What you need to know:
- James, a good Christian and an idealist, put down his specs and elaborately lectured the young lady on the importance of things like forgiveness, tolerance and working on fixing problematic marriages, instead of breaking them up.
On Good Friday, a group of us lawyers were enjoying the fresh breeze from Lake Victoria at Country Lake Resort, Garuga, near Entebbe, when this came up. The storyteller was James, a nice, bespectacled young man who, many years ago, was approached by a client that said she badly needed a divorce.
Problem? The mother of three was in an abusive marriage and felt she’d had enough; the man was extremely violent. James, a good Christian and an idealist, put down his specs and elaborately lectured the young lady on the importance of things like forgiveness, tolerance and working on fixing problematic marriages, instead of breaking them up.
The young lady departed, leaving James glad that he had hopefully saved a marriage. A few weeks later, James was in the field when his office called him. There was a female visitor on the premises, they said; and the only person she said she’d talk to was James.
He rushed back to find a black Mercedes parked on the far end of the drive. In it was his client. James ushered her into his office. Her head was bandaged. She undid the bandages a little, to reveal what turned out to be ghastly wounds.
She explained that she had followed his advice, and these were the results. The husband had beat her up so badly, she had even lost one eye. He had battered her up, ever so nicely, proclaiming that he wanted her completely deformed, so that no man would ever want her. It was a sheer miracle she hadn’t died!
James, till this day, has never forgiven himself. Not even a six-year sentence for attempted murder that the culprit served has been able to placate him. Eventually, he successfully worked on the divorce, cursing himself every step of the way. He felt if he had secured a divorce, it would have been the perfect redemption for the poor lady.
Divorce is a religious and social taboo in Uganda; something church and society frown upon and partakers thereof are often ostracised as failures, as unrighteous people who have fallen short of established social standards. The result is that too many people are staying in manifestly abusive marriages, they actors in real-life horror movies, but are hanging in there because of “what-will-people-say?”
The bulk of these are women, most of them economically disempowered on one hand and socially encumbered by the weight of public perception on the other; imprisoned in toxic marriages.
In the beginning of a legal career, many idealist lawyers will condemn divorce as the saddest area of legal practice, because the lawyer is helping break up a family – and by doing so, he is being an accomplice! But after listening to the sad tales that underpin divorce proceedings in court, you get to appreciate that divorce can be one of the biggest breakthroughs a person will have – especially the women.
Breaking up a home or family is always a better option than a woman ending up as a bloody sacrifice that did not have the good sense to walk away when the marriage went south. Many people would rather keep up appearances as living in a happy marriage, as they endure horror, than take the bold and more useful step of admitting that the marriage has irretrievably gone south and they would be much better off walking away.
We need a paradigm shift: society should change perception and prepare to support women – or men – who want to move on from abusive marriages.
Things are not always what they seem from a distance, or at first sight, or first mention; a closer look with an open, analytical mind, often helps.
Easter is about the sacrificial love of God that made Him send His Son to die for our sins. But sacrificial love in marriage must be weighed carefully; many women are paying a high price, by staying in manifestly abusive marriages.
Some of these are marriages that should never have happened in the first place; or marriages that have crossed the point of no return. No point whipping a dead horse into action, much better to dismount. Divorce can be sweet redemption that gives a new lease of life to the victim.
Mr Tegulle is an advocate of the High Court of Uganda