Over the last one month I have met four wonderful young women (not real names) who had one thing in common. They were all in dead end relationships and some had children to boot. I felt this was not a coincidence and so I began to give their stories more thought. Sade got pregnant for her boyfriend about sixteen years ago at age 18. He promised to marry her but has not lived up to his promise. In the midst of all the palaver her father disowned her. She later had another child for the boyfriend and right now things have deteriorated so much between them that she is not even interested in getting married to him any longer. Along the line another woman had another child for him.
Tambara had a native law wedding. Her native law husband promised they would get married at the Ikoyi registry when they returned to Lagos. As soon as they got back to Lagos almost eighteen years ago he told her outright that he had no intentions of doing so and that he had deliberately misled her. She has spent the last eighteen years of her life catering to his every whim. All her earnings are put in to support the family. Recently, he has been threatening to send her packing and doesn’t even bother to hide his various girlfriends from her. Even though our Nigerian laws recognize the traditional wedding these customary laws are largely patriarchal. Now they have five children.
Chiebuka is in her middle forties and her parents have written off the idea that anyone will ever want to get married to her. Her father says all he wants are grandchildren by her. They are happy for her to just come home with her children with or without a husband. She entered into her present abusive relationship with this mindset. A widower with two teenage children moved into her rented flat and she has been financially responsible for their upkeep and that of his children even though they are not living with her.
Ogechi happens to be the woman who braids my hair at home. As slim as a waif, no one will believe she already has four young children. One day she resumes at my house with a fresh wound on her knees. I ask her what happened and she recounts her story. Her partner lives with another lover in another state and comes into town infrequently. He sends her a minute stipend that is not enough to take care of even one of the children. When he came around this weekend, she overheard him on the phone promising to send more money to his lover, while he had refused to give her a little extra money. Then the quarrel ensued. There had been no marriage just an introduction of both extended families.
I began to wonder if there is any way of protecting these women, even though the circumstances they are in do not coincide with my religious beliefs and or convictions. I bounced the idea off a friend of mine and she said if such a law was in place it would only encourage promiscuity. For me, the issue is not really one of promiscuity which I do not condone but the fact that these women are victims of their own ignorance, lack of parental guidance and or adequate mentoring.
If these men walk away from their lives they are left with nothing. You may argue that perhaps they are better off without these men but what about their youth and their livelihood and their very lives they have invested in these one –way relationships. They have made their mistake, but what of the children? Do they have to miss their childhood; going to school on empty stomachs or even no school at all?
In some other countries there are social welfare systems to house, feed and educate such children and women. Even though these systems are abused and some may argue that it only encourages such behavior, I beg to disagree. If this were so, then the lack of social welfare would have acted as a deterrent for the four women I described above. Across the United States these women would have been conferred the status of common law wives and have certain rights of protection under the law. Even in the United Kingdom where there is really no such thing as common law marriages, partners living together over a long period of time are considered for the purpose of social benefit even if no property rights are conferred on them. (Wikipedia – Common Law wives)
The case I am making here is that as women we need to stop minding only our business and take it upon ourselves to guide and mentor such women. There is no social welfare, there is no legislation to help these women but we can be pro active in taking a young woman under our wings and guiding her. We don’t have to put in any special structures, or create any complex platforms. A word here and a word there will make a lot of difference. It means opening our eyes to that woman grinding your pepper or selling you garri. Perhaps her young teenager is in the shop assisting her. Why don’t we deliberately ask questions, and offer counsel if the door opens for that.
The deeds have been done and these women will have to live with the consequences of their choices but what of the younger ones coming behind. We can mentor them, explain to them the possible effects of their choices and give them options for a better life. We can tell them that not all grass is green, men are not meal tickets, you are responsible for making your own choices and choices have consequences. We don’t need a huge budget but we need hearts full of love and a commitment to the larger society and hope for a better Nigeria.
Being altruistic is not a bad thing. I am passionate about everything women, not just their relationships with the opposite sex. I am passionate about women finding their dreams and pursuing them in whatever scope or field. I love the idea of healthy female relationships where we help each discover who we really are and what we have been wired to accomplish. Life should be a learning curve. It should be fulfilling, lived to the hilt. Exploring and maximizing potential as against stagnation and having a victim mentality.
That’s why my friends and I have put together a very practical and collaborative workshop that aims at unpacking and positioning women to maximize their potential. It’s the Second Annual Designer Women Workshop and you’ll find more details on Eventbrite. For this one, we’ll be discussing issues that cause us to go round in circles, stay in a rut and the power of finding a band of women with a passion for personal growth. We’ll also discover the need to be pro –active and more community – minded so that we can help the Sades, the Tambaras, the Chiebukas and the Ogechis of this world. We’ll learn to be strong so we can help other women.
Follow Debola Oni on Twitter @DesignerWomen3, www.facebook.com/thedesignerwomen, on Instagram: The Designer Women Workshop or her blog: designerwomen.wordpressß¯.com.