send him back to his mother. After all you did not disclose him before.
DICK: Do you remember that you came to me empty handed?
Esther: Yes, but I also remember that I found you with nothing.
Dick then requested that he be given a chance to relate his side of the story.
He mumbled something to the eff ect that he had actually forgotten to tell Esther about Thito, but now that the boy had surfaced Esther
had to have a big heart and be a mother to him.
He added that if Esther failed to submit to his law, she would have to go because she was being ungrateful for all the favours he had done for her by organizing the residence document.
It was a speech that brought cheers from Dick’s] family, as if denouncing his wife was an achievement worthy of applause.
WHAT WOULD YOU IF YOU WERE THE JUDGE?
I ask you to consider the following points:- Esther was never consulted about Thito’s existence, let alone his intention to remain a permanent feature of Dick’s life.
Esther had worked hard with Dick to make the humble achievement Dick claimed as his alone.
Esther was not apologetic about her stand concerning Thito.
Dick’s highhandedness over his wife obviously impressed his unreasonable family members who considered that Esther being a foreigner had no rights.
He felt that as the head of the family he could simply ask Esther to jump, and all she was entitled to do in response was to ask, ‘How high?’ Dick felt that his wife owed him gratitude for the resident’s documents he had helped her obtain and he could use them to control her life.
As a means of reconciliation the court advised Dick to send Thito to his mother and to negotiate his position properly with his wife.
The strong debate from Esther impressed upon Dick that he might not do as pleases with family assets.
Dick seemed shocked when reminded that their marriage in community of property implied that Esther was an equal partner in their achievements.
In this case study a control pattern emerges where Dick prefers to make life painful and difficult for Esther instead of negotiating his way to a solution through a healthy dialogue between adults.
Dick uses his ‘authority’ to forcefully grab permits and bankcards as a tool to control and[ punish Esther for daring to disagree with him.
This renders an otherwise workable marriage dysfunctional.
Unlike many other women faced with the same crisis, Esther is prepared to stand up for her rights, refusing to bend to her husband’s unreasonable will and become a statistic of emotional and fi nancial abuse.
In the end she won the day by exposing the problem.
So whilst there might be a global movement towards woman’s equality, it is often an individual’s response to a diffi cult challenge that will determine victory or loss.
With apologies to Karl Marx and the Communist Manifesto I would like to conclude by adapting his famous phrase and say, ‘Woman of Botswana unite – you have nothing to lose but your chains!’ I wish all women a ‘Happy International Women’s Day.’
Let us hold hands and march towards a gender-neutral Global village