World Pulse

ZIMBABWE: No More Apologies for Violence

Lilian Chirambadare
Posted July 8, 2015 from Zimbabwe

“I hope that someday, the family—so highly esteemed in our social structures—will protect women and young girls, and stop apologizing for men when they have wronged women.

Lee Mwaita profile image

Lee Mwaita | Zimbabwe

What is it that I could have done differently? Should I have worn fuller skirts, should I have not worn the hipsters that were all the rage, should I have gone on a diet so that my ample behind did not show so much, should I have smiled less brightly, should I have avoided conversation with him, should I have been invisible, should my father never have died? Should he have left me a trust fund that would allow me to be self-sufficient and never lack? Should I never have gone to live with them in the first place? So many questions haunt me and I have no answer as to why he sexually molested me.

I remember standing outside of myself and wondering how I should respond to his sexual advances, his clammy hands clawing me, the lewd sexual innuendos directed at me, the leery looks cast above my aunt’s head as we sat at the dinner table. He was, after all, my guardian following my father’s death. I wondered if he felt entitled, and whether or not he was actually entitled to the fringe benefits accruing to him by the mere fact of sending me to school, having provided me with a roof over my head and food in my stomach.

These were my options: I could play along just so I could be out of harm’s way and not ruffle feathers unnecessarily. I could report him to my aunt to put an end to his predation of me, even though it meant destroying their marriage and alienating me from the people who provided a roof over my head. I could report him to the police and risk alienating myself from the bigger family by taking matters into my own hands.

By cultural right, resolution of the matter belonged to my uncles, so I took it to them. By this time, they knew about this predation but had chosen to let the matter rest—it was more important to them that I finish my school with a roof over my head and in the mean time it was my job to protect myself from this man in his own house.

My aunt was willing to forgive him this one transgression among innumerable indiscretions he committed against her. She was unwilling to doubt him when he told her I lied about his molestation of me, even though it was not the first time he had sexually molested someone; he molested a maid once before.

To believe me would shatter the perfectly embroidered lie of their marriage and depreciate her standing among her church peers. She herself had suffered sexual abuse at a young age and I felt she should have known better about the trauma that I had gone through. Her condemnation of me made things worse. It made me believe this was truly bigger than myself, and that I could not do anything about it.

I found myself being judged along the lines of the perpetuated purity myth, a good girl paradigm that places the emphasis on women remaining chaste, conflating abstinence with responsibility. My case was judged too, along the lines of the myth of male weakness, which suggests that all men are cavemen; brutish and hyper-sexual, that their civility is a mist which can evaporate at any time.

I heard the suggestion that men, driven by the irresistible forces of the Y chromosome and testosterone, are to be applauded for even the most half-hearted efforts at self-restraint. Their ‘inherent’ vulnerability to temptation suggested that it was my job to protect him from himself.

I remember all too vividly the shame I felt when I shouldn’t have felt shame, the horrible guilt I felt when I should not have felt guilty. I felt like I owed it to both of them to keep them together, that I owed it to my family to forget my own pain. It was more important to recognize the collective good that would result from shutting up. I was socialized to think in terms of the collective, never mind the individual harm caused. But it grated that the very system ostensibly designed to protect me, patriarchy, was working to stifle the very life out of me.

When sexual abuse happens to women, I will them with everything that is in me to fight using the law at their disposal. However, I am aware that the same law was available to me then as it is now, but I have not used it to bring the perpetrator to book. So many factors inform my decision, least of which is that reliving the trauma is not something I particularly relish doing. I imagine that there are plenty of women like myself who have been faced with the same dilemma and have not done as justice would have them do because there are so many other factors to consider.

I hope that someday women shall rise and cease to live in a state of predestined misery. I hope my first-hand knowledge will contribute to creating this world. It is time to stop apologizing for the violence against us.

I hope that someday, the family—so highly esteemed in our social structures—will protect women and young girls, and stop apologizing for men when they have wronged women. I envision a world where women do not have to apologize for being women as I had to—and still continue—to do.


About this story
This story was written for the World Pulse and No Ceilings Path to Participation Initiative. With this initiative, we crowdsourced stories from World Pulse's global community to helpturn No Ceilings: The Full Participation Report into a blueprint for action on the ground.Click here to browse through the126 submissions we received from over 30 countries.

Comments 8

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Chelsea Maricle
Jul 15, 2015
Jul 15, 2015

Dear Lee,

I have recently been wondering this same thing: how is it that we can uphold and honor the notion of "family" and yet not uphold and honor the women and girls who make up every family on the planet? I am moved by your bravery to share your story, and thank you for opening up to our community. I also hope that families will one day - very soon - take a stand to protect the women and girls in their family.

Standing in solidarity with you,

Chelsea

libudsuroy
Jul 16, 2015
Jul 16, 2015

Dear Lee, I salute your audacity, your breaking the silence. Your story is the story of many women living in many countries around the globe, where the family has become a disempowering instittution. You have also strewn possibilities of solutions to the cultural roots of this problem.

The power of truth-telling resonates throughout your narrative.

Maya Muñoz-Tobón
Jul 27, 2015
Jul 27, 2015

Dear Lee,

I thank you for your courage to break silence for yourself and women around the world facing violence. I hope your voice continues to go louder and stronger, and that we as women stop soon apologizing for our powerful existence.Thank you for been vulnerable with us in our community.

Maya

Angelica F
Aug 03, 2015
Aug 03, 2015

Dear Lee,

Thank you for this personal and powerful story, I was moved by it. You spoke about the entitlement of your uncle, and how you wondered if he felt he was entitled to do whatever he wished with you since he was providing for you. I feel that the inequality of genders creates that sense of entitlement amongst men and inversely, a feeling among women that they owe something to men. This is a destructive relationship that exists in patriarchal societies, and you are right that you do not owe anyone anything, especially an apology for being a woman! I feel that I learned from your post, and I hope you will continue to share your stories and insights.

Thank you,

Angelica

zizou
Aug 25, 2015
Aug 25, 2015

Dear lee ,

i was touched by your story and i respect you because you have shared it with us i'm sure there are many women who live what you have lived and by posting this articles you might help them break the silence and oritest against this kind of vilolence .

Being a woman has to be pourd for being a woman .

Colleen Abdoulah
Sep 14, 2015
Sep 14, 2015

Dear Lee,

I also want to thank you for your story and the courage it took to speak out. I know first hand, on a personal level, what you are talking about because I have my own story. I sympathize with how you were initialing questioning yourself - wondering is there something more you could have done or could be doing. We can tend to take the shame on ourselves vs direct it where it belongs - with the abuser. This issue has gone on for centuries and is something that must be addressed, literally, in every country. We must continue to be brave, speak out and fight for the right to have our bodies, our will, our basic human rights protected. Bless your heart,

Colleen

JoAnne V
Sep 14, 2015
Sep 14, 2015

Dear Lee -

You are brave, beautiful and utterly innocent.  Thank you for sharing your story.  I hope it brings greater awareness of this abuse and gives courage to others who may be suffering the same fate.  Thank you for using your voice so eloquently and powerfully.  

Netsai Nomhle
Dec 01, 2015
Dec 01, 2015

Dear Lee - Wow and bravo for having such an amazing voice, bravo for having a mind set of reason, bravo for surviving.