Sexism Is Not Just Words, It Poisons Society

Sexism Is Not Just Words, It Poisons Society

Sexism |ˈsɛksɪz(ə)m| 

by dictionary definition is prejudice, stereotyping, or discrimination, typically against women, on the basis of sex.

The State Minister of tourism Kiwanda launching the ludicrous Miss Curvy Contest in Uganda  said, “We have naturally endowed nice looking women that are amazing to look at. Why don’t we use these people as a strategy to promote our tourism?”

Good lord! This kind of sexism is a bad stench that reminds us Ugandan women of the male chauvinism and patriarchy that our society has been fed on for generations through culture and religion. You know like smell that comes from a trash bin when it hangs around the house longer than it should?

Uganda’s source of tourism is animals, nature and to add to list Kiwanda suggests curvy women. Because in Kiwanda’s mind, women are no less than the list of things that have been attracting tourists.

I watch the twitter timeline and Facebook feed painfully as Ugandan men young and old chuckle and make jokes about this absurdity. Sadder, that some girls think that skinny girls are just being plainly jealous when they speak out against this sexism.

On the surface, sometimes sexist comments sound like compliments and that is why socially unconscious people like Kiwanda struggle to see what is wrong with their thinking.

But this is what you do to women and girls that read this stuff in headlines of major news papers-   that women are second class citizens, that all girls should aim at is being delicate flowery attractions, that they shouldn’t aim for the highest positions in society. It is subtly passing on a message to the males on how they should view the females around them- no less than cheap objects that attract tourists.

The media is not helping the situation, in their quest for relevance and sales though sensationalism, you can read the undertone of the news-reporter that they are not just reporting the news but rather eagerly passing on a toxic piece of information.

But to understand sexism, these men should look at it as racism, being in a place and the way people look at you, talk to you – even the most mediocre of the race that claims superiority makes you suddenly question your humanity.  The principles of the evils are basically the same.

The Kiwanda’s don’t know that the rape issues, defilement of girls, female genital mutilation, cat-calling on the streets, sexual harassment at work, in schools and at the universities is find root in this culture of thinking that women are less because they are women.

“Why do you think sexism persists?” I asked a friend I was hanging out with recently.  “it is like how you programme a computer.” she said, “you will programme a computer according to how you want the computer to function, tell women that they are objects and it will be inked in their subconscious minds and men will dominate in workplaces, in positions of power and their egos will be boosted in their homes, they will control their women, get women to slave for them in their homes.” She said and I couldn’t agree more.

No wonder Ugandan women continue to suffer because of bad policies and poor management of the country, there is no maternal health care, women are struggling to feed their kids because of a bad economy; no decent jobs, insurance is a dream for many, unpaid care work, they toil in the fields, they feed the nation while being ripped off by middle men, inheritance and property rights are still a huge challenge, there is no proper housing, no proper roads, the phenomenon of absentee fathers is here because men have abandoned their basic duties. There is one thing that these misogynistic people don’t know is that Patriarchy works against an entire system that takes both men and women down.

Look at countries that respect their women- Scandinavian countries dominated the 2019 list of the best countries for women, they are far ahead than countries that seek to subdue and make fun of the agency of the woman.

Breaking the Silence to End Sexual Harassment at workplaces in Uganda #SolidarityWins

Breaking the Silence to End Sexual Harassment at workplaces in Uganda #SolidarityWins

“On a project that I was working on, we had to work with Members of Parliament for their input on a legislation we were drafting. So, we went to parliament, to meet with them. As we were walking towards the room, one MP saw me, walked to me and then he started rubbing my back. He then he looked at my arms and said, “Oh my God you have very hairy arms”. He asked me If I understood what that meant to which I said I did not. He then said that “it means that during sex you’ll be very wet” and he could only imagine that the sex must be sweet. This was really annoying, he was a vulgar person, remember, this is the first day I had met him, that was 2013. Later, as we were seated around a table; myself, an Intern, and some other people he was saying sexually explicit stuff. That is one example. At my place of work, my supervisor kept telling me that I look sexy, the accountant in the same organization one day told me that I really really have big boobs. This made me feel very uncomfortable.” Sarah, a 28-year-old Human Rights Lawyer revealed to me. She was young, her career had just begun, so she decided keep this to herself scared of the bullying, stigma, shaming that comes with speaking out. Until today, she is not comfortable with speaking out about the ordeals.

