Last year during the lockdown, on-air presenter Sandra Ezekwesili kick-started a very important conversation around widows and the need for it to be socially acceptable for them to re-marry. The responses were as shocking as they were sad.
A lot of men who it must be said were Igbo, were strongly against their mothers remarrying. Some said it would “dishonour” their dead father’s memory, while others said it was disrespectful to imagine their mothers being intimate. A small minority insisted that the sons were all the masculine companionship she would need. For most, a recurring theme in addition to all three stated was the need to keep their father’s wealth in their family. The wealth that was inadvertently built also by their mothers.
Although it should not be the case, in most sexist cultures, marriage often indicates an elevation of status for a woman. The appearance of a wedding ring and the ‘Mrs’ title can often be what will save a woman from a possible arrest and subsequent rape by the Nigerian police because at least, she is seen owned by a man. So what happens when that man dies? She automatically loses that status that was held up by his physical presence. In addition to that, she then has to ensure that to get the respect that came from being married once, she does not act in ways considered dishonourable.
It must be said though that women exist first as human beings who are deserving of all human dignity including the right to a relationship and access to wealth. All of which should not be dependent on her relationships either as a wife to a man or a mother to male children. So why is it acceptable that sons can have the ability to strip their mothers of the right to a relationship in the name of culture? Who does this culture serve?
It can’t be any clearer, marital status is a mirage. The common denominator is being a woman and no institution built on the pillars of patriarchy offers any true freedom from being a woman.
The belief that marriage is the pinnacle of a woman’s existence is a dangerous one. It has led women to rush into and endure abusive marriages. It has entitled men to believe that no matter the sexist laws they set up, they remain “the prize” and as such, expect women to continue to play by the rules of the culture that excludes them. Society must make her culture and an inclusive society makes an inclusive culture.