This article was previously published on The Philosophical Refugee site.
The recent ‘live videos’ made by a few South Sudanese women/mothers in Australia have sparked a serious debate on social media on issues of domestic violence and mental health. It started with a video by one woman—and I’ll not go into her personal details for privacy reasons—which shows how distraught, frustrated and overwhelmed she was with all the responsibilities and the burden she has endured. This left her at the mercy of her negligent partner. Her video has clearly shown how much she had held in before she decided to lash out in such a manner in public. Another video was from a mother who similarly has had her handful with overwhelming issues that she has dealt with for some time until she eventually decided to lash out in public.
Without delving too much into the details of what went wrong and what not, we may have all noticed how much pain was conveyed through their messages. Most of us have made a few comments, expressed our concerns and anger in many forms possible.
Surprisingly, it was more of a noble gesture, or even courageous one, for a few men to have come out and condemned the men that were the aggressors in the situation. In most cases, it’s very rare for men to publicly come out in support and condemn their male counterparts. Such loud outbursts by women are treated as bringing shame to the family name and the ‘Mighty Culture’. Women are suppressed and pressured into keeping quiet just for the sake of the “Culture” and the family name. A good woman must not complain or air out the family’s dirty laundry; it’s considered disrespectful.
Source: Lydia Ortiz via www.teenvogue.com
Growing up within the ‘culture’ and having been married for ten years now, I have heard phrases like ‘Diaar aa gum’, meaning ‘women should endure’ and ‘tik e yen baai chieŋ’, meaning ‘a woman should be the one that ensures her marriage and her home is intact’. Therefore, as a woman, you are obligated to endure any kind of pain, mistreatment, unfairness, be it from the husband, in-laws or extended family members, without any complaint and in the process, one has to ensure the culture and family name is well kept with pride and dignity. Any kind of an outburst as such or a woman expressing her frustrations in public, is considered to be either from an ill-mannered woman or a woman who has lost track of the cultural values.
Besides, there is a general perception that mothers/women are natural nurturers and primary carers, hence the reason the culture projects how they should be the ones that hold the family together. Sadly, some people have misconstrued the idea and use it for their benefit and use culture to scapegoat. In some cases, mothers/women are blamed in the case of family breakdowns or in the case of unruly children. Even in cases that clearly show a man’s misconduct, a woman is blamed for having not put up with it to keep the family together. Men are not condemned and not held accountable for their actions; the society somehow condones it and one will hear phrases like, ‘Eyen ë tan röör; Ee yen ëtë chieŋ ë bɛ̈ɛ̈i' meaning, that’s how men are that’s how marriages are; it’s normal.
Some of the issues mentioned in the videos rotated around were, neglect (lack of support, financially, emotionally and physically), abuse, manipulation and social isolation. The women expressed how much their current and former partners (in this case, fathers of their children and other fathers) should step in taking their responsibilities if all else failed. Such issues have impacts on women’s mental health and that of the children involved. Therefore, there’s a need for everyone concerned and the community at large to rally behind these burdened women and start educating, preventing and exploring possible solutions to interrupt our mental health problems and safeguard our social wellbeing.
Source: Getty Images via shondaland.com
Speaking up against men’s neglect is considered as such: since living ‘pan Kawaja’, women finding their voices and resisting abuse has been mistaken as adapting a new-found freedom, abandoning one’s culture. If I may ask, is culture about abuse? Does one have to suffer to be a good woman/wife? Why is it okay for a woman to please a man, protect his image, that of the family and the culture at the expense of her own emotional wellbeing? Since divorce or separation is not a new thing, is one not still obliged to look after their children?
The voices of these women are acting as eye-openers into issues that are mostly frowned upon. There are grey areas that need to be well explored to ensure everyone’s wellbeing - especially that of the children. Without going deep into the topics of —domestic violence and mental health—I am sure we may agree that these are areas of concern.
Currently, as an advocate for South Sudanese mental health and wellbeing, I am working alongside community members in thoroughly exploring this area. Hopefully soon, we will have programs that will run in educating and supporting the community in such issues. Let’s find ways to address these issues without playing the gender war. Both men and women are affected in various ways though it depends on the scales and numbers.