In Uganda, sexual harassment at work places, though prevalent is seldom spoken about. Uganda’s 2016 demographic and health survey found that more than one in five women report having experienced sexual violence. Mostly, the vice finds its safe haven in silence, stigma, weak policies, high unemployment levels as I would discover when I asked a sample of corporate women where they would seek redress if ever faced with sexual harassment at work;

Eva, a 25-year-old Marketing Executive believes that “Reporting sexual harassment in this country and pointing out the committer leads to losing your job and sometimes no employer wants to work with you after that. And in this economy, we do not have rich parents or a lot of money to fall back to, so most of us will prefer silence to talking about it.”

Sandra, 26, a Social Worker said that “If ever I am sexually harassed, I would be afraid to report the case to the police because I believe most of the police stations do not have a gender desk and for the cases, I have heard, most times the blame is shifted on women.”

Kemigisha, 19, says that “I would report my case to the police but I would never share this issue on social media because I wouldn’t want the attention that comes with social media. I don’t be want to be labeled a whore – you know how our society is.”

Izzy, 32, a youth rights advocate says that “It really would depend on the harassment faced. If someone catcalled me, I wouldn’t report it. But if I had a near rape experience or an actual rape I would report the case to police.”

These responses offer insight on why coming out to speak about sexual harassment can be complicated.

 The question is, how can we foster solidarity to strengthen the violence against women prevention movement?

Knowing that silence is the frontline enemy, speaking up is an act of defiance. Collective campaigns like #Metoo #AidToo have given a voice to women to speak up. The key thing is for women to know that they have agency over their bodies, what they do with them is a dictatorship.

Facilitating Human Resource managers to understand what sexual harassment actually means will enable them to consistently pass on this message to staff members to keep it fresh in the organizations, not for the policies to just sit on shelves only to be presented during the auditing season.

In addition, workplaces ought to create safe spaces where staff members can unreservedly report cases major or minor.

“Workplaces should put in place policies against any form of sexual harassment and make avenues through which cases can be reported.  I would have a participatory session with the staff to know their understanding of sexual harassment in the work place, then use their views to build a policy which is accustomed for the work environment and one that’s clearly understood by the staff.  I would create confidential avenues, like an anonymous email chain where these issues can be reported, suggestion boxes among others.” Beatrice a 25-year-old Administrative Assistant suggested.

Safe spaces to speak up about sexual harassment come in handy; Not Your Body offers a great example of how an online platform has taken strides in creating a space where Ugandan women can speak about their experiences of sexual harassment and discrimination. Social media has indeed offered a voice to Ugandan women.

Police has to stand up to the times, the force should be equipped to understand how to deal with sexual harassment issues rather than trivialize the cases that are reported; Lindsey Kukunda speaking to News Deeply mentioned that “I also had a personal experience when I attempted to report sexual harassment to the police. I was lectured and made to feel like it was my fault, and this experience made me wonder what there was to do about it. It also made me wonder how many other women experienced something similar and also didn’t know what to do about it.”

Whatever means work for women in protecting themselves against sexual harassment, these means should be applied because ultimately, women’s lives matter.

From 14th – 16th June, 2018, join an online campaign on the theme Solidarity Wins for Stronger VAW Prevention Movements” by the Gender Based Violence Prevention Network, coordinated by Raising Voices in Uganda. Join the conversation on #SolidarityWins

Scars of Womanhood in Sebei

Scars of Womanhood in Sebei

The road wanders through the lush green slopes of Mount Elgon.  The temperatures suddenly drop as the altitude gets higher and little evening drizzles fall lightly on the gorgeous peaks. Never had I seen that many waterfalls in the same place in my life.  If Hollywood ever wanted a paradise without setting it up, Sebei Region, Eastern Uganda the home of the Sabiny people is the place.

Picturesque as it is, this in the past was no home for an uncircumcised Sabiny girl. She would be ridiculed in the village. Her husband if she was lucky to get one, was mocked when he sat in the company of fellow men. It was believed that the uncircumcised woman could not get near a cow lest she causes it bad luck and it dies, that means she would not have milk and dung to paint her walls. She was a curse to the community.

