The problem with “just leave”

Figure holding Broken Heart

Recently “Nigerian Facebook” (that is Facebook as used by people of Nigerian descent or association) has been alight with the story of a  Nigerian woman who was killed by her husband in a domestic dispute.  Apparently this man had been maltreating her for some time and her friends and family had advised her to leave. But she refused – until the violence reached such a stage that she actually lost her life. His actions following that proved his brutality – I don’t want to go into the details. However this event and others, really made me sit up and reconsider my outlook on domestic violence.

Up to now, I’ve always been really puzzled as to why women would sit there and take it. “Just leave!”, I’ve always thought to myself.  Seriously, just take yourself, and the kids, and run out of that situation as far and as fast as you can! Christian or no Christian – that is, take yourself out of there even if your husband claims to be a Christian.  If you are a Christian, and you don’t want to break the marriage, pray for him from afar, from a safe place where his violence can’t touch you. 

This is still what I would recommend to anyone!  But reading this story about this lady, and the various comments and articles that this story inspired, made me realise a few practical reasons why it might not be that easy.
Firstly, I hope it is fair to say that I would leave.  I hope it is fair to say that I would not even let it get to a matter of violence before I was out of there. Actually, I hope it is fair to say that I would walk away from such a person before we got anywhere close to marriage. As soon as someone starts abusing me or trying to belittle me  – I’m out of there, before he has come to the stage of raising his hand to me. But that is an aside. That may be why it is so incomprehensible to me that someone would stay there while things just grow progressively worse.
So I walk away from people – and I don’t go back.  I’ve got such a strong self-preservation instinct. It naturally trumps any inclination to “forgiveness” within me – which is why I really need to battle as a person to offer people forgiveness. To try to release my anger is one thing. However to knowingly put myself back into that place of danger?!  Never!!! These are some of the reasons why I find it hard to understand these issues.

Anyway though I was thinking through some of these issues. And I realised that there are some aspects of my life and upbringing which I casually take for granted which would not be true for many women. For many women, walking away from a life of domestic violence would truly be an expression of immense courage. 

  1. Family attitudes. 
    In my family, I hope it is fair to say that we believe in preserving one another. I hope it is fair to say that if domestic violence were to be discovered, everyone would a) seriously chastise the man in question and b) advise the woman to get out of there. My dear Dad once said that if he discovered that one of his sons-in-law was abusing myself or one of my siblings, he himself would come to rescue us and remove us from that violent situation. This is the kind of mentality I’ve grown up with.  This is why I’ve always taken it as common-sense that this is what sensible families would do. And yet in many families in many cultures (including some Nigerian “Christians”, I’m sure) to protect the reputation of the family apparently they encourage a mistreated wife to stay put, to “pray”.  Oh my goodness!  Oh my unspeakable goodness!  My father is one of the most prayerful people I’ve ever met, and even with his prayerfulness he would never say “pray”.  He would say “Get out of there as fast as you can!”  This is prayerfulness, combined with sheer down-to-earth common-sense. Get out of there, girl!!!
  2. Expectations of independence.
    This is what actually struck me and made me see how trapped some women’s lives may be. It is like this:  as a woman, I’ve been brought up (by this same father!) to aspire after big things in life in my own right, to have my own career, to excel.  Actually, this is very very Nigerian.  Alongside that, it goes without saying, it is to be utterly taken for granted that I would be making my own money. Regardless of whatever might or might not happen with a husband, I could easily expect to be able to financially take care of myself, and also of a family if I had one. I think that this reason I’m about to share is why this might be true for Africans generally, and for Nigerians specifically:  because life is a lot less certain in Nigeria than it might be in more developed countries. So something might quite easily happen to a husband which might incapacitate him or remove him from the family picture altogether. So for that reason African women are not necessarily brought up to depend on husbands, but to aspire to be capable for themselves.  It is like how in the Second World war, with most of the men off to the war, women in the  West were trained to do jobs which had traditionally been seen as “male” jobs.  Well that is almost how it is all the time in Africa (although we have plenty of men) so a pragmatic common-sense solution is to bring up girls to do the same things that boys do. 

Anyway the point with this is that  I’ve unconsciously always expected to be sufficiently successful to be able to comfortably provide for my whole family. So if some tragedy happened and I faced domestic abuse then I would automatically take it for granted that I could run away from an abusive husband, and be able to set up home with any children we might have – and still be able to provide us all with a very comfortable standard of living, all by myself (through God). I felt like someone had struck me over the head when it finally dawned on me that this was not the same for most women – not by a long shot!
So many women have been brought up primarily as wives – to not focus on their own careers, but to rather look to their husbands to provide for them – that if they were to run away, they would actually not have the financial means to support themselves or their children. They have not developed the necessary skills to get high-paid jobs. So women stay trapped in abusive marriages because of money – seriously. Some of these women do not even speak the language of the country in which they live which renders them additionally helpless if they were to try to make it on their own.  

If only for this one reason, this is why people should educate their daughters, and equip them both with the skills and confidence to have high-attaining careers, so that no joker in the future would be able to mess them around  or hold them to ransom because of money. 

3. Pride
Finally, the last thing I’m going to examine here is the issue of “pride”.  I’ve looked a little at the possibility of family pride – well here I’m talking about personal pride. 
So you’ve had a big elaborate wedding, you’ve bragged to all your friends about how amazing he is, you’ve dazzled everyone with the beauty of the ring – and then to admit that actually, you were wrong. You made a big mistake. For some women, apparently this pride is enough to keep them in abusive marriages, to continue keeping up appearances. If there was one thing that I could be susceptible to, it would probably be this. I can’t imagine how embarrassing it would be – after writing this Huggie-Wuggie blog for so many years – to finally embark on a marriage, only to then be forced to admit that it was a mistake.
And yet if that is what it has to be, then so be it! If I have to eat that pride, then so be it! I would fling that pride away from me for the sake of being able to preserve my life.  I’d rather unpublish this blog than unpublish my life. However, I doubt that I would actually unpublish anything – I would simply post on the blog that the marriage had been a mistake. 

Ladies, don’t let your pride rob you of your life. Whatever it takes, get out of there. Run as fast as you can.  Pray for him from a distance. Preserve your life and preserve your sanity and move on with your kids. 

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