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Saturday, December 2, 2023

A man ain’t worth it, dear Marie (Part 7)

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In Gambian society, women are often expected to support and uplift their partners. But when these men amass wealth, the jealousy from their families and society can suffocate the women who aided them on their journey.

Dear Marie,

Reflecting on my article, ‘A Time To Wait,’ published approximately seven years ago, recent events have reignited my contemplation on the complexities of troubled love. The highly publicized departure of Miss Ndiaye, Aziz Njie’s first wife, following the marriage between the Senegalese businessman and wrestling promoter to his notably younger TikTok influencer bride, Aisha Rassoul Nying, has rekindled these thoughts. The enduring adage, ‘hell hath no fury like the wrath of a woman scorned,’ resonates within me as I revisit the aftermath of my own experiences and ponder the unsettling position of married women in our society.

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If I were to face a similar situation that inspired the article today, would I write the same piece? No, I wouldn’t. I couldn’t have predicted the outcome or the implications of that particular chapter in my life. Hindsight often serves as the best teacher, doesn’t it?

Do I have any regrets about writing it? Perhaps not. That article was a stepping stone into my personal growth, signifying a transformative journey from girlhood to womanhood. I’ve encountered “girls” in their fifties and sixties who stubbornly resist growth and retain the mindset reminiscent of a twelve-year-old. But that’s a discussion for another day…

The fundamental lesson here is that experiences spur growth and change. Some events need to transpire to awaken us to realities we willingly ignore. So, although my perspective has evolved, the lessons I’ve learned remain invaluable, and it’s these insights that I wish to explore further today.

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The realization has dawned upon me that establishing a secure and stable position within marriage for Gambian women is an arduous, if not nearly insurmountable, challenge. The prevalent expectation upon a young woman’s marriage to a young man is an undying commitment to provide unwavering support to her husband. This societal expectation further amplifies the triple role imposed on women—a multifaceted obligation that becomes a Herculean feat, echoing incessantly within the deepest fabric of our community.

A distinct and considerable transformation is observed upon a man’s attainment of financial stability. As he reaches this coveted status, he ascends to a regal position, virtually becoming an untouchable figure, deemed faultless in the eyes of society. The devoted spouse’s immense investment of resources, tireless energy, and invaluable time in propelling him to this esteemed position gradually lose their significance when society, in turn, bestows him with this honored status.

Driven by this newfound prestige and a sense of self-importance, the man’s aspirations to lead an even grander life, commensurate with his heightened social standing, may motivate him to consider acquiring one or more additional spouses, often termed “trophy wives,” in an attempt to enhance and bolster his public image. The desire for such expansion may arise from the notion that acquiring more partners somehow validates or elevates his perceived status in the community. It’s important to note that people have different predilections, and the actions of a man when he gets rich can be seen as a sign of his depravity. As the Wolof would say, “Allal na lah mak.”

So what then becomes of the woman who invested herself in making him this esteemed figure?

She is often relegated to a secondary position and constantly reminded of the man’s dominance in the household, reinforced by the allowance of up to four wives according to the teachings of the Quran. From my personal perspective, it’s unfathomable that any woman enters a marriage with the intention of supporting her partner, only for him to utilize that support to maintain other women he decides to marry after achieving financial success. It’s an unimaginable notion!

Show me any Gambian woman not supporting her man with school fees, clothes for the family, lunch, or fish money, and I’ll cease lamenting this injustice.

Islamic principles emphasize that a woman’s wealth is solely hers, while a man’s wealth is to be shared with his spouse. How many women are informed about this in Quranic classes? And even when they receive this information, how many women choose to follow this advice instead of the self-perpetuating societal guidance on supporting your man? As an observer of human behavior, I cannot delve into Islamic jurisprudence, but I find it essential to highlight these profound aspects that could significantly alter women’s lives if comprehended and applied by women.

