I know a woman. She is in her fifties. Life has taken its toll on her for she looks nothing like the vibrant, beautiful girl she used to be.
She loved life. She was adventurous and playful – was even somewhat of a bully in school. She was the life of the party, leader of the ‘gang’. She was a happy person. But not anymore. Maybe her advancement in age has something to do with it? Or maybe it is the way her life turned out. The choices she made perhaps?
See, she was married young and had her first child when she was barely eighteen. In her time, education of the girl child was considered a waste of time and resources. Having gone up to standard seven, she was considered more educated than was necessary. She was expected to get married and bear her husband many children – what did she therefore need an education for?
She was excited about getting married. Which girl in her right mind wouldn’t be? There was a certain young man who had shown particular interest in her for quite a while. He was very charming and she had fallen in love with him. Head over heels. She therefore welcomed the idea of marriage with open arms.
She had her first child almost immediately. And many more children followed, one after the other. She was on the kind of birthing plan that people like to call Do-Re-Mi. You know that one, don’t you?
She fit into her role as a wife and mother quite perfectly. Only problem was that she got more out of the marriage than she bargained for. Her husband went to work in the city. She remained in the village to raise the children – the football team – on her own. Her marriage life took a nosedive when she had to contend with her husband’s insecurities. The few times he visited, he ensured that his presence was felt. Boy, wasn’t it felt! He abused her physically and emotionally. She was always at pains to explain why she did this and that, this way instead of that way.
With steely determination, she endured the punches and chose to turn a blind eye to her husband’s blatant infidelity. She swallowed hard to repress her turmoil when she got wind of other women who were brought in to live with her children when they went to visit their father in the city. She resigned to the loneliness brought about by her husband’s absence. He was busy ‘putting bread on the table’.
She believed that this miserable life was the card dealt to her by fate. She had no way out. She could never be able to provide for her football team if she did not stick it out with their father. She needed him. In case it slipped your mind, she had nothing; no education, no job, no money. She had nowhere to go – going back to her parents was not an option. She had to suck it up. For the sake of the children. For a chance at a somewhat ‘normal’ life for them. For a life where they’d have basic provisions and good education. For the sake of THAT bread on the table.
If you remember correctly, there were days long ago, when women were not empowered to believe that they could survive without a man. This was at the time. She didn’t fathom how to comfortably put a morsel, let alone bread, on the table. At the time, life was normal only when there was a man to bring in the food and a woman to cook, clean and bear and raise children.
Naturally, this life took a toll on her. Her self-esteem diminished with every abuse. Her beauty deteriorated with every punch. Her laughter, her positivity towards life was replaced with sad, gloomy days devoid of the fundamental joie de vivre. She became withdrawn. Always unsure of herself. She believed what she had been told over and over again; that she was worth nothing. She was an empty shell.
She cried every night in her sleep and prayed that her daughters would never feel as helpless as she felt. She reasoned that with a good education they would be empowered, that they would never feel stuck with a man who did not value them. She hoped that in putting up with abuse, she was opening doors for her children never to put up with it. That they would always have a choice.
Could she, the woman without a voice, have raised children with a voice then? Children who knew the face of a bad marriage? Did they see first hand what a relationship was not supposed to look like? Could they have taken a lesson or two from her life? When the society was not looking, did this woman empower her children in a way no other experience could empower them?
Wait a minute…could this have been the genesis of women empowerment? Did it all begin with a woman who stayed in a bad marriage for the sake of the children? Were we made to see the perks that ‘putting bread on the table’ come with? The power it wields?
Think about it.
I know that woman. I want to believe that her sacrifice paid off in the end. That her suffering wasn’t for nought.