LOUD WHISPERS: Before The Next Eulogy

I saw a video a few days ago, it was shown to me by one of the female lawyers who helps me deal with cases of gender based violence. It was a recording of a young woman, stark naked, bleeding and pleading, I will call her Mary. There was blood all over the bed Mary was kneeling next to. The person recording was her husband, and he was providing a voice over. He called her every name under the sun, and he also cursed her and dared her to leave him. He kept saying, ‘Your life will never be a good one’ in Yoruba. When poor Mary was able to, she got hold of the recording and sent it to the lawyer who showed it to me. She told the lawyer that she should keep the video as evidence in case her husband eventually succeeded in killing her. Mary was rescued by the police and is now in hiding. Her father insists she must go back to her unstable husband. It turns out her father used to abuse her mother in the same manner till she fled. So now he does not see his daughter’s predicament as a big deal.

My maternal grandfather, late Pa Omitusa Awoseye was known as a man of principle, not to be trifled with. As a successful farmer from Ilara-Mokin, near Akure in Ondo State, his opinion mattered in his community. My mother was his first-born, so she had the responsibility of caring for the rest of her siblings. Three of my Aunts were brought up by my parents, and they lived with us for many years, till it was time for them to start families of their own. The oldest of my Aunts, who I will call Auntie Titi had a beau she was in love with. Let me call him Mr Bayo. He was from Ilara-Mokin too, a graduate teacher. I met him once, he seemed quite nice. My Aunt started to make wedding plans.

One day my grandfather visited us in Lagos. He rarely came to Lagos unless it was very important for him to do so. After dinner, he had a meeting with my parents, my Aunt was present. The meeting got very heated, we could hear Grandpa talking very animatedly. Perhaps in a bid to calm him down, my mother came to my room and asked me to bring some water for them. As soon as I put the glass of water down next to him, he picked up the water, said something in his Ilara dialect, took a sip of water and spat it out on the floor. I did not think much of it because old folks do strange things, perhaps it was another way of pouring libation I thought. Later on, Auntie Titi gave us the fill gist. Grandpa was not pouring libation. He was placing a curse on the proposed union of Auntie Titi and Mr Bayo! What he said and sealed with the water he spat out was ‘Over my dead body will you marry into that family’. It turned out that Grandpa’s younger sister, (Mama Pitan for this story) had married into Mr Bayo’s family approximately thirty years before then. Mama Pitan’s husband was what I call a classic JDA – Jobless, Drunk and Abusive. The poor woman worked her fingers to the bone trying to keep her family together, especially caring for her children – farming, trading, hawking, you name it, she did it. Her efforts were rewarded with severe beatings and abuse. All this took a toll on her health and eventually Mama Pitan left the marriage, thankfully, alive. I am sure we all know my Grandpa, while feeling bad for his sister, would have heaved a sigh of relief that his sister had left with her life. Grandpa swore back then, that they would never have anything to do with the family again. Thirty years later, the son of one of Baba Pitan’s cousins shows up asking for Grandpa’s daughter’s hand in marriage! From the same family that condoned the abuse, suffering and humiliation of his sister. Now we could understand the old man’s rage and indignation. My parents pleaded on behalf of my Aunt, Grandpa’s response was ‘From the way my sister was treated, I know madness runs in the family. Never again’. There was no fairy tale ending. My Aunt married someone else.

Grandpa came from a generation that frowned on divorce, so his sister ending up a divorcee would not have been seen as ideal. He however made it known that he would no longer tolerate the abuse of his sister, and when she was ready, she made a decision and he stood by her. Thirty years after, Grandpa was still standing in solidarity with his sister.

I have a golden rule about third party interventions. It is very difficult to get involved in the affairs of a married couple. One party will give you a version and you will go up in arms to the other person, and when you hear their own side, you feel foolish. My feminist instincts (rightly or wrongly) are to give the woman the benefit of doubt. This is because men, using their patriarchal powers of privilege and control, know how to push all kinds of emotional, physical and psychological buttons that can drive a sane woman over the edge. I know the same can be said of women, but all we need to do is look at the recent body count in cases of domestic violence and see who is more at risk.

