TOPE OMOGBOLAGUN writes about the plight of some married women who are the breadwinners in their families
It is not uncommon for a man to cater to the needs of his family. But increasingly, some women are supporting their spouses, joining forces to provide financially for their homes.
But while some got huge rewards for their efforts, it wasn’t the same experience for others.
The story of Nkechi is heartbreaking. When she met with our correspondent during the week, she repeatedly expressed despair, lamenting that her case was the worst any woman could go through.
“My husband took advantage of my young age and innocence to maltreat me. He came to marry me from the village, promising my parents that he would take care of me. After marriage, in excitement, I moved to Sagamu, Ogun State, with him. I joined him in his farming business and it became a joint effort until he gradually left it all to me. He soon started womanising and taking alcohol.’’
She said if she dared to talk to him about his lifestyle, he would beat her, adding that on one of such days, she became partially blind from battery . Nkechi said, “When he left the farming business, I turned it around diligently and I started making money. Instead of supporting me, he became hostile and would not do anything in the house. When the beating didn’t stop, I had to leave his house, but not without scars.”
Like Nkechi, Madame Blessing’s undoing in her husband’s house was being a relatively successful businesswoman. Blessing said she lost two pregnancies to incessant beatings by her husband.
She said, “He had a good income when we got married and I was into trading too, so we were fine. But his business went bad after some time and the responsibility of taking care of the home fell on me. God helped me as we carried on smoothly. He was always moody and I kept encouraging him. I even gave him some money to use to revive his business but nothing changed.
“Perhaps, he felt belittled that a woman was paying the bills and he became hostile and abusive. He took to alcohol and smoking. I lost two pregnancies to the physical abuse and my neighbours who were privy to some of the incidents advised me to leave the house before he killed me. He begged me, so I stayed and that became a routine.
Blessing stated that his husband often became angry and beat him whenever he saw her with money or bought clothes for the children. She added, “The last one he did before my family members came to take me away from his house was when I had a miscarriage after I was pregnant for six months. I almost died. I was in the hospital for about two weeks. It was then I vowed never to go back to his house; I would rather expend my energy on my children and not a man who eats from my sweat and still beats me.”
For Iyabo, it was as if heaven caressed the earth seven years ago when she and Farouq tied the knot. Their Nikkah ceremony in Ilorin, Kwara State, shook their neighbourhood and it was the talk of the town for days. After they met 10 years ago in the neighbourhood, their love story became enviable to anyone in the know of their affair.
Indeed, love was beautiful until six months after their wedding when, according to Iyabo, Farouq began to show certain traits that she found strange.
“We moved to Lagos after we got married and thankfully we soon settled down,” she said during an interaction with Saturday PUNCH.
“I was taken aback when he suddenly told me he wanted to leave his ‘vulcanising’ job to start riding a commercial motorcycle, popularly known as okada . He had sold his equipment to buy the motorcycle. I asked him why the sudden change of business but he couldn’t give me a convincing reason. I didn’t argue with him to avoid troubles.”
Iyabo, a stylist, said several days later, her husband came up with different stories regarding why he wasn’t making money.
“I assumed it was because he was new in the business, but sooner than I could imagine, he started incurring debts I was forced to offset,” she said.
She added, “About a month after I was delivered of my baby, my husband was arrested for failing to repay someone he owed. His family members did nothing to help. At the police station, I was told he owed his creditor N150, 000 and I wondered what he could have done with the money. It was tough but I had to withdraw my contribution from a thrift society I belonged to bail him.”
Painfully, Iyabo said while she did all she could to sustain the family, her husband’s family members accused her of squandering his money for he could no longer send them money.
She stated, “It wasn’t 41 days yet so I couldn’t work and we relied on him for everything. But my husband could only give us N500 most times. It was a hellish period for me and my baby. It wasn’t long before I realised he was spending money on women.
“When I started working, he remained nonchalant and I had to run the home. There was a day we quarrelled about his attitude and he accused me of ‘using his destiny’. He said a spiritualist already told him that if he hadn’t married me, his life would have been meaningful.
“I tried hard to ensure peace with him but nothing changed. He remained lazy and cared less about his responsibilities, apart from sex. All I got in return for taking up his responsibilities was hatred from both him and his family members. It seems like it’s a misfortune for a woman to be the breadwinner in the home.”
The women pleaded with our correspondent to protect their identities.
Status doesn’t protect female breadwinners from pains
The idea of female breadwinners in their homes facing distress seems to transcend beyond class and ethnicity.
The elite also cry is the story of a 36-year-old bank worker and mother of three, Mrs Cecilia. She had worn the breadwinner shoe for close to five years while her husband was jobless.
She told Saturday PUNCH that her husband refused to work after losing his job, preferring to live off her. Blessed with two beautiful children, Cecilia said she feared for her sanity.
She said, “I have made several efforts to get another job for him but he’s not ready to work. He said he won’t do a job that would pay him less than what he earned before he lost his job. Now, he sits at home and does nothing and that is how we have been for five years now. He doesn’t want to do anything, yet he nags.
