When abuse becomes the order of the day: The untold stories of women suffering in marriages
“It took me thirteen good years to gather courage to walk out of a hell of a marriage, I was initially afraid but I realised I was gradually losing my sanity so I had no choice than to leave.”
The above statement was made by Mercy Dankwa not her real name, as she sadly recounted her journey of marriage with our reporter Joyce Hilda Efia Aboagye.
16 women championing the fight against gender-based violence in East and Southern Africa.
A chocolate complexion, tall, with a blond hair and a radiant soft-looking skin is a perfect description of Mercy Dankwa who is now in her early fifties. In spite of her beautiful looks, she wears a sad face and often appears very quiet, a mood, I got to understand better after hearing how she suffered all manner of abuses from her former husband.
Mercy got married to Dr. Simpson not his real name when she was 33 years old almost immediately after they met. Societal pressures from family members and neighbours on her to get married as she was ‘growing old’ made her settle down quickly without studying the man to know all the red flags around him.
Just before they got married, a supposed mistress Naana, not her real name of the husband-to-be confronted Mercy and said she was pregnant for the Dr. but he denied and convinced Mercy to stay by her decision to marry him.
Nine months after the two got married, news broke that Naana had given birth to a baby girl who was the exact photocopy of Dr. Simpson and Mercy needed no DNA test to prove that the child was her husband’s. This, was the beginning of her woes in her 13-year marriage.
Dr. Simpson who initially sown by all powers that be that he was not responsible for Naana’s pregnancy now took full responsibility. He secretly went with his family members to outdoor the baby without his wife’s knowledge but Mercy was reliably informed by a good friend of her husband’s family and went to the house of Naana where the outdooring was taking place. Upon seeing her, Dr. Simpson got furious, rained insults on her and asked her to go home.
Mercy returned home in tears, feeling so humiliated, at this point, she felt like taking her life but her strong Christian faith wouldn’t permit her, so she decided to swallow the bitter-bile, accept the child and stay in her marriage but little did she know that the worst was yet to come.
Almost every day, Mercy had to stay up late waiting for her husband to return home and serve him his dinner, sometimes turned breakfast because he sometime would show up after 12am even though he closes from work at 4pm.
Anytime Mercy complained about his coming home late, this turned into serious fights between them and as usual, Mercy would not go to bed without her fair share of insults. They would sleep on the same bed for over six months and Dr. Simpson would not make love to her and even when he did, it was in a rush and Mercy says she did not enjoy those moments.
Mercy had three miscarriages with the last one which was twins occurring during her third trimester and Dr. Simpson, a medical Doctor for that matter could not help her find a lasting solution to this problem. Mercy felt sick, rejected and she was even ridiculed as a barren woman, she spent so much money and time seeking proper medical care and trying all manner of solutions recommended to her by family and friends but all proved futile.
Even though, Mercy worked in the same private hospital she had supported the husband to establish, she was not made a signatory to the hospital’s account and was paid very little compared to what a manager and a co-owner of a company is supposed to receive as salary. Whenever she asked for money for personal use her husband refused to give it to her.
Dr. Simpson used his child as a care-off to be visiting his mistress and rumours had it that the two had rekindled their amorous relationship and were expecting a second child. So, Mercy asked that the child should come and leave with them but her husband refused.
Civil society organisations in South Africa formed the National Strategic Plan on Gender-Based Violence campaign, demanding a fully-costed, evidence-based, multi-sectoral, inclusive and comprehensive NSP to end GBV.
Soon, Mercy found out that the husband had impregnated Naana again and had flown her broad to go and have their second child. When she confronted the husband, he slapped her and called her a barren woman.
It was at this point that Mercy started considering an escape plan because she could no longer endure the trauma. She started saving the little she earned from their hospital and secretly rented an apartment in a nearby estate.
She started packing her things into the apartment but the husband who hardly stayed at home and cared very little about changes in the house never noticed she was making a move till one evening when he closed and did not find his wife at home.
Dr Simpson then noticed his wife had left for good and one would have thought that he would have looked for the wife to plead with her to return home but instead, he lodged a complaint with the police that his car had been stolen. This car in question was Mercy’s car they had both worked hard to buy but unluckily for Mercy was registered in his name.
