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Where do you go when he strikes – The tale of three African women

Traditional Samburu Women

In Freetown, Sierra Leone, a pastor’s wife released an audio recording crying in pain and using profanity, accusing her husband—a well-known retired bishop and counsellor—of infidelity and domestic abuse. She detailed allegations serious enough to end his career. She also claimed her deceased mother knew of her husband’s actions but urged her to stay in the marriage to save face. She declared the marriage over, unable to endure any more.

Days later, another audio surfaced in which she apologised to her husband and children, attributing her previous outburst to anger and paranoia after being unable to reach him by phone.

Shortly after, a screenshot of text messages purportedly from the retired bishop to his children circulated. He asked them to forgive their mother and accept her apology for her public outburst, but he did not address or deny the allegations. He expressed feeling hurt and disgraced but believed his wife had learned her lesson. He emphasised their marriage covenant was until death.

In Benue State, Nigeria, a TV reporter allegedly brutalised his wife, a medical doctor, of six years. She turned to social media, visibly bruised, and called out her husband while her toddler son tried to console her. The video went viral, and she mentioned having given birth via caesarean section only four weeks prior. The state governor intervened, counselling the couple publicly.

Neither case saw any formal investigations or professional support. In Sierra Leone, domestic abuse is often seen as a private family matter. In Nigeria, despite video evidence and a confession, no legal action was taken. The woman’s face was still bruised in a post-reconciliation photo as she pleaded for forgiveness for her husband and prayers for her family.

The bishop’s wife likely faced condemnation from family and friends, held responsible for not covering her husband’s shame. This societal pressure aligns with traditional views of women as submissive and supportive, regardless of their suffering. Similarly, the governor in Benue State, despite his long marriage, was not equipped to address the couple’s issues of violence and trauma properly.

These incidents highlight a broader issue of insufficient response to abuse and violence against women in Africa, rooted in patriarchy and social norms that revere men in positions of power. This reverence often overrides the need for professional intervention and support for victims.

Abuse is a control tactic, and mental torture can be as damaging as physical violence. Redefining abuse as a patriarchal issue rooted in power and control can help address traditional sexist ideologies and male dominance. Many women stay in abusive relationships due to structural gender inequality and societal barriers.

Women who manage to leave abusive relationships often face increased danger. The lack of safe spaces and professional support exacerbates their plight. Creating safe environments for women and children is crucial, and addressing the toxic masculinity that perpetuates abuse is essential.

In Samburu. Kenya. A woman discloses to her mother-in-law that she was raped. Mother-in-law tells her son who beat her mercilessly with a cane. This woman, unlike many who will face abuse or sexual violence on the continent, had somewhere to go. Thirty years ago, one Samburu woman decided that enough was enough. Along with 14 survivors of male violence, she created a women-only village that promotes sisterhood above all else, with a vision to protect each other.

For the Samburu women (pictured), female genital mutilation and forced early marriages which led to repeated rape and unwanted pregnancies were widely accepted traditions. Fast forward to today, the village of Umoja, the first of its kind, is a refuge for about 50 women and 200 children, all of whom are survivors.

The Samburu people are semi-nomadic—largely polygamist— with traditions that are deeply rooted in patriarchy. Yet these women have managed to create an economy for themselves so they can be independent and self-sufficient. They charge an entrance fee for safari tourists who want to visit the village and produce an array of beautiful beaded jewellery which are sold to the tourists. They have built a school that is open to nearby villages and the older women teach the children about the societal norms that they escaped from.

For the women, Umoja is a safe haven where they can live a life of mutual respect however they do not completely isolate themselves. They go out into neighbouring villages, markets, schools as and when required. The boys are required to move out of the village when they are 18. Many will argue that completely isolating women in this manner is not an ideal solution. However, in the immediate short to medium term, if that is the only way for some women to feel safe and live free from violence, I wholeheartedly embrace it.

raise questions about where African women and children can find protection and support. More accessible counselling, therapeutic services, and organisations providing refuge are desperately needed.

endingvawg.org. is inviting organisations to submit their details for a FREE directory listing, and volunteer representatives are being sought to maintain up-to-date contact information for support services in various countries.

If you run expert services for women and children in Central Africa, East Africa, Southern Africa or West Africa, please share details about your organisation by visiting endingvawg.org.

 

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