Succumbing to the pressure at the well, in the field and at home, she would want to get circumcised so that she can fit in. She didn’t do it for her self, she did it for her community.

When the circumcision season approached and she had hit puberty, on the night before the circumcision, as the komek brewed, the girl and her age mates danced all night, watching for the night fade into morning, anxiously waiting to be women, to do this once and for all.

I saw other girls doing it. I had to do it too and avoid shame. You’ve been defeated if you run away, you were not a real woman if you screamed when the mutinde cut you with her knife.” Recalls 72-year-old Koko Yego of Kabei Village in Bukwo District.

The mentor counseled the girls, she told them that real women don’t cry after they’ve been cut. The mentor said that she protected them against the spirits that roamed during the circumcision season.

“Before the cutting day, I would protect the girls. Traditionally we believed that during the circumcision period, the spirt world was awake, that is when witches performed their witchery and it worked. I had to do my job, lest the girls die when they are cut, or are cursed with bareness. I would protect them that no stranger comes near them. I talked to the girls all night to endure the pain.” says 65-year-old Jennifer Cherop a former mentor that abandoned the trade when FGM was outlawed.

As morning dawned the girl and her peers were ready to meet the circumciser. The arena was set, the girls prepared, drums sounded as villagers gathered. It was time for celebration because girls were turning into women. It was her turn, she spread her legs, she could feel the the surgeon’s hands hold her clitoris and labia, she secretly clenched her teeth as the surgeon’s knife cut them off, blood gushed out, she saw her unwanted body parts thrown to the ground. The surgeons bloody knife would then go to cut the next girl and the next girl and the next girl as the villagers ululated at the spectacle, children and villagers giggling at the girl that flinched.

“It was my job to cut the girls, I started cutting girls when I was in my mid 20’s. I cannot tell how many girls I cut because they were very many. I did this until 5 years ago when people came to educate us about the dangers of female circumcision. After cutting the girls, most of them regretted immediately, others came years later asking me why I had done it. Some girls failed to heal until medical workers came to intervene. Thank God none died because I had cut them. But other circumcisers were not that lucky, I know many girls that died after they had been cut.  I knew that I was doing the right thing because I was fulfilling the demands of my culture.” Says 61-year-old Friska Yapkworei of Tukumo Binyiny sub-county Kween district.

The mentor would clean up the bloody arena, throwing the unwanted parts into a pit latrine. That latrine had to belong to the family of one of the circumcised girls to ensure that the parts are not used by witches. By the time the mid day sunshine cleared the misty mountains, the villagers would be drunk on the Komek brew, celebrating that their girls had become women.

She was now a woman in their eyes, she was now marriage material, she now afforded privileges of being a woman. For months she nursed the wounds in the care of her mentor that gave her herbs. Her husband would be confident when he went on expeditions in faraway lands that she would remain chaste, he would sit in the company of men and be respected. Yet, this woman would never know the pleasure of sex, she had been condemned to painful child births, she would go to her grave never knowing what it was to truly be a woman.

“The surgeon left, but the pain remained with me.” says 38-year old Elimo Scovia of Kabei Village in Bukwo district.

The European missionaries arrived on the slopes of Mount Elgon in the early 1900s to spread Christianity to the Sabiny people. The converts were ridiculed and the uncircumcised girl soon succumbed to the pressure from her community,

The Female Genital Mutilation Practice persisted.

The Rebel girls

In 1960, rebel girls arose – they refused to be cut. Among them was Jane Francis Kuka. She narrates her story.

“I told my mother that I didn’t want to be cut. My mother told me that my only hope was education. That if I could read hard and continue with school, I would survive. One day, I visited my grandmother but she and grandfather slept in separate rooms. I wondered why they were sleeping alone each. My grandmother told me that she could not endure the pain every time they made love. My grandmother told me, “My daughter if you keep scratching a scar you will feel terrible pain.” I worked very hard at school. I became a Grade 2 teacher, I upgraded until I became a tutor in a tertiary institution. I got married. I managed to convince my husband but the first real line of attack was my mother-in-law.  She was livid that her son had married an uncircumcised girl. I did all I could to befriend my mother-in-law- we later became friends and I was safe.”