Mercy got arrested by the police and the car was intercepted just the following day. She was shocked that the man she had helped become rich and lived with for 13 good years; cooking for him and also managing his business could call her a thief and get her arrested.
Upon finding where Mercy now lived, Dr. Simpson felt she could not afford the place considering the salary he paid her while she was working at the hospital so he went to the police and reported Mercy of embezzling funds from their hospital to buy a house.
Little did he know that Mercy had actually rented the apartment and not bought it as he claimed.
The case was taking to court and as I write, Mercy is still facing charges of embezzling funds in addition to her divorce processes. Dr. Simpson had sworn that he would get Mercy behind bars no matter what happens. According to Mercy, her husband is very influential so he bribed his way out and got false witnesses to testify against her.
What is even more shocking to her is that during the divorce processes her lawyers found that their marriage certificate was faked by her husband who confidently claimed in court that they never got married and so Mercy was not titled to any of his asserts they both worked for.
Unfortunately for Dr. Simpson, death laid its icy hands on him shortly after he contracted COVID-19 in 2020, leaving their court cases hanging.
“I been through hell, wasted by youthful age all in the name of marriage. Hmmmmmm, how I wish my former husband had lived a bit longer for me to prove my innocence in court, she lamented as tears rolled down her already sad eyes”.
Mercy is just one of the over a quarter of women aged15-49 years who have been subjected to physical and/or sexual violence by their intimate partner at least once in their lifetime according to the World Health Organization (WHO). There are several of such women out there who were not as lucky as Mercy to have walked out but lost their lives in the process.
38-year-old Adelaide Cobbah not her real name is another victim married to a highly educated and renowned man had sustained several bruises and scars on face and body at the time of sharing her story with me. Besides, the severe physical assaults she has had to receive from her husband, she has been made to stop working and depends solely on the man. As if that was not enough, the husband forced her to swear an oath never to divorce him and has put a tracker on her car monitoring her every movement. The sad part of Adelaide’s situation is that her family is not in support of her plans to divorce her husband because he supports them financially. Although she has made some attempts to seek help, she is being very discreet about it else “my woes will worsen if he finds out,” she lamented.
Asantewaa Mensah not her real name is also a victim of spousal abuse. This I witnessed personally as we lived together in the same house. Her husband would lock her up in their room and beat her thighs with empty beer bottles as she cried for help.
According to Asantewaa, the man says instead of slapping her for others to see that she has been physically abused, he prefers the former which is not obvious because she always has her thighs covered. But the irony of this is, the pains she feels is so excruciating that she is not able to walk properly on her feet until after days of treating the wounds with pian killers and warm water massages making others suspect she has actually been assaulted.
After enduring the physical abuse, her husband would go out, smoke and return home to forcefully have sex with her. They now a have a daughter but he refuses to take care of the child and has packed out of the house. Asantewaa who could not pay for the house rent as she was not working got ejected from the house and currently lives with a friend in a small wooden structure usually known as a kiosk in a slum at Accra.
Asantewaa has made the child stop school and it is near impossible for her to feed herself and her daughter resulting in the child’s retarded growth.
Anytime Asantewaa was advised to report the abuse to the police, she refused with the excuse that “my husband has threatened to kill me if I attempt it and has forced me to undergo a blood covenant never to divorce him”.
Laws on Violence Against Women
Globally, violence against women is considered a legitimate human right and public health issue which threatens the health and wellbeing of women like Mercy, Adelaide and Asantewaa and many others who are afraid to share their stories.
The United Nations defines violence against women as “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual, or mental harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.”
Article 3 of the UN Declaration on the Elimination of violence against women stipulates that woman are entitled to the equal enjoyment and protection of all human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field and this includes the right not to be subjected to torture, or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. This is solidly affirmed by Article 3 of the Ghana’s Domestic Violence Act, 2007 which states that a person in a domestic relationship who engages in domestic violence commits an offense and is liable on summary conviction to a fine of not more than five hundred penalty units or to a term of imprisonment of not more than two years or to both.
