She will Survive

Amaka had been acting strange at work for 3 weeks now.

We didn’t notice at first, it was a subtle change, but by the second week it became apparent.

She started becoming forgetful and filing documents in wrong folders, then she seemed to  neglect her work and make up excuses, later she became withdrawn and very quiet, then came the silent gaze and distant look.

By the third week, the aggression towards colleagues and clients began and that was when we had to intervene.

Our HR officer invited her to our courtyard for what she thought was  a casual discussion. We knew the HR officer had her work cut out for her with solving this mystery because although usually friendly, Amaka was an extremely private person and never discussed her personal life at work.
To our surprise, she gave us an insight of what was going on with her.

 She and her husband had been disagreeing a lot lately. They usually had their squabbles but it had been much more frequent since he lost his job about two months ago. A month back, while she was at work, he had quarreled with the children’s nanny who had gotten frustrated and resigned. There was no one to take care of her 3 children. He refused for her mum to come and help because he didn’t want anyone to know he was now unemployed. He also refused to assist with the children, accusing her of trying to turn him  (an African man) into a
“ housewife”.  

She opened up only on that day to say that she found him to be a difficult man whom she had managed for 8 years but was now at her wits end. She had contemplated leaving the marriage but the fear of stigmatization from the community for being a “divorced “ woman would be too much for her to bear.

Even though he was usually troublesome, she had  tolerated him all this time because he contributed financially to the home but this new position was  becoming unbearable.
He had in the past been verbally and emotionally abusive but things had taken a turn for the worst and he was now physically abusive as well.

 We found ourselves in a bind. Here was Amaka, one of the most productive members of our workforce, stifled by circumstances beyond her control.

We thought long and hard about this situation. How could we help?

This was clearly a proud man who wanted to keep his affairs to himself, all at the expense and detriment of his wife’s wellbeing so we couldn’t go and have a heart to heart with him regarding how this situation affected Amaka’s exceptional work .

Amaka herself preferred to stay in an abusive marriage rather than leave and become tagged a “divorced woman”, which in her mind’s eye was a cultural taboo.
So what were we to do?

We offered to give her a less demanding role (temporarily) for the same salary until things straightened out at home but being an ambitious woman, she saw this as a demotion and was adamant on keeping her present job with the aim of moving forward and not regressing. We had no choice but to handle things on Amaka’s terms.

 We have observed Amaka carry her situation with formidable grace. We’ve offered our help time without number and suggested different scenerios we feel may help her, all to no avail.  We have now been forced to watch her struggle to retain her dignity as she refuses our assistance. She was never one to accommodate pity or ridicule and refuses to be handled with caution.
She also has never talked about her problem again and has now mastered the art of concealing all vulnerability.
Her work has slightly improved but she is a shadow of her former bubbly self.

I worry though. Is her new persona sustainable? Even I know that the only person to answer that question is Amaka. 

I truly think that some parts of Africa has to let go of its traditions – especially regarding women’s role in marriage and in our community.
Marriage is sacred and a beautiful institution meant to enhance the individuals involved, when it does the opposite and puts people in harms way (physically and mentally) then that particular union should be seriously evaluated.
There is some positive change in the way we view difficult marriages in African societies, particularly when women cry for help within a destructive relationship but I fear not progressive enough as majority still regard marriage as the crown to a woman’s glory. 
Women are often bound to one-sided commitments (personal and professional) and are too afraid to stand in their truth because of societal judgment.
Most times the advice to “put up and shut up” comes from mothers, sisters and female friends (fellow women) who usually enable this abusive situation, especially when the abuser (individual or corporate) takes care of all financial aspects of the abused.

I know from experience that there is no amount of money that can replace one’s dignity, peace of mind, self-esteem and most importantly happiness or overall wellbeing.

It’s a pity that we are fixated on the superficiality of status rather than focus on the substance of eudemonia.

I want to be part of an Africa where women (and men) pull together and not against one another to address issues like Amaka’s.
Sit down, listen and empathize. See situations for what they truly are – with no “blaming of the devil” or “witchcraft”, with no offer of excuses for bad behaviour, asking questions like- “what did she do to warrant his abusive behaviour”?.
I want to be part of an Africa that actually acknowledges that we have disturbed individuals amongst us who really need psychological help and not sweep this kind of problem under the carpet.
An Africa that will actually  DO SOMETHING about abuse on both levels of governance -private and public, strengthen social welfare systems, sensitize this topic, establish safe houses and give women the reassurance that their goverment and society have their backs in cases like this . Encourage women
(and men) to speak out and not keep silent in shame.

So I go home from work everyday telling myself that I will see Amaka tomorrow because “ she will survive”……

  **
This story is part fiction, a roman-a-clef  to highlight the impact abusive relationships have on women and their work productivity.

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