BY MPHO KUHLMANN
Malebogo Tiego has been to hell and back. The self employed mother of three endured years of fire and brimstone from her hot tempered husband until she finally walked out of the marriage.
“I was married at a young age but always wanted to be independent. My husband was not happy with that. The day he showed his true colours shook me hard. I was getting ready to drive to my new internship in Gaborone when he suddenly got upset. He seized my car keys, fuming that I was becoming too free. When I asked him to give me back the keys he flew off the handle, dragged me and threatened to stab me with a broken bottle. From then on, the abuse only got more brutal and savage.
At some point I confided in my parents about the abuse but my mother urged me to stay in the abusive marriage and save the face of the family.”
She ultimately walked out of the relationship and pulled her life together. Malebogo’s ordeal through the ringer is metaphor for Botswana’s convoluted social transformation in the face of gender violence: The old against the new, Miss independent versus the ride or die chick.
Dr Sethunya Mosime, senior Sociology lecturer at the University Of Botswana however says a lot has changed from when women thought it fine to stay in abusive relationships. “A lot of young men are also told that a woman who sticks by them no matter what is the one to choose. This is not only told to women. This thinking doesn’t exactly require them to love her back or more importantly to stop hurting her. Being ‘all accepting’ is often seen as one of the qualities of a great wife or girlfriend so this leads a lot of men to choose wives they know they can walk all over with no real consequence. Things have since changed, you can tell by the increase in the number of women who initiate divorce. It means women are no longer willing to put up with a system that expects everything from them while having no regard for their well-being.
Lorato Moalusi, CEO at Botswana Gender Based Violence Prevention & Support in Gaborone says people don’t always stay in abusive relationships coz they are told to do so. “I think we have to remember that often time’s violators aren’t always abusive all the time. Most times they are sweet boyfriends/husbands, so when do beat their victims they simply just apologise and promise never to do it again that then makes a woman stay with the hope that their partner will change. We still fail to understand the fundamental problem with abuse is patriarchy. People are violent towards their partners because they want to have power and control over them. It is important that partners sit and communicate what they want out of their union so as to share power in their relationship.” The Botswana Gender Based Violence Prevention & Support provides counselling services to individuals (both men and women). They also provide emergency and temporary shelter for a maximum of three months to women who are in imminent danger as alerted by social workers or the police. The centre also provides community education and outreach to the community to sensitize them on what violence looks like and what to do to help.”
For most women, the first response is often to keep the abuse secret. And protect their men. There is still a stigma with reporting violence and the cultural perception attached to women who walk out marriages is off-putting. They are derided as unchaste failures.
The notion of having a ride or die is usually spoken with the woman in mind. Conservative societies reinforce patriarchal traditions that play into gender-based violence. And other women, who could be giving support, will also enforce the status quo. Often times, women are the ones that say, ‘Remain there, and submit.’
Pontsho Mbayi who works at Plascon Botswana in Gaborone says women are told to stay and be good submissive women to their partners. “Those of us looking at an abusive relationship from the outside often struggle to make sense of it. This is especially true if we’ve never been involved in an abusive relationship ourselves. Offenders are usually very good at knowing the specific ways to control their victims and additionally, the victims don’t really understand or know what unhealthy relationships look like hence they don’t understand their value.”