Justina Ziem is a 27-year-old lady who hails from Kandemeguage, a village in the Nandom District of the Upper West Region.
Just like any other lady, Justina has dreams of settling down and raising a happy family.
In an attempt to make that dream a reality, Justina got married to Fidelis Bori, a police officer who hails from Hamile Kokoligu in the District.
According to the custom of Nandom Traditional Area, Fidelis’s family presented two cattle (male and female), 360 cowries, GH₵130.00, three fowls and one guinea fowl as the dowry to Justina’s family.
After a successful traditional marriage in 2010, Justina joined Fidelis at Kadjebi in the Volta Region, where he was posted to.
In 2011, the couple had their wedding and the much expected joyful moments turned sour moments for Justina.
Narrating her ordeal to Ghana News Agency (GNA) in Wa, Justina alleged that shortly after the wedding, her husband resorted to violence against her at the least provocation.
“He bashed at me almost every time and often denied me food and shelter,” she said.
According to her, when the situation became unbearable, she informed the husband’s relatives but the situation did not change compelling her to make another report to the Police Intelligence and Professional Standards (PIPS) branch at the police Headquarters in Accra.
“We were invited to their office and he was admonished to be of good behaviour. However, when we returned to Kadjebi and entered the room, he pulled out a gun and pointed at me and told me he would kill me if I ever reported him to his superiors or anybody.”
Justina who felt threatened by that action returned to Upper West Region where she reported the matter to his family at Nandom in June 2013.
In April, 2014, Fidelis came to his village in Kogoligu and summoned Justina and the parents at the Nandom Chief’s Palace.
At the palace two elders only known by their first names as; Abe-irle and Ziem started insulting her and the parents without first hearing a word from her or her parents.
“The two elders, ordered me to stand-up while Fidelis was given a seat to sit amidst pampering words like “as police man, you don’t need to stand” and we even need to salute you” among others.
“I stood up throughout the proceedings of the case which lasted for more than four hours,” she said.
“My human dignity was not respected. Both my parents and I were humiliated and abused. I was not given equal right to explain myself yet they yelled insults such as ‘you are not fit to be the wife of this police man’, ‘my daughters are better than you’ and ‘you are a worthless girl’ at me and dehumanised us,” she added.
The elders then ordered my parents to bring the dowry to the Chief’s palace for them to return it to Fidelis if I insisted on quitting the marriage. They were also fined GH₵170.00 with the reason that they were at fault.
Meanwhile, when GNA contacted Fidelis he denied beating his wife and threatening her with a gun, saying even though he is a police officer he had no access to a gun.
He also denied causing the arrest of his in-laws, adding that it was wife who deserted the marriage last year June.
He alleged that his wife also stole his GH˘400.00, soap, perfume, powder, towel, flashlight and a mobile phone.
Abuse of human rights
According to the simplified version of the Domestic Violence Act 2007, (Act 732) “domestic violence occurs when any person does something that causes pain to a relation or anyone he/she often comes into contact with”.
The Act is intended to protect all, especially women, against domestic violence and punish offenders of this terrible crime that has caused so much suffering and pain to victims.
If it is true that Fidelis constantly beat his wife, then it is a clear violation of the Domestic Violence Act and should not go unpunished.
The unfair arbitration procedures
The arbitration procedures adopted by elders of the Nandom Traditional Council led by D. Z. Chemogoh, Regent of the Nandom Traditional Council and Acting Paramount Chief of Nandom did not help in promoting justice, fairness and equality among the two parties involved in the case but rather a blatant show of discrimination in the eyes of natural justice.
Their failure to listen to Justina for her to tell them the circumstances that led to her decision to quit the marriage coupled with the insults and humiliation was a violation of her human rights and dignity.
Expensive dowries and enslavement of women in abusive marriages in the Nandom Traditional Area
Marriage among the Dagaaba people which is inclusive of the Nandom Traditional Area is contracted through the payment of a bride price also known as the dowry. In the past, it involved the payment of 360 cowries to the bride’s family.
This was later reviewed to include money, cows, fowls and guinea fowls.
Currently, some families demand more than GH₵ 2,000.00 before giving out their daughter’s hand in marriage.
Among the Dagaabas, when there is a divorce among a couple, the dowry is returned only when the lady is married to a different man. The dowry the new husband will pay is what is returned by the lady’s family to the old husband.
But according to the Regent, if it is the lady that is quitting the marriage, then she is required per the custom, to pay back the dowry to the husband.
According to Nandom tradition if a woman bears children with a man before divorce, the woman has to return the dowry, while the man takes possession of the children.
The property a couple acquires together is owned by the man alone. The woman is therefore exploited and thrown into abject poverty and misery possibly for the rest of her life.
A woman who knows that the family cannot afford to return her bride price must not complain or seek divorce no matter how abusive her marriage is.
Many are the married women who are suffering in silence in the Nandom Traditional Area because of this custom. Simply put, they have been enslaved by custom and have no choice than to suffer.
Gender advocate’s take on the issue
Mary Assumpta Mwinsigteng, Acting Regional Director of Department of Women who hails from the area thinks the custom is not only discriminatory against women but also brings a lot of untold hardships and humiliation to them hence, the loss of self-esteem among victims.
She said she was not happy about the treatment being meted out to Justina and would do everything possible to ensure that she gets justice.
Ms Mwinsigteng appealed to elders of Nandom to forget about the past and think about what is in the collective good of the society and the interest of women.
She encouraged women not to stay put in abusive marriages and die because of the fear of being asked to return their dowries but must endeavour to report to relevant agencies to help them find solutions to their marital problems.
Mrs Rosaline B. Obeng-Ofori, an International Gender Advocate who led a number of dowry review campaigns in the area, admitted that the human rights abuses in the Nandom area are becoming too rife.
She said she had gained notoriety in the eyes of some people in the area because of her strong voice against the ill- treatment of women.
The International Gender Advocate said in November 2011, she launched a dowry review project, which received a lot of support from the Nandom Naa together with young men and women but it got stalled along the line due to lack of funds.
She said young men joined the campaign because they equally found the dowry as expensive; a situation which is currently making it difficult for them to marry.
Mrs Obeng-Ofori who is also from the area, promised to lead another crusade against the refund of dowries in the area- a practice she described as highly discriminatory and exploitative of women.
She said she knows two women from the area who died as a result of beatings by their husbands and called on the society to come out and save women in the Nandom area.
There is the need to review downwards the bride price and possible put an end to the custom of returning it when there is a divorce in order to liberate women from the shackles of such wicked cultural bondage.
This is the time for the society to rise against acts that dehumanise women and bring back hope and dignity to our mothers in the Nandom Traditional Area.
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