At the age of 19, young Isatou Dukureh, who had finally returned home after years of studies at a ‘Madrassa’ in neighbouring Senegal was anticipating such visits.
A year later when her father started holding closed door discussions with unknown, but elderly faces that have all of a sudden become familiar to her, she suspected that she was at the centre of the discussions.
But she was at a loss to understand why they would talk about her, decide and arrange for her without asking her opinion, even out of courtesy.
“I was certain they were discussing about me, but no one bothered to put me in the picture. But I knew that would not last,” the 20-year-old woman told WOMEN’S BANTABAA.
“One day, when those elders that have been visiting my father came and left, my father called me into his room and informed me that ‘the nut have been tied.
Shaken, though not completely caught off guard, she wanted to ask many questions at the same time: to whom, why, when, how…?
But knowing full well that her father is not that type who often entertains her children’s opinion even on issues that concerns them, affects them, she allowed him to rest his case.
“I wanted to protest, but my father would not talk his children for more than 2 minutes. He would never ask his family’s consent on the decisions he take, not even his wives,” she alleged.
“So, my marriage was arranged with a man I had never set my eyes on. All that my father told me about him was that he met the man at an Islamic conference.
“He [father] told me it was a promise he made to the man and assured me that the man would make a good husband because he is a good Muslim.
Looking young and beautifully plump, 20-year-old Isatou’s experiences with the man her father thought would make a good husband are poles apart.
Forced marriage is still commonplace in The Gambia, though the rate is said to have declined thanks chiefly to intensive awareness creation as well as some positive legal and policy reforms.
Rights activists however, say though legal provisions that protect women from forced marriage exist, the fact that they are made subject to personal laws make it hard, if not impossible to enforce.
This weakness in the existing legal provisions is compounded by the culture of silence and low awareness.
Isatou, for instance, attended a Madrassa. She is not aware of anything like Women’s Act, 2010. But even if aware, would it make much difference? For she has already accepted it as her fate.
“I have six elder sisters,” she says, “and I helplessly watched each of them disappear into their marital homes in tears.
“Since then, I came to the conclusion that I would not be an exception. Here I am suffering a similar fate.”
Born into a household where, unlike her brothers, young Isatou Dukureh’s inalienable rights to movement, association, education, opinion and speech was unduly alienated.
Her father, she explains, rules his household with an iron fist and punishes her by beating for some minor mistakes. Even his wives are not spared, though male children are accorded some preferential treatment when it comes to association, education, etc.
Growing up, young Isatou could hardly feel her father’s love for her. She sees conditions at her household as no different from prison where ones rights, especially a girl child’s, are unduly curtailed.
“My father’s house was like a prison,” she says, “but my marital home is a battleground.
“My husband and I have been married for over a year now, but I still don’t love him. I don’t have any feelings for him.
“He knows I don’t and he treats me badly,” she managed to say between sobs as she could no longer hold back her tears.
After a charged pause, she goes on: “I never thought my father would marry me to a stranger.
“I’ve struggled to understand how any parent could do this to his or her child.
“My husband treats me cruelly. I wanted to divorce him right now, but my father would kill me.
“He would curse me when I tell him that I don’t love my husband. He would never forgive me for disobeying him.”
Worse than that, Isatou says, her husband has vowed never to divorce her ‘because my father gave me to him as ‘gift.’
She explains further: “When I traveled with my husband to his home village in in Guinea Conakry, I found out that he has another wife.
“He never told me about it. It was his parents who informed me while I was there.
“Infact, my husband wife told me if there are no men in my own country. She queries why my father should get me married to his husband.
“I wake up every morning hoping that my husband would tell me: pack up and leave … that he doesn’t want me any more,” she says. But that seems to be a far away aspiration for now.