Kuka had started a revolution that she could never imagine. More girls were refusing to be cut and in 1990, the District Resistance Council led by Peter Kamuron a Saul turned Paul, passed a decree that it was mandatory for all women and girls above 13 years to be cut. In 1992, Kuka along with all the rebel girls was being hunted by the elders who wanted to forcefully cut them. She hastily took off to Kampala where she met with Joyce Mpanga, the then Minister of Gender, Labour and Social Development. Mrs. Mpanga took the case directly to the president, who gave her a helicopter back to Kapchorwa where she met the Resistance Council leaders. The minister ordered that the decree is nullified. This was a victory for Ms. Kuka but it made her grossly unpopular among the elders and the populace. She stood for office three times and lost the race every time. She started fighting from the sidelines with the women’s movement, the church, civil society, and development partners until 2010 when the Female Genital Mutilation Act was enacted.

The FGM practice has since gone underground – some women are cut at childbirth, where their husbands and community assume they are nursing birth wounds. Some girls are sneaked into neighboring Pokot to be cut. The cutters have no safe haven because Kenya too doesn’t tolerate FGM.

Now that the practice is underground is one of the reasons UNFPA Uganda, religious institutions, the Ministry of Gender conducts an annual marathon in Sebei region. What the heck does a marathon have to do with female genital mutilation? Some people have asked. Here is why: The Sabiny are amazing athletes, in fact, many young Sabiny girls and boys aspire to be runners. They love the sport and they are good at it. World gold medalists Moses Kipsiro, Jacob Kiplimo, Stephen Kiprotich, silver medalist Joshua Cheptegei are all from Sebei region. Youngsters watching their role models running to end FGM creates a huge impact.

“The impact of the event is striking, it helps raise curiosity among the community why all these famous runners, and people of different races are running in their communities. For instance, 2016, was a cutting year, but we never heard of any case being reported. The practice has gone clandestine,” says the Chief Administrative Officer of Bukwo district.

Despite the fact that no case of FGM has been reported in all the three districts of Sebei Region; Bukwo, Kween, and Kapchorwa in the past year, the sensitization has to go on. To change attitudes completely so that the girls can know that their bodies belong to them and not to the community and to make Female Genital Mutilation a thing of the past.

 

 

 

 

Prison was my place of redemption

Prison was my place of redemption

Gloria Acan Photo credit Advance Afrika

Gloria Acan gazed at the prison cell wall wondering when this ordeal would be over. She remembered the sound of the magistrate’s hammer when he sentenced her to six months in prison. She had appeared in court three times before. She had prayed that the magistrate would have mercy on her and allow her to take care of her three children. Now, she was certain that everybody was right about her being a pathetic mother.

Her life had been like a free fall; the magistrate’s hammer was rock bottom – She dropped out of school at senior 4, a marriage gone sour at 20, here she was at 22 in jail.

“When I was four months pregnant with my second child, he went on a ‘work trip’ and never returned. He had told me that he could never take me to his parents’ home because they could never accept an Acholi girl.”

For a girl in her village, if she hadn’t completed school, a man with some property was her way out. A year later, she met a man of her own tribe that seemed to love her and her two children.

“He owned land, he introduced me to his family and he wasn’t embarrassed to have me like the first Munyakole man that had disappeared.” She said.

This love affair soon came to an end when the man started to drink alcohol.

“My husband was drinking all the time, and every time he drunk, he beat me. One day, we were attending his relative’s funeral when he started to beat me up in front of mourners. It is like he enjoyed humiliating me. People came running towards us and pulled him away from me. Those that witnessed the scene at the funeral cautioned me that he was going to kill me if I didn’t leave him.” She said.

She left him.

“Life was hard when I left him. Our child was five months old.” She said

After what seemed like series of endlessly failed business ventures, she decided to take her last child who was eight months then to his father. His father, in turn, took the child to St Jude a foster home in Gulu town. Before St Jude takes on a child, they inform the police. The police started to investigate and ended up jailing Acan for child abandonment.

Close to three months into her time in prison, the prison warden came with an announcement. A civil society organization called Advance Afrika was conducting a rehabilitation and economic empowerment of inmates and ex-inmates in Northern Uganda to prepare them for life after prison.

“I must have been the first one to apply.” She said. “I prayed day and night that I would be selected for the training program. My gut told me that this might be an opportunity for a second chance in life.”