However, when it comes to the issue of domestic violence, I believe careful but firm interventions are needed. Victims of domestic violence hide their suffering for as long as they are able to, till it is no longer possible to ignore. How many times can you fall down the stairs at home? How many days in a year can you take sick off work? When they do talk, they raise the issues with close family, friends or religious leaders. I have not met any woman who decided to leave her husband because he slapped her once. The abuse is almost always persistent and cumulative, involving all the manifestations of violence we are familiar with. When should a woman draw the line? When should she decide enough is enough? The sad answer to this question is we don’t know until it is too late. Many women are dead now because they were too scared to draw the line.

My argument is that perhaps the people who the Mama Pitans and Marys turn to should be more proactive. Every woman who dies at the hands of an abusive partner leaves a devastated family behind – children, parents and siblings as well as friends. They will keep playing each conversation or episode they had with the dearly departed over and over in their heads. They will recall the number of times she tried to leave and they persuaded her to stay. They will remember the number of times she wanted to stay and how many times they encouraged her to leave. Each memory brings with it waves of guilt and regret. Death confers a huge amount of credibility and respectability. In life, the victim would have been arrogant, bossy, proud, and stubborn. In death, her tormentors are thankfully silenced, and she becomes, through the eyes of her loved ones ‘a virtuous woman, a good mother, God fearing, humble’ and so on. Why do women have to die before they become human beings? All the fond memories will not bring her back, neither will all the nice things we have to say after she is gone.

No one can force a woman who is not ready to leave an abusive relationship, this is the first lesson you learn when you start working with survivors of domestic violence. You can however let her know that she has choices that could turn out to be empowering and not debilitating. A marriage ceases to exist the moment one person becomes a master and the other a slave. As I watched the humiliation of Mary at her husband’s hands I shuddered.

This is a call out to all the mothers, fathers, siblings, friends, religious leaders and elders who are the ones left to mourn the victims. We are tired of all the eulogies for women cut down in their prime. Let us all adopt a zero tolerance attitude to domestic violence. Please stop encouraging women (and the few men who are victims) to stay in abusive relationships. Please stop putting pressure on young people to marry. When all the usual steps fail (advice, counselling, and spiritual guidance) please create an enabling environment for women in such situations to make informed choices. Please do not turn yourself into an apostle preaching religious texts out of context. There is enough blood on so many hands. If a family member or friend is in danger, make a note of your communications without breaching confidentiality. You might be in a position to ensure she gets justice should the worst happen.

There is nothing more tragic than a parent burying a child. Can you imagine thinking you could have done something to prevent it? Let us act now to stop the unthinkable from happening. Before Mary summoned the courage to ask for help, she had been beaten, raped and humiliated by her husband for so long. If she had died at his hands, her people would have written a eulogy for her, calling her a ‘wonderful daughter’. Yes wonderful but dead daughter. As I write this, another eulogy is probably being written.

 

This is a revised version of ‘Before the next eulogy’, in ‘Loud Whispers’ (Amandla Consulting, 2017).

Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi is a Gender Specialist, Social Entrepreneur and Writer. She is the Founder of Abovewhispers.com, an online community for women. She can be reached at BAF@abovewhispers.com

 

 

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15 Responses to LOUD WHISPERS: Before The Next Eulogy

  1. Femi Diipo June 21, 2019 at 11:22 am

    We have to keep talking, writing and warning people about the dangers of domestic violence as long as this ugly and very barbaric act still persist in our society. The sheer cruelty of inflicting consistent physical pain on a woman a man claims to love or vice versa is nothing but animalistic and very unreasonable, yet the sad situation keeps occurring all around us.
    It is time to say enough is enough and get out of that relationship that will inevitably cost you your life if you refuse to get out

    Reply
  2. Jeremy Mathews June 21, 2019 at 12:03 pm

    This has always been a serious discussion for me. We need to make sure that we talk to family members and tell them to make the family a safe haven for their children.

