AS Zambians were getting into the mood for the Heroes and Unity holiday, four women lost their lives last week at the instigation of their dear husbands and brother.
It was a bitter holiday period for the four bereaved families that lost their daughters due to the growing scourge of gender-based violence.
Apparently, women are the most affected victims of domestic violence engineered by intimate partners, mostly husbands.
In the recent past, we have seen wives being murdered on trivial issues such as serving a husband nshima with vegetables instead of meat, yet he did not provide money for meat.
And just last week, a 25-year-old man of Nangoma in Chief Shakumbila’s area, Southern Province, killed his wife aged 22, and sister, aged 33, because the former did not serve him nshima on time when he returned home in the night.
The two women, who were admitted to the University Teaching Hospital (UTH) with severe burns, met their fate when the drunken husband and brother set their hut alight at about 23:00 hours.
The two, who died an hour apart last week, had been chatting when the suspected murderer returned home in a drunken state.
He wanted to be served nshima without delay, but his wife reportedly took sometime chit-chatting with his sister.
This infuriated their killer, who locked them up in a hut and set it on fire. According to eyewitnesses, the man was standing somewhere, without remorse, as his wife and sister burnt and wailed for their dear lives under the locked hut.
It took concerned villagers to break the door and rescue the duo, albeit too late. They came out with over 55 percent burns to which they succumbed last week.
This case just goes to show how some men in Zambia objectify their wives instead of treating them as partners with due respect and honour.
Sometimes I am made to think that some men marry not for love and companionship, but rather to seek certain services from women like laundry, catering and childbearing.
This is the reason why we see wives being battered or killed for alleged failure to do domestic work to the satisfaction of their husbands.
In some homes, actually, a wife is a fully fledged servant who does not get tired no matter the load of domestic work she has to put up with. A certain woman was narrating to me recently that she cannot sleep before midnight because she has to serve her husband some hot nshima when he returns home in the wee hours.
Her husband, who often loves going out in the night, wants to eat some fresh nshima before retiring to bed.
This means the woman cannot enjoy some sound sleep until in the early hours of the day after cooking nshima for her husband when he returns home.
It’s the man’s rule that his food should only be cooked when he returns home, usually between midnight and 02:00 hours in the morning.
And by 05:30 hours in the morning, the woman is up preparing the children for school while the husband is catching up on his lost sleep.
Such is an example of the kind of abuse that some women have to put up with, and when they fail to satisfy the demands of their spouses, they are battered or killed.
Of the four murders of women recorded in the country in a space of one week, the first victim was a Lusaka woman, Balinase Nyirenda, 43, who was scalded with hot water by her husband during a domestic brawl.
Before she lost her life, Balinase, who was working for the Lusaka City Council, had forgiven her beloved husband of 20 years for burning her. According to her, he was not a violent man until the day he poured boiling water on her.
“I want my husband to be released from police custody. He is a good man. We have been married for 20 years and he has never beaten or slapped me. I don’t know what came over him to pour hot water on me. I think it was not his intention,” Balinase spoke from her hospital bed.
The matter was, therefore, withdrawn from police and Balinase’s husband, Jeremiah Nyirenda, was freed, only to be re-arrested after she died shortly after being discharged from hospital.
Typical of the behaviour of many victims of GBV, Balinase, who sustained burns on her stomach and left shoulder, did not want her husband to face the law.
This has been a frustrating trend for law enforcers who, in their quest to prosecute cases of domestic violence, often have to see suspected offenders go scot-free because victims opt for out-of-court settlements.
Many victims of domestic violence actually suffer in silence for fear of losing their marriages because of the social stigma attached to divorce. Some people would rather endure physical and emotional abuse than separate from an abusive spouse because they do not want to become a laughing stock among friends and family for ‘failing to make a marriage work’.
For other women, it is economic insecurity that makes them endure an abusive marriage and, in a way, opt for the quick road to the grave.
By pointing out these harsh realities, I don’t mean to pour scorn on victims of domestic violence. I am rather lamenting their predicament which has culminated into the loss of many lives.
These are some deaths that could have been avoided had the victims of GBV taken the brave decision of freeing themselves from the abuse by seeking justice in the courts of law.
Many women are dying at the hands of intimate partners because they opt to suffer in silence when they can actually seek help from their marriage counsellors, trusted friends or parents.
Perhaps that’s what our culture dictates that marital problems should be kept as closely guarded secrets.
Or, maybe, they do not want to become subjects of gossip in their communities or churches because those among us whom young couples confide in have betrayed their trust by washing their dirty linen in public.
So now, other beleaguered couples are shy of sharing their problems with people who could help them for fear of making their private lives an open book.
In the end, people choose to suffer in silence and the only time that we get to know about their problems is when something bad happens to them.
As a matter of fact, evidence suggests that most people who are killed by their spouses are those who endure violence for a long time before they meet their fate.
This is actually what neighbours said about a 22-year-old housewife who was allegedly stabbed to death by her husband in Nabvutika Township in Chipata last week.
This woman, Hshila Phiri, died the same week as the other three women that I have made reference to in this article.
Phiri met her fate because her husband, aged 23, was suspecting her of cheating on him.
A neighbour told our Sunday Mail that Phiri was allegedly being battered by her husband for a long time.
In a nutshell, from what I see, women are vulnerable to abuse by their spouses because of the tendency by our men to objectify women.
The moment our men will change their perception of women and begin to see them as equal partners, not servants, we will not have cases of women losing their lives over trivial issues.
But it is the women that need to assert their self-worth and refuse to sweep cases of domestic violence under the carpet.