The face behind the statistics

I wrote about maltreatment, abuse and subordination of women before. An inevitable theme working in a women’s organisation in South Sudan. Based on a multitude of statistics it’s easy to figure out  there are a lot of problems relating to a lack of women’s rights. But that’s statistics; numbers, equations, probabilities. Impersonal until the moment there’s a face behind those statistics. The face of Joyce.

Joyce is, or better was, the youngest sister of the director of the women’s organisation I work with. Joyce is dead. Maltreated, raped, murdered and dismembered by her own husband. Their marriage was full of domestic violence, he had threatened to kill her before. Joyce wanted to divorce him, but she was not able and not allowed to do so. She was not able to divorce him because of culture and social pressure. She was not allowed to by the church. The traditions reinforced each other and Joyce was brought back to her husband. They had been separated for more than six months as a cooling off period, but her husband had decided he wanted his wife back. He wants her back now again, is asking why she isn’t bringing him clean shirts in prison. The day he murdered her they had been together again for just over two weeks.

Waterdruppels op plant kleinQuite often people link domestic violence to deprivation, consider it to be caused by ignorance. In this case both partners came from relatively well-off families and were educated. The husband was a doctor, brother of a minister and had a good job. Abuse of alcohol played a role, the man was addicted to it. When the family of Joyce found her he was drinking and smoking in the yard of their house. A mental disorder is very probable, maybe caused by war trauma like many others here. The family members who wanted to show him the decomposing body of his deceased wife “to make him mad” don’t need to make that effort. The police wouldn’t allow it anyway for fear of revenge.

The funeral was the day after they found her body, like it usually is. The whole morning people were digging her grave in the hard soil of the funeral place. Hundreds of people attended the mass that was held on the spot of the funeral, not in church. At the end of the mass the grave was covered with earth once more. What else is there to do after that than to hold each other tightly?

The perpetrator has been arrested but whether he will ever be properly judged remains an open question. Again some statistics. The majority of the cases of domestic violence are dealt with by traditional courts under customary law. Under customary law women have almost no rights. This case could be settled under customary law as well. With a bit of luck the (family of the) husband will have to pay compensation to the family of the wife, and then he will be a free man again. It’s not allowed, murdering your wife is a crime in South Sudan and the case should be dealt with in a Criminal Court. But “it’s not allowed” doesn’t mean that it doesn’t happen. In many cases it happens with the full consent of both families. Especially when a girl has been raped, the family will say “what use is it to us if he is serving time in prison, let him pay, then at least we have some compensation for the lost dowry”. Or the girl will be forced to marry the man who raped her after he has paid the full dowry. Hopefully the statistics will not get a face in this case and this man will be put in prison for a long time to prevent further victims.

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