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Identity & Crisis

Zalika Amadou has admitted that her husband didn’t hit, yell or cheat her. Still, she wants to divorce her husband!
After attending a hearing at an Islamic court on the sidewalk in Maradi, Niger, Zalika told a foreign journalist that she doesn’t want to stay with a man twice her age. She said that her husband’s inability to earn a living prompted her to make such a decision. Zalika – who married at 16 and became mother of a boy at 18 – believes that simply having a husband is not enough. Zalika is not alone. There are several girls in conservative Western African countries who don’t want to depend on a man! It seems that a quiet revolution has taken place in the region where more women seek divorces. It happens because basic views on relationships have changed and the African women are asserting more control over their marriages.
As expected, Zalika’s decision shocked her mother Halima Amadou. “It’s the end of the world when a husband and wife don’t stay together,” said the mother.

Zalika leaving the court with her son, Affan. (Image: The NYT)

In Niger and other tiny West African nations, girls are married before the age of 18 and become mothers within a couple of years. As tradition has bound the African society so tightly, men don’t allow their wives to have a job. So, women don’t have any other option, but to learn how to live during a time of economic hardship.
However, women – like Zalika – want to get out of this stagnant environment! They also want to choose their partners and to enjoy a healthy sex life. In other words, they demand respect! Therefore, they have decided to put this new culture of breakups into practice. But, the job is not so easy.

Zalika cooling off her son at her home in Maradi. (Image: The NYT)

Divorce is not a common phenomenon in Muslim-majority Western African countries, where people have to move the court to file a divorce case. Until recent past, men used to file divorce cases. Now, the women make the move. Judge of an Islamic court Alkali Laouali Ismaël said that around 50 women – seeking divorce – move the court every month. “These young women don’t want to suffer anymore,” stressed the judge, adding: “There is a solution to their problems and they know they can find it here.” The religious judge expressed serious concern over the changing social environment in Niger, saying: “Husbands can’t support their wives the way they used to.” According to Ismaël, most of the women – seeking divorce – cite financial problems, as their divorce cases squeezed in between land disputes and inheritance spats.
Sociologist and Secretary General of the Islamic Association of Niger Alou Hama Maiga, too, believes that a culture of separation has gradually been created by women in Western Africa. “Young women now go into marriages with certain expectations. If these expectations are not met at some point, then divorce is inevitable,” she said.

Ismaël (centre) listening to complaints at his street-side court. (Image: The NYT)

The generation of Zalika’s mother is yet to accept the change. At the age of 14, she married a person thrice her age! Halima said that her husband had passed away after enjoying 50 years of conjugal life with her and they have eight children. Although they had to face economic hardship, Halima didn’t leave her husband.
Zalika is not interested in her mom’s view. Ignoring her husband’s objection, she learned sewing after her marriage. She also attended adult education classes after giving birth to her son. Zalika knows that she will get a job, sooner or later! She also knows that her mom cannot drive her out from her residence. But, she can enjoy more freedom after separation! Zalika didn’t forget to mention that she could marry again to someone who would love her back. Zalika is inspiring many others in Niger, Senegal, Nigeria and other African nations.

Hajara divorced her husband and moved back in with her family. (Image: The NYT)

The situation in Niger is different because polygamy is so common there. Men in the Muslim-populated nation can have up to four wives. The country also has the highest birth-rate in the world, with women giving birth to seven children on an average. The UN has acknowledged that in Niger, child marriage rates are among the highest in the world. The fear that girls will shame their families by becoming pregnant before their marriage drives the early marriages. Some parents keep their daughters out of school over those worries.

Perhaps, Zalikas will be able to change the scenario in the coming years and help the Dark Continent see the bright days!

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