The organization conducted an interview, where she mentioned that she was interested in studying business skills. After a few weeks, they came back to announce the participants. She had been selected.

“I was excited. It never occurred to me that prison would be my place of redemption – the skills that they taught me I could never have learned from anywhere else. I paid all the attention that I could afford to the teachers that were teaching us.”

In May this year, she was released.

“On May 23rd, a social worker from Advance Afrika gave me a bale of second-hand clothes as start up kit. The first time I went to the market, my sales were 150,000 Ugx. Everything has turned around for me.” She smiled. “My children are in school. I got my son back, from St Jude. I can afford to pay rent. I hope to purchase land soon and build a home for my children. I am not in a hurry to get married again because I want to go back to school. I am not the same woman that walked into that prison cell.”

The Worst is over

The Worst is over

Just after a storm: Source Internet.

This is the fifth story in the series of elite women that have overcome toxic marriages and relationships. I listen as she shares with me her story of loss, abuse and the fight to overcome.

In my eyes, the path for my future was well paved out it was clear and very bright. But there are occurrences in this life journey that can either destroy you or leave you stronger. Sometimes taking the next breath  is a choice you have to make. In 2010, the death of my aunt was the tide that turned the course of my life. She had taken me in when I was eight after the loss of my parents. Many thought that she was my biological mother because she treated me as such. She had me and her one biological son. At the funeral, we were surrounded by relatives and friends that spoke nice things of how they were going to take care of us. I was in senior four when she passed away. When the funeral was over we went back to our house in Ministers’ village Ntinda.

Since my aunt was married off, they said that we were being raised by another clan as tradition. So the clan members to my Aunt’s husband came held a meeting and they gave us days to leave the house. That is when my mom’s cousin come in gave us transport and we left for the village.

They removed us from of the good schools because they couldn’t afford them. When I was in senior six, I kept defaulting on school fees. It is at this time that I met a man.  He was 29 and I was 18. He showered me with love. He was like a God send. He offered to pay my senior six school fees, upkeep, and all other needs. When I completed senior six, he asked me to move in with him. I was now 19 and I felt that I could handle a marriage relationship.

My cousins, uncles told me that I was making a terrible mistake but all their appeals fell on deaf ears. The first few months were an extension of the bliss. In February, my results were released and I had scored 17 points. Since I was studying arts, this wasn’t enough to get me a government scholarship, but I was certain that my man would help me. In the same month, I got pregnant, what was supposed to be good news started causing hostility. We argued every day until our baby boy arrived. I was so distracted that I didn’t even apply for a course at the University so that had to be a dead year. After the baby arrived, the arguments escalated into physical abuse.

one day, he got my phone and started going through all the received calls of that day the last call was from a male voice he knew that because he called all the numbers when he heard a male voice on the other side of the line, he rained on me slaps and he picked a knife and cut off all the clothes I was wearing he was aiming to cut my private parts. I fought hard, I got up and started fighting for the knife he was aiming the knife so in the at my chest. I fought. I couldn’t allow the knife to pass through me. At this point, I was fighting for my life. He was holding me from behind that means I was in his arms. When he saw me not letting the knife that is when he off bit my ear. Look, he bit off my ear lobe.

I run for my life.

I went to Lira town where I rented a shack. Life was hard. I can’t count the times we went to bed hungry. Everything was a luxury.

When my child turned two, I frequented Lira district head quarters in search for tuition sponsorship opportunities- asking whether there was anyone that could help pay my tuition at the University. My results impressed the officers that saw them but they said that they could not do anything about it. I reached out to some of my aunt’s friends that I could remember some of whom were in high places- most of them couldn’t even remember me. I approached my area MP to help me.

After months of my pestering, he said that a friend of his – Hon Daudi Migereko had the arrangement to help girls that had passed A level exams but didn’t have any financial support. When I approached Hon. Migereko, he agreed to help only if the area MP too contributed. I applied to the University and in 2015, I was admitted at Kyambogo University.