“He has told his family members many lies about me that they now see me as a bad person. They look at me as someone who is behind his lack of progress. I am too young for all these things I am passing through. If things do not improve, I may quit this marriage before it kills me.”
Also, a Benue State-born lecturer, Mrs Felicia Onoche, said she had been the breadwinner of her home for eight years.
She said, “My husband is a teacher but he doesn’t do anything in the home and he seems overwhelmed by demands from his family members and he now prioritises them above his immediate family. I’m building a house for us and I have also been investing in my children’s education. I have stopped looking unto him for any financial assistance. But he doesn’t appreciate all that.”
Petite, dark and gentle Ms Quadri hissed repeatedly in her shop as she narrated her story to our correspondent. She said if she knew her marriage would turn out the way it did, she would have remained single.
Married to a cleric, she struggled to do menial jobs to sustain the family but her efforts were not enough for her husband.
“At a point, my husband left tome for me and our four children. On that day, he told us he was going out. We never knew he was leaving us and that prior to that time, he had been moving his things gradually. He dropped by at my shop and said he was going out. I even asked him what he wanted me to prepare before he returned from his outing, he said he wanted semovita. After looking for him for three days and his numbers weren’t available, that was when some neighbours told me he reported me to them. He never came back.”
‘Breadwinner’ title likely responsible for woes –Njemanze
Women advocate, Dorothy Njemanze, said the use of the word ‘breadwinner’ is an ordinary title that causes unnecessary troubles in families.
She said, “The emphasis on the woman being the breadwinner or the man being the breadwinner is a waste of time. As far as I’m concerned, every human being that belongs to a family should be a part of the maintenance of the home either male or female.
“Many women are breadwinners of their homes. Many women contribute to the running of their homes. We should remove our mindset from the fact that the man is always the breadwinner, the dynamics are changing. Clinging to the title has led to the break-up of many homes.
Njemanze said husbands maltreating their wives regarded as breadwinners in their homes were mentally ill, adding that such men should be brought before the law for subjecting their spouses to torture.
She said, “No woman should bear the burden for a man who has mental health issues. I will encourage women especially those who are breadwinners in their homes, to go the extra length of ensuring that nobody reduces them to nothing.
“Their husbands should pamper and not humiliate them. I know families where the woman is the one working hard while the husband sits at home and takes care of the children, while she pays him a salary. There is no excuse for anyone to blame any woman for his woes.”
Dealing with the issue
Patriarchy is often seen as responsible for the development as some males hold onto deep-seated social norms maintaining gender inequality. This is commonly so in mostly patriarchal African societies and the urban centres are not immune to it.
Also, a relationship coach and marriage counsellor, Shamsideen Giwa, traced most issues arising from the ‘breadwinner’ syndrome to a perceived model in a typical Nigerian family where the husband was expected to lead, providing welfare for the home while the woman gives support.
He said, however, that oftentimes, it was difficult for people to come to terms when there was a paradigm shift.
Giwa added, “We go into marriage expecting the model: The man leads in the provision of welfare and the woman supports as she is able. But sometimes, the wife provides, while the man supports. There are two cases here: A man who is trying but not getting as much yet and a man who is not trying or may be tired of trying. There’s a third type of man though, and that man is the most common, most unfortunate of the lot; this is the man who, in his mind believes he is trying his best but also thinks his partner is running him down, because things aren’t going too well.”
The counsellor noted that when a wife felt her husband was not trying enough, yet he believed he was, it would be extremely difficult to be in a healthy union with such men “but unfortunately, this is the reality of many.”
He stated, “Do African men want to earn more than their wives? Yes. This has nothing to do with not wanting success for the wives. It’s just how we have been raised. Take a girl home who is independently more successful than you and it’s your mother who will pull you back and ask if you are sure you’d be able to handle her. Even the women reading this will tell you they say they want their daughters to marry more successful husbands? Ask them if they want their sons to be married to more successful wives and you’d see eloquence turning to stuttering.”
Giwa stated that to deal with the issue, there was a need for emotional intelligence for the woman to think like a man.
He said, “It is a skill that ought to be acquired before one marries. Emotional intelligence is key at this point. A common mindset that comes up is ‘why should I be responsible for making him feel better, it’s not my fault?’ Yes, true. You are not responsible for him earning lower and you also are not at fault for earning more. But whatever is changing things so much that it’s affecting your marriage, needs to be addressed with a solution-oriented discussion.’’
He further said if the woman wanted the matter handled in a mature way, she would also need to exhibit maturity needed in handing discussions about the matter.
Also, a psychologist, Charles Orji told Saturday PUNCH that humiliating women shouldering the financial burden of their homes should be treated as a case of abuse.
He said, “I just think when someone is being abused in a marriage, they will handle it as abuse whether they are breadwinners or not. If it gets to a point where things go out of hand, she should separate herself from the man.
“Of course, I didn’t say divorcee but it is also an option. What I am saying is when all resolution processes have been tried and it doesn’t work out, the woman should walk away especially in a case of violence.”