Impact of Societal Norms on Sexual and Gender-Based Violence

Impact of Societal Norms on Sexual and Gender-Based Violence

By Habiba Wakio

Nelly sat on the edge of her mother’s bed, a bowl of beef matoke in her hands. Her cousin had called to inform her about her mother’s illness. She had left her house hastily and gone to see her mother at the hospital. After running some tests, the doctor gave her mother some medicines, and Nelly left, accompanied by her mother and cousin.

“Mom, please eat your meal,” Nelly told her mother, holding a spoonful of matoke close to her lips.

“I am not hungry,” replied her mother.

“You have to eat before taking your medicine. Please open your mouth, mom.”

Nelly’s mother opened her mouth. After swallowing the small portion of her meal, she took her daughter’s right hand and expressed her gratitude.

“You don’t have to thank me, mom. It’s my duty to take care of you.”

“You also have a duty to your husband. Did you ask for his permission before coming to see me?”

Nelly shook her head. Her mother frowned and reprimanded her.

“A wife should not leave her home without her husband’s knowledge,” she told her.

“It was an emergency, mom,” Nelly defended herself.

“It doesn’t matter. You know how short-tempered your husband is. You have to respect his wishes. You can’t afford to annoy him. If he sends you away, you will have no place to go. Your husband’s house is your home.”

“What about this place?” Nelly asked, confused.

“This place belongs to your brothers,” replied her mother. “Now go home before your husband gets back.”

“I can’t leave you in this condition. I will return home when you feel better.”

Her mother was adamant. The night had fallen. She asked her to leave immediately, accompanied by her cousin. Nelly returned home to find her husband seated on the couch, a belt in his hand.

“Where are you coming from at this hour?” Paul demanded.

Nelly told him what had happened and asked him to call her mother if he wanted to confirm. He asked why she had left without informing him first. As she gave what she thought was a reasonable excuse, she felt a sudden pain across her back. She jumped back with a cry, her eyes brimming with tears. Then she clamped her mouth shut to prevent her cries from being heard in the deafening silence.

A woman should not reveal whatever happens in her house, her mother had taught her.

When Paul took a step forward, Nelly went on her knees and folded her trembling hands. It was important to pacify him. Otherwise, she would earn more bruises. Two weeks before, she had earned a beating after failing to prepare the chicken as her husband had instructed her to. Another time, when she had returned late from her friend’s birthday party, Paul had forced himself on her, accusing her of attracting the attention of other men. Nelly blamed herself for both occasions.

It had been a week since Nelly and Paul had gotten into a fight, and Nelly had been convinced that their relationship was headed in the right direction. Their neighbors had started questioning Nelly, and she was afraid they might discover what had been going on.

“I am truly sorry,” she pleaded. “I promise not to repeat my mistake.”

“Since you love your parents’ home very much, I think it would be better if you lived there,” Paul told her.

Nelly held on to Paul’s jeans. She had to play nice if she wanted to keep her home. She would become a laughingstock if Paul sent her packing. Everyone would blame her for the failure of her marriage. Her family’s reputation would be tarnished.

“This is my home, Paul. Please don’t send me away,” she begged.

Paul pulled her up by her hair, complaining that she was not a good wife. Instead of preparing supper and waiting home for her husband’s return, she was out roaming at night. He had wasted his money on her, he said.

“I’d better finish you off,” he said, squeezing her neck.

Nelly made muffled noises, throwing her arms and legs in the air as she struggled to free herself. Her neighbors, Mercy and James, barged in to her rescue. They had heard a commotion. James took hold of Paul as Mercy helped Nelly escape. Mercy took Nelly to the Maunguja Resource and Gender-Based Violence Center in Kisauni. Despite her mother’s disappointment, Nelly filed a case against Paul.

Later on, she became a champion of fighting against sexual and gender-based violence by engaging in community forums.


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