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BY MPHO KUHLMANN
Botswana has been posting hair raising divorce statistics. More Batswana couples are untying the knot like never before. The divorce rate stood at 56% in 2008 rose to 60% in 2009, 70% in 2010 and is still rising. Behind the sobering statistics are harrowing human stories, and women are having the worst of it.
The Botswana society frowns down upon divorced women. They attract a lot of unprintable labels and the only way out of this bid is via remarriage. Women, who have not been able to exorcise the divorce voodoo by walking down the aisle a second time, are regarded with suspicion, pity, or at the very least -- bewilderment.
Albert Gaopelo, senior relationship and marriage counsellor at Olorato Marriage Counselling in Gaborone says culture plays a huge role in how divorced women are perceived. “Unfortunately, society doesn’t believe that there might be other issues that can contribute to divorces besides infidelity in marriages. Therefore, society is quick to accommodate a man’s infidelity more than it does the woman. Back then there might have been women who wanted out of their marriages but couldn’t leave because they were too dependent on their husbands but things are now different with the modern woman, she blatantly makes it known that she will not stand for certain things in the marriage that don’t make her happy and if she is not happy then the only solution is a divorce. Society will always treat divorced women harshly and called them derogatory names like damaged goods because that is how it is programmed.”
Society has always looked at divorced and separated women as outcasts and treats them harshly. They look at divorced women as a disgrace and harassment (mental) is targeted at them. Their chance of future romantic relationships is pretty low. Biased attitude towards a divorced woman remains the same from her parents’ side. She’s always seen as a burden to live with after her broken marriage. There is also a notion among other people that a divorced person, especially a woman who is divorced, is damaged goods. When you, as a divorced person embark on dating again you are said to be tainted. Society shuns divorced women; they are labelled as unwanted, are pitied and are usually blamed for having failed to keep their former husbands happy. One woman, whose husband had an affair and ran off with another woman, blamed herself for her husband’s waywardness, feeling that if she had been the perfect wife and homemaker her husband would not have looked elsewhere. This is what society does to many divorced women. Divorce may be common, but it still carries a stigma.
Kgomotso Jongman of Jongman Psycho clinic in Gaborone says “It goes back to socialization. A girl child is groomed by her parents growing up to be a mother and a wife which is why if she doesn’t do her chores right she is often taunted with words like “who will marry you?!” That on its own creates an expectation on the individual who then starts feeling inadequate is they aren’t married at a certain age. Once a person feels empowered not to conform to society’s standard it is then that society applies pressure on him to do what they want. The boy child is socialized to become the provider so growing up he is told that he must marry, this leads to him thinking of marrying the next woman he beds. That decision as time goes proves to be a wrong one because he has allowed himself to succumb to the pressure society put on him. I think a lot of people need to understand that emotional intelligence is very important. You have to know what you want and what you don’t want because at the end of the day that same society that pressured you to marry will be the same society that deems you a failure when your marriage falls apart.”
Ikanyeng Kenosi, who works at Kwena Rocla in Gaborone says, “In a patriarchal society like ours, women are expected to keep the whole family together. A married woman’s success doesn’t rely on her other achievements rather it depends on how skilfully she manages her married life. Moreover remarriage of divorced women is more difficult than men as many people usually question the character of such women. Sometimes they think that the divorced women do not have the womanly virtues. Even in educated families of urban areas new relationship of a woman following her divorce is not viewed normally. The situation is even worse for those divorcees who are single mothers. Sometimes these women need to choose between a new relationship and the life of a single mother. And in such situations they decide to stay beside their child with a view to protecting them from future vulnerabilities and raising them with proper care leaving behind the dream of trying a second chance in life.”