Jackline Mwende is a victim of society, not just of her husband

The first seven pages of yesterday’s Daily Nation made for some pretty bleak reading. The headline story was that of poor Jackline Mwende, who had her hands chopped off by her husband after a domestic quarrel, in which she also suffered machete cuts to her head.

Then the pages wound their way through tale after tale of troubled and failed marriages across the country and an account of the causes, primarily infertility. Predictably, like in all emotionally charged topics, there was a clear disdain by the writer for the advice Mwende had earlier received from her pastor after her six-year marriage became abusive.

She had been advised to stay on and pray for her marriage. Her decision to abide by this counsel was tied by the writer with her eventual misfortune. After all, if she had not stayed, she would still have her hands.

It is easy to make such simple connections, and the temptation to do so is sometimes overwhelming. But, before berating the advice Mwende was given by her pastor, would it not be more appropriate to celebrate her strength? She knew her marriage was on the rocks. But instead of running out like a rat from a sinking ship, she hang on knowing she was a co-captain of that ship.

In doing so, she not only put herself in harm’s way, but also displayed that feminine grit which everyone admires but few truly understand. That she ended up on the verge of death for it is not evidence of her folly, but rather an illustration of her heroism.

Of course, this shouldn’t be taken as a justification for what her husband did to her. Nothing can ever justify that. But the truth is that Mwende was, in the end, the victor with regard to her marriage. Not because of the money people will send her, but because she tried everything she could, and almost lost her life, to keep her marriage afloat.

The real tragedy here lies instead in the fact that she had to try so much to keep her marriage afloat in the first place. That she ended up maimed because her marriage could not produce children is her real misfortune. The flaw is in the way our society views children, which is replete with countless errors.

Each marriage, by its very nature, should be open to children, who are the fruit of the love of the spouses. But where, for reasons beyond the control of either, they are unable to conceive, the marriage is not any less valid. The problem is that our society, to a large extent, thinks otherwise. Then, true to our patriarchal nature, we always place the blame on the woman. But, even were roles reversed and we assigned the blame to men, the situation would not be any better for it.

I am not underestimating the pain of infertility. It is a debilitating condition that has wrecked marriages for centuries. And its impacts often go farther. In the 16th century, for instance, a whole country was ripped out of the Catholic Church by a king who wanted to marry another wife because his queen couldn’t give him an heir.

But to let the lack of children, after all necessary and sensible effort to get them has failed, to bring a marriage to its knees, accompanied sometimes by cases of sheer madness like that of Mwende’s husband, is to admit to the idea that married couples have a right to children. Which they do not. They have a right to have children, not a right to the children themselves.

Offering solutions to infertility, as the Daily Nation was quick to do, will not stop the madness. The solutions will not work in all cases. And beside the fact that many couples cannot even afford these services anyway, many of proposed solutions are riddled with multiple and intractable moral and ethical questions.

Finally, advertising infertility clinics plays right into the same narrative that couples have a right to children, even where their bodies are biologically unable produce them. It preys on the vulnerabilities of couples whose sense of self-worth has gone south due to a lack of children.

And it smacks of sheer hypocrisy that these same providers, and the journalists who hail them, are also strongly behind contraceptive family planning. They don’t realise it is paradoxical that, while some couples pay to have children, others should be paying not to. And it totally escapes them that, since money is involved in both cases, the only beneficiary is the service provider.

If Mwende was a victim, she was a victim of a society that fails to abide by reason in the way it views its fundamental cell, the family. It is a society that looks at children as property, the right of every Tom, Wambua and Wanjiru, and not as the gift they truly are. And that makes even Mwende’s husband, evil as he may now seem to our clouded eyes, the other victim in this story.

Unless this changes, unless we come to an appreciation of the intrinsically immense value of children which places them above the earthbound view we harbour, Mwende’s story will not be the last. And the hypocrisy of our journalists will continue polluting the free press with ideologically motivated quick fixes.

Feature image: Daily Nation.

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