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Wife ‘locking’: evil haunting Malawian women

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It is now five years since her husband died in a car crash in South Africa. But since then, 26-year-old Atupele, as that is her middle name, a mother of two, cannot find another husband because she says she was “locked” by her husband.

Yes! She was locked by her husband such that she cannot have a sexual relationship with another man on this earth unless a miracle happens to her!

Her story is unique despite not being entirely new to most Malawians living in rural areas. At the age of 18, Atupele was married to her late husband for three years before her husband decided to go to South Africa in search of greener pastures.

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In the three years they lived together, she says she did not know that she was living under a spell. To her, life was normal. Together with her husband, they planned for the future, agreeing to migrate to South Africa. He could not imagine that her husband would die anytime soon.

A thought of her husband cheating on her never crossed her mind. Her husband did not either show any signs of mistrusting her. Theirs, she says, was a perfect marriage.

“I have never cheated on my husband since we got married. I was royal and respectful to him even during the times when he was living in South Africa and I do not know why he thought of locking me instead of just leaving me if he did not trust me enough,” Atupele says.

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She says two years after the death of her husband, she started courting a man from a neighbouring village in order to remarry. And few months into their courtship, the two hatched an idea for cohabitation, which after careful consultation and consideration materialised.

By this time, Atupele never knew that she would not be able to offer what new-found love wanted, conjugal rights. She was “locked”.

“This is the time I discovered that I am no longer the same. When my new boyfriend touched me, he could not find anything on my private part. We could both see my private part but the moment we wanted to make love, it disappeared. I was scared because this was happening to me for the first time despite hearing it happening to some women who cheat on their husbands,” she recalls.

Her boyfriend, she says, was afraid to continue with the relationship because he knew that Atupele was living under spell such that she cannot sleep with a man without being ‘cleaned’ by a herbalist.

“Since then, I have been trying to consult some herbalists in order to find a cure for my problem. I am sure I’ll be helped because I know that I’m not cheating on my husband, he is dead and I have to continue with my life,” she explains.

But years have passed and Atupele still has no solution to her problem. She has eventually given hope that she will one day enjoy her conjugal rights. People in her village have even started poking fun at her.

Atupele has now resigned to living under a permanent disorder, which she was subjected to by her late husband; a disorder which society does sadly not consider as a violent act against women.

The United Nations defines violence against women as any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.

In Africa, violence against women begins in childhood where families show an obvious preference for sons over daughters, a perception in which society views sons as a glory to their family while families that have only daughters are pilloried.

These societal norms set girls up to grow into women with low self-worth and self-esteem, which in the end perpetuates continued cycle of violence.

And some forms of violence against women are not common, thus are not discussed in public. Victims of these forms do also suffer in silence. Mostly, they are afraid of being discriminated against by a society that is not ready to provide an opportunity for women to enjoy their rights.

But cases or reports of wife locking in Malawi are not new. The practice has been in existence for quite along time such that some sections of Malawian society have accepted it as a norm for married men to “lock” their wife to prevent them from engaging in promiscuous behaviour.

To make matters worse, about a dozen of elders and herbalists have confirmed the practice is now being extended to adolescent school-going girls who are being promised to be married to men who are living in distant areas as a means of preserving the girls to their would-be husbands. All this with the consent of their parents.

A random analysis has established that the practice is common in some parts of Mangochi, Machinga, Balaka and other districts of the Northern Region where mostly men travel abroad in search of employment or business ventures.

These men subject a lot of women to this barbaric act. Some women knowingly while others unknowingly continue to be exposed to this feminine human rights violation.

Men cannot lead in the fight against this evil because most them are beneficiaries as the locking ensures that a woman is only kept for themselves.

The laws of the land are sadly powerless to protect the plight of these women who continue being denied their sexual rights while the men are free to engage in extramarital affairs wherever they go.

Human rights lawyer Chrispin Sibande says Malawi’s legal framework does not recognise wife locking or spousal locking as this belief, he says, is not based on science but rather it is based on witchcraft and fiction, which are not recognised in the country.

“The Witchcraft Act criminalises any manifestation of belief in witchcraft. Anybody who says he or she is a witch commits a crime, anybody who says can administer anything to cleanse people of witchcraft commits an offence,” he says.

But gender activist Emma Kaliya says men and herbalists who are believed to be locking their wives commit a crime under the Gender Equality Act which recognises this as a harmful cultural practice.

She, however, acknowledges that only a handful of women are willing to take such cases to law enforcers so that the perpetrators can be brought to book.

“This is a serious offence and it is affecting a lot of women. I wonder as to why men are so selfish that they do this to women, yet they go around sleeping with other women. You should know that it is difficult for a woman of reproductive age to stay for 10 or 15 years without seeing a man, this disturbs the body,” Kaliya explains.

She says cases of this nature are similar to the one which Aniva was convicted of; therefore, she encourages women to report such cases to police to arrest the unruly men who deliberately lock their women while they go around sleeping with other women.

Despite some people dismissing the practice as a mere speculation, herbalists and some men confirm that there is indeed a concoction formula used to prevent a woman from having sexual intercourse with another man.

Herbalist Imani Masauli advises Malawi’s lawmakers to start recognising witchcraft, saying witchcraft and related issues like wife locking are real and many people are falling victim to the practice.

“Personally, I do not have a concoction that locks women against sleeping with other men. But I know people who do that, this is real and we need to do something because men are dying leaving women that are locked,” Masauli says.

Another herbalist Amos Kusweli from a village bordering Malawi and Mozambique in Traditional Authority Katuli in Mangochi explains that the concoction used is similar to the one people use to protect their property from theft.

He says, in some instances, the potion makes the two to stick when having sexual intercourse so that the husband to the woman can find them.

“There is also another formula which allows them to sleep together but when they finish the act, the man does not survive more than five days. He dies or the magic removes his private part until he pays a fine for sleeping with a married woman,” Kusweli says.

But, in most cases, the herbalist says there is a method of unlocking both the woman and the man once caught like the way it is done when somebody is caught stuck while stealing in somebody’s garden.

On Atupele, Kusweli says the herbalist who gave her husband a potion is the one who can help her because it is difficult to undo a concoction which was done by somebody, citing formation procedures as a major problem.

But Atupele does not know the herbalist who helped her husband with the concoction.

Atupele says she envy fellow women who are enjoying their conjugal rights and she plans to go outside the country where she can be living without being ridiculed by people who are aware of her predicament.

But wherever Atupele goes, she will still be wishing she were married and enjoying her sexual rights as a woman who is still tender and young.

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