Religion as a coercive tool is more common than you might think. We asked one of our frontline workers to tell us about her experiences with survivors.
I have spoken to many women who belong to various faiths and have spoken in relation to their sexual life and marriage. Many say they are expected to be a helper, to be submissive and to serve their husband. They say that their husbands and faith leaders use religion out of context. And this is done to inflate the position of men. We often hear:
I have to give him his conjugal rights and do my part as a wife
Choice is rarely an option in these situations. In fact, fear is used to coerce married women into giving when they do not want to give. Fear that their marriage will end and that they will bring dishonour to their family and/or community. This dishonour is often reinforced by patriarchal systems in their religion.
A coercive tool
One survivor* spoke of the abuse she endured during five years of marriage.
Anna and her husband slept in separate rooms. When her husband wanted sex, he’d text her to come to the main room. She held on to the hope that one day she would be allowed to stay in their main bedroom. Anna would accept under the hope that it would improve things in the relationship. This hope was always crushed immediately after sex when he’d chase her out and send her back to her room.
It was the first time she realised how sexual turmoil affected her as a woman and her ideas of the woman she was meant to be. Her body had grown accustomed to the act even when her brain and feelings weren’t. With support she is coming to terms with her feelings and trying to find ways to heal the psychological damage. She is a new and healthy perspective of what it is to be a woman.
*Anna is a pseudonym.