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April 2020
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My Brother’s Keeper

The term my brother’s keeper has metamorphosed over the years, I’m not sure if I still know the meaning. I would be most grateful if somebody helped me out. Thanks!!

The west in my opinion is predominantly an individualistic society but I am always amazed at the level of compassion shown to Africa and other so called ‘third world,’  my bad, ‘developing nations’ in times of disaster, yet we don’t know our neighbours. If you think I am wrong, then ask yourselves why Americans will donate to save ‘hungry Africa,’ yet, they vigorously fought and resisted the healthcare reform bill for their fellow citizens…

Watching the video below and reading the report that accompanied it was revolting and sickening to think that in 2010, we don’t feel the need to get involved when a woman is been physically abused. I grew up in Nigeria and I have always known that society to be a family and community orientated one. It is a case where what happens to your neighbour matters to you but over the years, I have seen that trait in us diminish somewhat. We have become consumed by life’s challenges as things get more difficult around us. It is now every man and woman for his or herself, best demonstrated by the vagabond leaders we have.  It is  also an herculean task to set out that you can help everybody. Let’s be honest, that is sometimes just downright impossible…even Bill Gates cannot help the whole world and so we have to make difficult decisions and heartbreaking choices as to who, we are going to help.

So, what do we mean when we say my brother’s keeper? Is that to help someone or get involved in a situation which is pretty obvious to us, that what’s going on is wrong but we don’t want to offend and so, we keep walking? In what forms/ways can we be our brother’s or sister’s keeper?  When do we say enough to a situation which is clearly out of order and hold those involved accountable?

The video clip was shocking horror for me because the reality that hit home is a scary one…not a single call to the police…yeah, yeah, yeah, I know, it is a private matter but the thousands of women, world over, who die each year due to gender based violence, which includes domestic abuse would really appreciate if for one second, you didn’t think this was a private family matter and called the police. Then again, will the police act? I was at a meeting last week, Nigeria: Stronger Women, Stronger Nations, organised by Women For Women International,  and one of the speakers, Chinwe Azubike,  spoke about her mother’s suffering at the hands of her late father’s family. When she went to the Nigerian police, they told her it was a family matter. The audience gasped and I thought to myself, you have not heard anything. This is common place. Let’s just say, a few years ago, my family and I were minding our business as we slept, we heard voices and footsteps, my mum walked back to the room with a gun to her head and soon, we had 11/12 men ransacking our house. They took all that we had, luckily, they didn’t beat us like other stories we had heard. I remember my auntie got a slap that left her seeing stars and the threat they would have raped my other aunt, if my mum had not intervened was soon diminished when she showed them her treasure of jewelery. When they left, my mum with all that she had left,  wrapper, a top and her slippers (flip-flops) went to the police station that was only 20 minutes away. The authorities told a woman who had just been locked in a small toilet with her five children and two relatives that they do not deal with armed robberies where the robbers had guns. They would only come down if the weapons the robbers had were sticks. A week later, the same armed bandits came back and went to the next flat. The screams of my neighbour’s wife is forever etched in my memory. I have no idea what they did to her but that woman was screaming so hard, it hurt to hear her cry so loud and so bad, yet there was nothing my mum could do. It still hurts to think that those men raped her while her husband was tied down if that’s what happened. Again, everyone from this massive compound decided to come together and go to the police, thinking it would be effective if it was a collective effort. ‘Na lie you talk,’ the police authority proved to be useless once again and gave them the excuse they gave my mum the first time.  It sure beggars belief but it happened. Hence, how do you expect such a police force to attend to domestic violence when they prioritise the type of crimes that they see to? In fact, why would they go, when they are just as guilty of the same crime? Yes, there are Nigerian policemen who beat their wives. I have a relative, who used to be a police officer and I know for a fact that he used to beat his wife or should that be wives…I don’t know if he is still at it but his views about a woman’s role was pretty warped. This same relative would complain when he found out the cost of my tuition fees and told my father that my sisters and I were girls, and would one day get married and leave his house. With men like that, I wonder why we women sometimes work so hard to get married…but I do know for a fact there are good men, the rotten eggs just make a really bad case for many…

I am of the opinion that if the incident in this video clip was real, the woman, who was on the receiving end of the abuse/beating would have appreciated it, if the real men in the neighbourhood stood up and looked the animal beating his wife or partner in the eye and said, STOP!

In the words of Zainab Salbi, founder of Women for Women International, “Women are the glue that holds society together.” It sure would help if we looked out for them some more and showed a depth of gratitude and respect by standing up for them.

Let’s not get bugged down with statistics or the cultural and traditional belief system, which still permits this…yes, there are people who argue on the basis of culture and tradition that its okay to do as you like with your wife because her place is still in the kitchen…that is a post for another day but for today, I Belinda Otas would like to say, it is time to man-UP! And ladies, if you decide to stay with a joker who puts his hands on you, thinking you can change him or if its a case where you are in fear of your life, seek help but if you stay because you love him though you see no sign that he will change or agree to therapy for the rest of his life then you are just as bad because to love and to hold, in sickness and in health does not include, to love, hold and use you for my punch bag! Selah!

POWA Social Experiment from Ogilvy South Africa on Vimeo.

Below is the text which accompanied the video on Vimeo…

“On the 9th of May POWA, in partnership with Ogilvy Johannesburg, decided to conduct a social experiment in a townhouse complex in a Johannesburg suburb. The idea was simple: make as much noise as possible in a quiet part of suburbia to test when the neighbours would start complaining. The results, however, were rather disturbing.

While the neighbourhood was immediately up in arms during a vigorous drumming session, a (pre recorded) physically violent fight between a couple, supplemented with screams, the live sound of smashing walls, crockery, broken glass and a vicious beating, elicited no reaction whatsoever.

“We had prepared ourselves for a visit from the police or private security company. But after half an hour of excruciating noise, we still had no response,” says Robyn Bergman of Ogilvy Johannesburg who was Group Head on this job.

Violence in South Africa has reached epidemic proportions, and it is not just women from poorer communities that fall victim to abuse. “POWA’s brief was to create awareness of the fact that violence happens everywhere, and it is rampant because we, as a community, accept it,” continues Bergman. “According to POWA, the need to keep up appearances in suburbia makes the denial even more extreme.”

As we come together to celebrate the strength of South African women next week, it may be worth reflecting on the role every one of us can play in building a community that does not tolerate violence. The power to stop the cycle of domestic violence is in our hands, but we need to start facing reality first.”


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