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Zambia: Battered woman farms her way to independence (by Filius Jere, for Farm Radio Weekly)

Like many Zambian women, Mama Misozi was doomed by tradition to be subservient to her future husband. She was only fifteen when she was confined by elderly village women to undergo cinamwali, or little maidenhood, a traditional four-week coming-of-age ceremony.

Her school exam results came soon after her initiation, and she was excited to learn that she had done very well. But then a young man from Kangale village crossed the Lutembwe River to propose marriage.

Mama Misozi did not really want to marry him. She wanted to finish her education and become a teacher. But her father wanted the dowry oxen, and she could not oppose her father’s wishes. She was married against her will. She worked like a slave in the family field every day and produced six children in eight years.

Her husband was a drunkard who provided nothing for his family. He spent most of his time hunting, but his prey was local beer and other women. Mama Misozi was expected to serve and obey her husband, who beat her frequently. Within a few years she was bruised, both physically and mentally.

Four of her six children were girls. Her husband would often dream of the oxen which their dowries would bring. But Mama Misozi was sad; she did not want her children to become “slaves” like her. She quarrelled constantly with her husband because he refused to put the girls in school.

Mama Misozi felt the situation was hopeless. She tried to do extra work in other people’s fields to raise money for school fees. Her husband beat her because she did not spend enough time in his field. Then Mama Misozi took a drastic step.

She says, “Divorce was taboo in my tribe. But whenever I looked at my four girls, I could only see them getting caught in the same vicious circle that had enslaved me. I just had to leave my husband.”

Traditionally, this was almost impossible. But someone advised her to consult the Young Women’s Christian Association. Through that organization, she discovered that her husband’s abuse was criminal and he could be arrested. Because of the children, Mama Misozi did not want her husband to be arrested. But learning about this gave her the leverage to start a new life on her own.

She had some good fortune. Her now-deceased parents had a disused, weed-strewn vegetable garden on the banks of the river. When she left her husband’s home, Mama Misozi began to grow vegetables there. She says: “I borrowed hoes and axes to clear the land and [got] seedlings for my first crops. My children understood the situation and helped me, and slowly we managed to improve our livelihood.”

During the rainy season, Mama Misozi also grows maize and groundnuts in her parents’ field. She obtained manure from herders to apply to her maize. As a result, she had a very good harvest and filled her granary. The following year, she was able to afford school fees from selling her vegetables. Her children are now back in school. Within a few years, Mama Misozi was able to build a good brick house for her family.

Mama Misozi says, “When my husband saw how I was managing, he came begging for reconciliation.” For the sake of their children, she presented him with three conditions. He had to move from his village to hers. He had to stop drinking because it made him violent and lazy. And thirdly, he could not interfere with the children’s education.

Mama Misozi says, “My eldest daughter, Enala, is in Grade 9 and wants to become a teacher!”

Her husband has found it difficult to let go of beer. However, Mama Misozi says, “If he wants any money for beer, he must work in the garden first – and that is good for me!”