Call me Mary. I grew up as any young girl, looking forward to my wedding day. I had fantasies of how beautiful I would look in the gown, how the man of my life, my dream, my prince would embrace me and love me forever. I had dreams of my wonderful family of 2 maybe three lovely children; I wanted to give my children the best they could ever have, the best that I never had. After all, I grew up in an environment where everything my mother did attracted a thorough beating from my father, she was to be seen and not heard, and sometimes, we children were not spared either! I always looked forward to the day I would leave our home, leave the torture, leave the tyranny and hardship; if it was not blows and kicks, it was emotional abuse, obscenities thrown at the woman who was once my Father’s dream and love of his life, my mother. I hated to hear my mother scream, to see her tears of pain and anguish. “How could God allow this?” I asked myself often; was this, what life was all about? When would there be peace? Whenever my father was away for a few days, there would be peace and calm, no fear, home was bliss, but then, the scene of violence would be repeated all over again from the moment he arrived. It was as if he couldn’t get home soon enough to rain blows on my mother, he would just get a reason to fight or make noise that would end up in violence.
In spite of all, he took us to school and was keen on us having a good education and ensuring that none of us missed school because of fees. I was sent home because of unpaid fees a couple of times but would soon return. For this, I was grateful, and especially because I was in boarding school, meaning there would be less chaos in my life and would not have to see my mother suffering. Later on, my parents relocated abroad, but that didn’t stop the violence. It is until mum finally made a decision to move out, did a course in nursing and started working and became independent that I can truly say she got liberated. Gender based violence is happening every day, to people we know, our sister, mother, close friend, neighbour, even to us but we cannot open up about it because we’re afraid of the stigma, and losing friends. The family might say that you’re embarrassing them; it is even acceptable in some cultures for a woman to be disciplined (beaten) by the husband.
How did all this affect me? It did not kill my dream of getting married one day, but if there was one thing I always prayed for, was that I would get married to a man who was not like my father. I know, you’re thinking, every girl’s dream is to have a husband who’s like the father. Not me. I had forgiven him, but I prayed that my husband would be different, that he would never raise a hand to hit me, or threaten me in any way. Indeed, God answers prayer.
My story doesn’t end there; some years after my family relocated, I was informed by my eldest sister that my Father had again had a fight with my mother and that he had beaten her and hurt her so badly until she needed to be hospitalised. I was extremely angry at my father, ‘how could he do this, and in a foreign land?’ I decided enough was enough and we had to bring it to the table and discuss it, I was no longer the naïve child who would just coil away and hide at the violence. Thank God I got the chance to visit and we had the opportunity to sit together with my parents and talk about it. It was the most liberating feeling I had, that I could face my father and let him know that what he did was wrong and not acceptable. He accepted and vowed never to repeat it and I pray that this remains to be so.
A story recently brought on national TV, showed how a man went to the shop where his girlfriend was working, poured petrol on her and lit her, killing her and burning the entire building. Why? That he suspected he was cheating on her. Totally appalling!
It is still shocking to note, even with the advocacy to the extent of having not one international day, but 16 days of Activism against Gender-Based violence every year, that 1 in 3 women suffers physical or sexual violence. These are women well known to us, close friends, family or neighbour. This is not just data or statistics, it represents life, people, faces of women and girls who live in constant fear not knowing what tomorrow holds, who have given up on their dream, not because they want to, but because someone feels the need to exercise negative power over them. USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah stated during the launch of the 2014 campaign, “During these 16 Days, let us honor and remember all those who have been affected by gender-based violence and redouble our efforts to end this enduring outrage.”
This is not an easy problem to solve considering that most of it happens in the confines of our homes, behind high walls and plush apartments. However, we can all do something towards achieving the change we desire. For starters, women need to be empowered with business skills and where possible, the capital to start their own businesses. Once a woman is financially independent, like my mother, she will walk away and not withstand the violence. Many have stayed in their homes because they have no income, they feel helpless, but once they are financially independent, they have power to make an informed decision and choose life. We also need to continue in advocacy and awareness creation. By providing forums where women can be engaged and openly speak about their experiences in order to help others who may be in the same situation. Many suffer in silence in the fear that they will be rejected by the society if they come out or they’re worried about their children either living them behind or them staying without their father. I can’t say for sure why my mother stayed, but the experience for us children was not enviable. Organizations can also establish call centres where women can get help, or go through counseling and, or coaching to start all over, knowing that the situation does not mean the end of life.
I may not have all the answers but I am doing something by sharing my story, let us all raise our voice, both men and women against this vice. Let us appreciate life and see each other with the eyes of love, appreciating that we’re different and cannot all be the same. Let us not stigmatise those who speak but embrace them, and help them come out of the pain.
After all, ‘The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.’ Lao Tzu