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By Rutagengwa Claude Shema

Regional Coordinator

Great Lakes Peace Initiative (GLPI)


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An Italian husband was fitting bathrooms with tiles for a
living, while his wife, who was eight years younger, stayed home
and took care of the household. Her main concern was her security
in old age. Since women live on average eight years longer than
men, she expected to outlive her husband by about sixteen years.
His preference was to spend some hours after work in the evening
drinking a glass of wine and discussing with his friends at the
local pub. She complained that he had stopped working overtime.
He told her that she had no idea how difficult it was to fit the
last tiles behind a toilet or bathtub, that his shoulders were
aching, and that after many years of hard work he deserved to spend
some time with his friends in the evening. The tension slowly
escalated. One evening, in a fit of anger, she called him
impotent. He felt deeply hurt and hit her in revenge. She
screamed and called the police. The police told her husband that
if he ever did this again, he would spend half a year in jail.

At this point, through a friend of a friend, Johan was called
to mediate, maybe in the malicious joy that this was a conflict
that even he could not solve, or in the faint hope that there may
yet exist some solution. Johan carefully listened to the wife's
legitimate concern for financial security in her old age, and the
husband's legitimate wish to have some fun with his friends in the
evening after working all day. He realized that the wife had a
great deal of free time which she could use in some income-
generating activity. But the patriarchal model, which neither he
nor she questioned, demanded that the husband work outside of the
house earning money, and the wife stay home taking care of the
household. So he proposed to break out of that mental jail,
suggesting that they operate a bar together, and divide the income
equally. At first, the husband demanded that he get two thirds,
and his wife only one third of their profits. But Johan was firm
and insisted that they split their income equally, even though
conventional wisdom maintains that a mediator should let the
conflict parties arrive themselves at an agreement, and not
influence the outcome.

They agreed to operate the bar together and divide the income
in half. This gave the husband an opportunity to spend time with
his friends who visited the bar after work, and his wife to use her
time more productively and set aside some savings for her old age,
and it gave both the chance to cooperate together. They are still
happily married many years later

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