I couldn’t go with my son to the hostel so I took him to his father. That was the last time I saw my child. I am not allowed to see him. I have just joined the third year. For two years, I have been barred from seeing my kid. Even when I send clothes and toys, I am told that they are thrown away. He has told me that as long as he lives, I will never see my son again. I miss my boy. This is the first time I am opening up about this but talking to you makes me feel like a burden has lifted off my shoulders. I hope that someday, my family members can accept me again. Right now, I am on my own, when the other students go to their homes, I stay at the hostel. From my internship, I have been retained now I have a job that I will do alongside school. If only I can have my son back. But I am glad that slowly my path is beginning to light up again.

I have never healed

I have never healed

I met her at a meeting in Nairobi in 2015, she is bubbly, we stayed in touch through Facebook. When I called out to elite women to share their stories of victory against abuse, she inboxed me admitting that she was not sure whether she had really overcome, I told her to share anyway. She had written something about her experience but never had the guts to share it really and all I needed to do was to review.

Fresh at the university, I met James in March 2011 through my cousin Denis. I was a virgin that knew neither trust nor love.

My trust was leaning on the fact that Denis and I were close.  I held onto the old adage that “Show me your friends and I will tell you who you are” besides my physical eye, I could not see beyond the man that I was attracted to and that he was 29 and eight years my senior didn’t matter.

He visited me in Nakuru on a number of weekends but never ever suggested anything like sex or even romance. My trust increased. He told me that he wanted me to finish school and we would take the relationship to another level. He was simply perfect. We went out on a couple of dates- a few drinks here and there but never did we share a bed.

One day, during his visits he drunk a little too much and an argument ensued. He slapped me. He apologised profusely and even cried for forgiveness. I was in love so I forgave but I never forgot. I had started seeing skin deep. That was in August of the same year. In September, he slapped me again over a simple argument but still, I forgave him.

In December 2011, I went to my rural home in Kisii for my grandfather’s funeral. We agreed to meet because that was his home, where he lived in his house alone. We met at a local club and he had his few drinks before we departed. As we left the club, I was quite sober but he was tipsy. We got into the car and his driver was supposed to drop me home then drop him. He instructed the driver to take us to his house first then later I would be dropped. I tried to resist but his driver could only take his instruction.

We went.

The alarm in my mind went off when his driver left. He (James) locked the gate and all the doors and kept the key. From the time we arrived at about 7.30pm at 9.05pm, there was an uneasy silence. My phone didn’t have credit. We did not say a word to each other. (I will never forget this) at 9.06pm, I asked him to drop me home instead of us sitting quiet and staring in the air. For heaven’s sake, it was my grand father’s funeral.

I didn’t know that my question was fuel on flames. He gripped my head, pulled my hair and pressed my head to the floor. He stepped on my head thrice and hit me with a big stick. I have no idea where that stick came from.

I felt like I was bleeding from every part of my body. I cried and screamed but no one could hear me. It was the only house in the compound. He began to wipe my blood. At around 11 pm, he told me that it was time to sleep. He showed me the bedroom –  I slept on the bed and him on the floor. This time, he was not sorry.

I kept crying. After over two hours, he suddenly stood up from the mattress he was sleeping on. He came towards the bed, he tied my hands to the bed and he raped me. This is stamped in my memory. I will never forget this day. I pinched myself to see if I wasn’t having a bad dream that I could somehow wake up from.

Morning came, he forced me into the bathroom to clear any evidence from the rape then told me to leave his house. I took a cab to attend my grand father’s funeral. I was embarrassed. After the funeral, I stayed indoors. I don’t know where he is, I don’t really want to know.

To cover up my hurt, I started to attend the gender meetings at campus, the leaders would tell give us messages to take to victims, I never opened up because I didn’t want to be the girl that wears the scarlet letter on her forehead. I started hard and graduated. I am a working woman woman but my trust was robbed. That dark day is engrained in my memory.

This is the first time in 6 years speaking out about this ordeal. I have never healed – I have never talked to anyone about this. It kills me every day. But I have dedicated my time to helping others heal and along the way I hope I can find my own healing.

Back then I did not know anything or any legal action.  I would take but today am empowered and I encourage other women to not keep quiet about such issues But what is love again?

