Do husbands have the right to discipline their wives and does a man have authority over a woman’s body? Khanyi Gumpo revisits a traumatic childhood event.
Somewhere in the east of Zimbabwe, a man hacked his wife to death with a machete for shaving off her pubic hair without his “consent”. Hhe told the court that since the hairs belonged to “both of us,” he didn’t mean to kill her but just meant to “discipline her” for doing it without his permission. I’m not too sure if anybody needs permission to groom their crotch, considering the various exclusively female discomforts that come with keeping a considerable bush in the said regions, that only someone with an internal body organ that tips its contents every 28 days or so would know and therefore qualified to decide on. Because, for obvious reasons, one would want minimal obstruction as much as possible not to mention other such seemingly small but unpleasant things like heat discomfort. Or for whatever the hell feels refreshing for her woman parts. Surely even the most “obedient wife,” at some point, may feel the need to hire the services of a razor, laser, wax or cream and do away with her thicket. Given all these facts, should it to not be left up to an individual to decide whether to keep her pubic hair or to shave?
My childhood trauma
When I was about four, I witnessed something hauntingly gruesome that I can never erase from my memory even if I tried. My friends and I were playing by the small dust road overlooking our neighbours’ house. Right there, with my four year old eyes, I witnessed a man butcher his wife with an axe. My friends and I watched in horror as she screamed and cried in what I can only imagine was the worst kind of physical pain she must have felt in her life. “Ga ga ga!” went the axe in full motion as it repeatedly struck her bare breasted body, wielded with the powerful kinetics of a grown man, until her screams were no longer audible.
I remember everything clearly, as if it happened only last week. I remember her trying to defend herself from the blows before she eventually yielding to the floor. I remember the light coloured petticoat she was wore in her final moments. I remember that the room which was their sitting room was divided with a curtain of some sort. I remember her lying motionless in a pool of blood, him towering over her, his axe still in hand, her once pale petticoat barely recognisable coloured in crimson liquid. There were no adults in the vicinity, it was just us stunned and terrified but curious children. We had stopped playing to watch everything as it unfolded the minute we were aware of the commotion going on inside. Gadu! Gadu! Gadu! the axe landed all over her body, repeatedly, furiously! Maybe it may have been a passerby that sounded the horn because adults started coming through, albeit a little too late, because the horror picture reel had ended. As more people trickled in screams, now and again, someone cried out loud. Within a short space of time, the yard and surrounding area had been filled with people pushing and shoving trying to catch a glimpse of the scene that looked like straight out of horror film.
Traumatised but curious
Of course we also tried to stay there to keep witnessing as much as our tiny bodies would allow us to fit in through the gaps of the numerous legs blocking our view. We must have thought we reserved the right of spectacle considering that when it happened, we were there. That was until the initial shock and numbness from some of elders had begun to thaw that they chased all of us children away from the scene. By then it was now many of us tiny tots forming part of the crowd. We ran off but as you would expect from the unabated curiosity of children we stood afar off, but near enough to still capture everything that was going on from an even better view, aided by a raised stone platform that was the surface area of our chicken run. How can my memory forget the raised flat structure that also accommodated within its cursed soils our much loved and also much hated peach tree whose branches yielded both fruit and mother’s preferred method of punishment. There on our observation point was where we spotted snakes from time to time in the crevices of the stratified rock formations, partly natural partly my father’s creative work. So we stood there, watching.
Authority over a woman’s body
I may not remember clearly the other details from the whole scene, the other bits and pieces are hazy memories but I remember the police Santana, the metal coffin they brought out of the vehicle, and the axeman in handcuffs escorted outwards by what we saw then as frightful policemen. The ones bearing the coffin wore gloves. The whole atmosphere was sombre even as people dispersed, and though it didn’t stop us from continuing with our play as if nothing had happened. The woman was murdered in cold blood for God knows what! I can only wonder what she had been disobedient about and was being punished for. Whatever it was, the adult me says nothing justifies any such acts against another human being. You still question why there is such a thing as Womens Day or Women’s Month? It may even bother you why there is no similar day for men? But when there are women being “disciplined” out there for removing their pubic hair, think again. The question is how many more women are in such circumstances and how many men in our society still believe that they have authority over a woman’s body, or the right to “discipline” a person for any reason, big or small. We only get to hear of it when a life is lost, but there are no doubt many more injustices that women suffer in silence.
featured photo from Miss CM Cecily Michelle