Widowhood and Kano’s mass weddings
Her request was an unusual one. What made it even more unusual was the brazen way she said it. Looking straight at me: ‘Doctor, I want something to suppress my sexual urges’.
I studied her folder and observed that she was a 38-year-old widow with six children. Her husband had died five years ago from a car accident and since then she had supported her family by sewing women’s clothing. Her parents had passed away. She appeared well dressed and could be described as attractive. I wondered briefly what the problem could be. ‘Why don’t you get married then?’ I must have sounded completely naïve, foolish even, as she threw me a condescending look and hissed. ‘Doctor, please just give me what I asked for’. Realizing I had offended her, I quickly changed tactics and laid out my charm. I needed to establish that what she had was hypersexuality and not merely normal urges in the absence of a husband. Gradually she yielded and narrated her plight. The people of North western Nigeria possess many virtues I must say, but shyness, I have observed, especially when it comes to issues of sexuality, is not one of them. For us in the medical field, this is advantageous as it saves us the trouble of making a wrong diagnosis thereby leaving the patient dissatisfied.
Jummai*, I gathered had normal cyclical sexual urges which could not be met. She had been celibate since her husband died and her patience was beginning to wear thin. Many men, she admitted had courted her, but seventy per cent of them wanted to meet her in a hotel room. Her strict religious upbringing, which had previously been her shield was gradually cracking.
Was it such a bad thing? She asked me. Intercourse outside marriage? I did not know how to answer her. What about the other thirty per cent I asked? She replied that they were freeloaders. Men whose first question when they met her would be: ‘Do you own this house or are you a tenant?’, ‘How many children do you have?’, ‘What is your income like?’. This sort of men wanted a woman who had a house to herself and could take care of herself financially. In clear terms- they wanted her, without the financial burden.
Now it was my turn to ask: Would that be such a bad thing? After all, a man could take care of her urges and that would solve her problem. She shook her head, implying the negative. A man like that would just be an extra mouth to feed and she was not ready for that. She was already struggling to feed and educate her children. Besides, she reasoned, once he had satisfied his urges, this type of men usually left. Leaving her as one of the statistics. A divorcee in a land of many, many divorcees.
She narrated to me the story of how, in desperation, she had nearly been trafficked to Saudi Arabia for prostitution. A young man claiming to love her had promised to marry her and look after her children while he arranged for her travel to Saudi to ‘work’. Later, she confessed, even after learning of his dubious intent, she still wanted to travel if only to satisfy herself. So great was her sexual frustration. Her plans were thwarted when her brother got wind of why she was travelling and cautioned her.
Our discussion took a funny turn when she told me of her attempt to join the mass weddings organised by the Kano State Government. She had gone as far as filling a form in the Hisbah office but was never selected. The weddings were carried out in batches of 100s and had started with Governor Kwankwaso. Apparently, one needed to have a ‘connection’ to qualify for the mass weddings due to the N15,000 grant being given to the brides to kickstart their entrepreneurial ideas.
The solution to Jummai’s* problem was simply a good man. A man, brave enough to marry her and relieve her, if only partly, of her responsibilities. But where are the good men? And why should they marry her, you may ask? Tasking a man to take up the responsibilities of a woman and children that are not his, is Herculean in this economy. A woman with six children and a pitiable income for that matter. I wanted to weep.
It would have been easy to dismiss her case by prescribing antidepressant that suppress libido as a side effect, if not for the unjustness of it all. This is just one story. What about the thousands of widows and divorcees out there? What did they feel? What were their stories? Many had been pushed into prostitution because of their vulnerabilities. I remember laughing out loud when I first heard of the mass weddings in Kano. I know better now. What can we as a society do? Names and situations changed to protect the identity of the patient.