 

Coming out on the other side

Coming out on the other side

Photo Credit: BigStock

My friend texted me after she had read the “Happily Never After” story that I featured on this blog last week. She asked whether I was only writing about Ugandans that had overcome abusive relationships and I told her that if I got an opportunity to interview those outside Uganda, I would definitely take it on. She told me that she had written her story it was on her computer but she hand not shared it on any of her  platforms. Being the brilliant person she is, I knew that she would tell the story more than I ever could. Here is her story of overcoming from an abusive relationship.

Sometimes when you want something so badly, when you get it, you want to hold on to it forever. That was the case with me and what I thought then was my soul mate. In my second year at the university, 21-year-old me, in the process of exiting a relationship with one of those boys your mother says never to date, I met him. He was funny, broody at times, confident, and as far as looks go by, not bad. In my mind, he was a major upgrade from my soon to be ex. He was a friend’s friend; a team player and we soon became inseparable.

He told me he had slapped a girl once before when he was at varsity. He said that he really hadn’t meant to but she had pushed him and he apologized. I believed people could change and of course, I would never let that happen to me. I fell in love. I had found the one person I could be completely honest with.

Funny thing is that I didn’t see this as a warning coming from the horse’s mouth, I never heeded the warning, eyes wide open I found myself in a relationship with an abuser. It started with the comments meant to break down my confidence “what good will come out of that degree you are studying” I took it as a joke. “Look at her, that one can be very stupid sometimes” but I thought he was just teasing.

This extended to the flat out denial, when it suited him, that were not together. All these things said in front of close friends, and It didn’t occur to me that he was trying to publicly shame me. I did not think it was said in a way to hurt me-he loved me, surely we were just joking. Things escalated from emotional tormenting to physical abuse.

The first time I remember quite vividly. A few hours before my best friend’s birthday celebrations, I found myself pinned on my bed, rationalizing with a man who had just spat on me not to land the fist hovering over my eye he still needed to go to work and I had to make it to my friend’s birthday. This was over a cell phone I had dropped by mistake. That was the culmination of the violence and I realized the person I was with. The apology came with lines of I did not deserve to be treated like that, and I thought it would never happen again.

People ask you why you never left the first time? Why did you allow yourself to stay? It’s not like you were married or he owned the house you were staying in. For two and a half years. I had wanted it to work so badly because he got me – I was literally dangerously in love. Sometimes we have to let our guard down and be vulnerable with people, but we choose the wrong people. Every time I took him back, it meant I lost a little bit of myself.

Over two years, I negotiated situations and avoided triggers, I learnt to read this man to avoid the punches. I felt like it was my fault that on a night out he couldn’t find me so he choked me for leaving him at the club. This was on my birthday. He had missed my birthday dinner, then showed up drunk to the dancing afterwards. He found me waiting for him as he had called to say he was on his way. I remember the necklace I was wearing being ripped off my neck. When people pulled him away from me, I ran to the nearest cab and went home.

I fought back. I had taken him back after a long separation which included a move to a different country. In his reconciliation visit, a blow meant for me landed on my friend. I felt more rage that he had attacked her and went after him. Suffice to say, I came out worse. I fell and got kicked in the face. It took a couple of guys who I am forever grateful to intervene and pull him off me.

When my friend begged me to go to the police station, I did not report him but instead the police took me home. I was always making excuses to make sure he did not have to be held accountable.

My friend once said after I took him back, “We are going to bury you after he does something to you.” Now that was the literal rock bottom. I was 23 and I was devastated that the man I loved would not change. I thought that I could save him from his own issues. It took a long time for me to comprehend the fact I did not do anything to provoke him.

With time, prayer, friends, determination to become the first graduate in my family and saw me through. I am a believer in God and at my lowest he saved me.

Some will ask why did he not intervene in the middle of it all? How do you save someone who refuses to take your hand? We all need one friend that holds us accountable.

I had the opportunity to figure things out myself, something I never thought I would be able to do. I have not lived in the same country as my abuser in the last years so I could forget him. The thing with coming out alive is sometimes the elements come together and work in your favour where you never have to be in the same space or breathe the same air with a man who made you question your worth.

In the end, the biggest lesson I have learnt is that there is no type cast for who gets abused. A man or woman uncomfortable in their own skin will seek some form of power over another. For the man who abused me, he chose to vent his demons on me. I am able to share my story not seeking self-pity but to help who ever needs to hear it. Thankfully my pain made me strong and gave me the determination to rise against the odds.