    Reply
  3. DSEED June 21, 2019 at 1:51 pm

    Enough is enough. It is not worth dying for. As a woman facing domestic violence, if you can’t help yourself please speak out, never keep it to yourself. You don’t need to stay in an abusive relationship and think you will be praying for him to change, run for your precious life first then pray for him. Also don’t ever say you are staying because of the children, if you eventually die the children will live there life. Be wise my dear sisters.

    Reply
  4. Theresa Daniels June 21, 2019 at 3:05 pm

    Before you say yes to anyone, you must make sure you are in your right senses. Check the signs, it is more than love, it is commitment, it is logic.

    Reply
  5. Veronica Imaseun June 21, 2019 at 3:09 pm

    Can we have a serious talk with some of our elders? they need it.

    Reply
  6. Bimbola June 22, 2019 at 2:56 am

    You see this ‘what will people’ say talk kills people more than we know it. Our elders do that alot and it has to stop. we don’t care about what and what not they do and wouldn’t do.

    Reply
  7. Omorosa June 22, 2019 at 3:00 am

    Let me first of all say this is an engaging website. I came across this page some days ago and I have been stuck on this site. This is sexual violence talk is very important and parents need to sit down and hear it. Those days of ‘endure, endure’ is gone. There are certain things you cannot endure no more. You have to stand tall and move out to avoid getting flowers in the grave.

    Reply
  8. Jide Olatimide June 22, 2019 at 3:03 am

    When my sister came and said her husband was beating her, I would forever admire my dad on how he handled the situation. He was mad at the man, you know what he did, he went early to my sister’s house and finished my husband. He beat the man up! He beat him so badly that he was admitted for weeks then told him that even when he is no more, if he dares touches her, his sons would beat his life up again and again. That act taught me to respect women, taught me to defend my sister even after being married and the man in question, he never dared it again.

    Reply
  9. Gloria June 22, 2019 at 3:06 am

    Sincerely, this is absolutely apt. Thank you for sharing wisdom as always.

    Reply
  10. Lanre Davids June 22, 2019 at 3:08 am

    I never knew this was what my wife has been enjoying until she told me fully about this page some weeks back and I decided to follow on social media and it’s been absolutely amazing reading here and all your social media platforms. This issue of gender based violence should be trashed with women, men, older folks. We cannot continue to wish we had done something when we had the opportunity and we didn’t do it.

    Reply
  11. Comfort Yejide June 22, 2019 at 3:10 am

    If only people would listen and read up. You see some people are just wrapped up in their mentality that they refuse to open up to wisdom. They are okay wallowing in ignorance in the name of ‘that’s how it’s been done and shall continue to be’… We hope they listen to this reawakening.

    Reply
  12. Olakunle Olajide June 22, 2019 at 10:09 am

    I read the first version and reading this means we still need to keep preaching and sending this message till we all have a change of mentality.
    Most of our mother’s endured their marriages and thought their daughters to endure hardship in terms of violence. But they most times leave the marriage on the long run. So why not run as early as possible and face the prospect of a new life. Though it might not be easy but we will keep saying it. Life is bigger than suffering in a marriage.

    Reply
  13. Amaka June 22, 2019 at 2:41 pm

    We really need to get serious with conversation, champion awareness around this issue. Women are still dying daily and something needs to be done.

    Reply
  14. Lola Adeola June 22, 2019 at 2:50 pm

    Seriously, it is hard to interfere in the case of some married couples. sometimes, the woman doesn’t know what she wants and any little caress from the man, she changes her attitude entirely and make those fighting for her look like fools.

    Reply
  15. Eric Onuoha June 30, 2019 at 3:54 am

    I strongly agree with your suggestions that women who are in abusive relationships should not be forced to remain in such relationship. When they die, their husbands mourn then for a month and then move on. Also I agree that young people should not be pressured into marriage. This is so sad.

    Reply

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