In reality, one doesn’t need advanced education to discern the persistent lack of justice within our societal structure, leaving women in a gaping abyss. Every married woman, regardless of age, lives in constant anxiety about the potential announcement of her husband marrying a new, younger wife, a situation she fears could happen at any time. This pervasive fear and uncertainty constitute the harsh reality for married women in today’s Gambia. It’s a poignant reality where women endure lost potential, wasted resources, and unacknowledged dedication.

The aftermath of writing “A Time to Wait” revealed eye-opening insights due to the societal scrutiny it attracted.

Let’s begin with men; it’s not their place to judge women, yet they often do. Almost every woman who has achieved something in life has been judged by a man, who then transmits that opinion to another woman, creating a means to demean her and make her life difficult.

One of the criticisms I faced from men after writing ‘A Time To Wait’ was a subtly sabotaging comment that felt like a soft slap on the face, “but she has prosecuted all her -in-laws.” Amidst various criticisms regarding the injustice of my situation, the notion that I had criticized/sullied or indicted my in-laws was the least accurate.

Reflecting on that time, I wish I hadn’t been as lenient overall. Nevertheless, that wasn’t my battle. The lesson learned was to educate all girls and young women that those in-laws aren’t family. When marital conflicts arise, they tend to take a side, and it’s not yours.

Married at the tender age of nineteen, I received invaluable advice from my late grandmother, Neneh Fatmata Wandianga, “Treat your in-laws as family; they are your forever family,” she’d say. Embracing this guidance was instinctual for me, as kindness and empathy are integral to our way of life. However, being naive to the harsh realities of our society is a sin. We function as a collective of scavengers, where only our blood ties genuinely matter…

During a recent interaction while working on a new World Bank project, I had the honor of meeting His Excellency, President Adama Barrow, at his residence in Mankamang Kunda. In a candid group discussion, he shared a thought-provoking statement that remains etched in my mind. He suggested that everyone might become an ex-something—ex-Minister, ex-President, ex-husband/wife, and more. Yet, there’s one unchanging aspect: you will never hear about an ex-relative. Family always remains family.

This resonated deeply, striking at the core of a fundamental truth. As I’ve previously articulated in an article, our circumstances of birth, our parents, and our place of origin aren’t within our control. It’s essential to understand that our family relationships are confined to those we’re genuinely related to. Acknowledging this truth can diminish future disappointments and extinguish unwarranted expectations of loyalty, lessons born from my personal trials.

In her thesis, “REVIEW OF CULTURAL PRACTICES AND RELIGIOUS INTERPRETATIONS OF THE QURAN AS FACTORS IMPEDING THE ADVANCEMENT OF WOMEN IN THE GAMBIA,” Mrs. Emily Foon Sarr, one of my mentors and a former colleague at the UN System in The Gambia, exposes how older women contribute to suppressing romantic love within marriages. Their actions emphasize the secondary importance of the conjugal bond and aim to secure the primary allegiance of their sons.

Tragically, this influence extends to sisters-in-law, who are often granted male persona in many of our cultural practices. Wolofs would say, ‘bajen moiye bai.’ This disparity often leads to tumultuous relationships between sisters-in-law and wives, particularly for those who marry at a young age. Encouraged by their brothers, many sisters-in-law play a leading role in catalyzing divorces through their actions or inactions…

To the women who have graciously shared their insights on my work, I want to underscore that when men perceive their authority or position as threatened, they tend to band together and take the lead in our lives.

This collective response is observed even in what’s often termed the civilized Western world. Take the case of Jada Pinkett Smith, who shared her truth in her recent autobiography, “Worthy,” and faced ridicule, insults, and accusations of emasculating her husband from male influencers worldwide.

Similar reactions unfolded locally when Ollie Wadda presented her autobiography, and it is a pattern that will repeat when you, a young woman reading my words today, choose to share your story one day…

Finally, the teachings of the Quran regarding equitable wealth distribution and women’s rights offer invaluable guidance that could empower women and reshape their lives. Unfortunately, the limited dissemination and attention given to these principles continue to foster societal misconceptions, hindering women’s empowerment and their security within marriages.

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