In spite of these laws, the plight of women in marriage continues to be exacerbated with COVID-19 and its harsh consequences worsening the situation.
Dr. Mrs Sandra Thompson-Assan, Wellbeing Counsellor/Psychology Tutor, Tema International School.
Dr. Mrs Sandra Thompson-Assan is a wellbeing counsellor and international bacalory psychology tutor at the Tema International School and a member of the Ghana Psychological Association explaining the psychological implications of abuses suffered by women in marriages indicated that more than half of the women who visit mental health facilities have suffered some form of abuse and it affects how they think, resulting in depression, low self-esteem, isolation from society, suicidal ideations, and poor health conditions.
She attributed this to what she calls a ‘culture of silence’ where most victims fear to speak up. “Although there are few women who gather the courage to fight for their rights when they can no longer endure the trauma, our culture as African women has shaped us to be very mute and in instances where you go home after suffering abuses, some mothers will go like ‘go back to your husband’s house, do you know what your father subjected me to?’ instead of giving you the needed support,” She added.
Dr. Agyepomaa Gyeke-Darko, Senior Lecturer-Economics, Department of Finance, University of Ghana Business School (UGBS)
Besides these psychological effects, violence against women also has serious economic implications for the victims, their families and the country. In an interview with Dr. Agyepomaa Gyeke-Darko who is a Senior Lecturer in Economics with the Department of Finance at the University of Ghana Business School (UGBS) women who suffer abuses in marriage tend to lose their jobs due to constant absenteeism and low productivity making them financially incapable of taking care of herself, their children, and their share of expenses at home.
According to the Economist, countries lose about 1 to 2 percent of their Gross Domestic Product (GDP) due to challenges associated with violence against women. “Low investments in other sectors of the economy as resources meant for their development are channelled into the health sector as many women continue to suffer abuses and visit the hospitals for medical care,” she added.
Dr. Gyeke-Darko further cited low human capital development as an economic challenge of violence against women as victims are not able to perform well in their education which further affects the country’s development. She explained that it could also negatively affect bilateral relationships with other countries which could lead to better economic prospects for the country.
According to Dr. Mrs Thompson-Assan, early cry for help is very essential and where a woman has sustained injuries, she should seek immediate medical attention. “Spousal abuse is a serious human right violation, that is what I want women to know, inform a trusted family member, make sure you discuss your concerns with your doctor for medical checks and consult a counselling psychologist to understand your concerns and make suggestions for the way forward and most importantly, report the abuser to the women and juvenal court known in Ghana as Domestic Violence and Victims Support Unit (DOVVSU),” she noted.
She also recommended an emergency and effective telephone numbers provided for people to report abuse and constant education in the media about escape plans for victims and in schools for children to also pick up the signs and report incidence of abuses at home.
Leveraging technology and building online mental health platforms where victims are able to anonymously communicate their plight and further lead to the arrest of perpetrators, Dr. Mrs Sandra Thompson-Assan believes will help empower more women to speak up.
The Wellbeing Counsellor also believes that existing laws should be enforced and perpetrators, irrespective of their positions in the society or country should not go unpunished.
Outlining solutions to violence against women, Dr. Agyepomaa Gyeke-Darko said that women should be economically empowered to reduce their over-dependence on their husbands which mostly accounts for the abuses they suffer in marriages. She also believes men should be educated to understand the need for women to be economically empowered to reduce their tendency of stopping their wives from working.
Dr. Agyepomaa Gyeke-Darko also called for the efficient resourcing of social welfare institutions in the country to be able to support women who suffer spousal abuses.
As institutions such as DOVVSU of the Ghana Police Service, Domestic Violence Secretariat of the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection (MoGCSP), and the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ) all work towards achieving SDG 5 (Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls) there is an urgent need for more collaborative efforts towards empowering women suffering abuses to tell their stories and to eradicate this menace. This article was produced with the support of the Africa Women’s Journalism Project (AWJP) in partnership with the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) and through the support of the Ford Foundation.
Source: africaneditors.com/ Joyce Hilda Efia Aboagye