By Ruth Murambadoro
When a man and woman’s sexual encounter produce unintended responsibilities, it is often difficult for the involved parties to find a progressive manner to address the situation due to societal pressure. The societal pressure I am alluding to is one that is subtle, unspoken yet fully respected because of fear of public humiliation. In some instances, this societal pressure is audible as it is reinforced by religious and cultural perspectives that regard a child born out-of-wedlock as a sign that the parties have been promiscuous and failed to keep their virginity. Other than keeping my virginity for marriage, it is highly unexpected of an unmarried person to procreate and it can become a stumbling block for one’s future development because those who procreate out-of-wedlock are often marginalised by others who see the deed as a sign of failure.
When you find yourself pregnant out-of-wedlock the deed becomes a huge burden even though it may had been a moment of pleasure. I recall hearing the story of a lady who had fallen pregnant following sexual intimacy with a casual friend she had an on and off relationship with. The two friends had always used durex extra safe condoms and it had become their preferred method of protection, but at one point the method failed them bringing about unintended responsibilities. When the lady realised that she had missed her period it brought a lot of anxiety as she wondered how the society would accept her new status, of motherhood. The two parties also happened to be living in the same community and during their upbringing the message of purity that had been hammered on them, presented the idea that a child born out-of-wedlock brings shame to the family.
Hence, the fate of the two young casual friends had been sealed by unplanned pregnancy because they both had just completed high school and are without a job or professional skills to land them some prospects of descent employment. Even more, they are now bound by religious and cultural expectations to settle down and raise a family, yet they are aware that the union is being forged for convenience. Indeed, going with the societal pressure lands them in a marriage of convenience, one that forces them to escape from societal judgement, but still not considering the nature of relationship that existed between the two and how that may have weak grounds for the parties to establish a family together.
What has not been fully grasped by those who marry for convenience and the greater society is the role of societal pressure in fostering violence. Even more, one could argue that societal pressure is a form of violence that needs to be interrogated. Borrowing from the work of Galtung 1, violence can be described as any act or behaviour involving physical and psychosocial force, oppression or discrimination, which affects the well-being of people in society. Violence can affect the physical and psychological well-being of a person (such as instilling fear, anxiety and bodily injury), or inhibit people from accessing basic material needs (for example food and medical care), as well as non-material needs (such as happiness, peace and self-actualisation).
Literature provides varying ways to classify the above occurrences of violence, but three categories of structural, cultural and direct violence are of importance in this writing. Direct violence refers to physical inflictions on the human self by acts of another human being. These acts are often intentional and can lead to injury or death. On the contrary, structural violence refers to institutionalised discriminatory practices of society that harm, disadvantage or perpetuate the oppression of others. If unaddressed, structural violence becomes systemic and subtle, making it difficult for the disadvantaged persons to fulfil their held aspirations. Cultural violence emanates from the values, norms, practices or traditions followed by people (whether religious, cultural and possibly socio-political), which foster hatred, discrimination and divisions within the society 2. A culture of violence becomes institutionalised in the psyche of the population that allows oppressive norms, values and practices to go without questioning.
The above story about marriage of convenience makes one wonder: in what ways does fear and anxiety fostered through societal pressure alienate or discriminate against those who deviate from the expectations of ‘society’? Who is the ‘society’? How does society create norms, values, practices and traditions, and in what ways have they evolved, if at all?
Marriages of convenience is one aspect of society that could foster cultural violence in the sense that the values, norms and practices of the people with regards to the marriage institution in some ways discriminate against those who bear children out-of-wedlock by forcing them to settle down together even though the parties do not have a viable relationship to spend their forever in union. Furthermore, structural violence may playout from the absence of adequate state and community structures to alleviate the pressure to settle down. Very few families allow the two parties to continue with their life and have the experience of adulthood, while the elderly take over the responsibility of raising a child from the other child who is a young adult. However, in some instances, the young girl’s dreams, hopes and aspirations become secondary to child-rearing and without proper psychosocial and financial support it is less likely that she would be able to advance herself to fulfil the plans she intended for her life before the child.
I wonder if it is possible for people to awaken to the idea that unplanned pregnancy should not always lead to the parties being married, especially when they do not have a good relationship that enables them to raise a family and build a future they both are proud of. Some of these forced marriages become abusive and often a woman is the vulnerable party because her family would have rejected her for falling pregnant.
There is probably a need to interrogate whether marriage particularly marriage of convenience should remain a viable setting through which children born out-of-wedlock are raised? I believe that a home without love is a house, but l am also aware that some people are strong on the idea that people should take responsibility for their actions. It is still unclear to me however, whether being conveniently married gives the parties some sense of being responsible for their actions?
1 Galtung, J., 1969. Violence, peace, and peace research. Journal of Peace Research, 6 (3): 167-191.