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 hardly 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

Does it Still Take a Village to Raise a Child in Africa?

Does it Still Take a Village to Raise a Child in Africa?

Children playing in the outskirts  of Kampala. Photo Credit: Katumba Badru.

Who is a child in Africa? I asked.

I got various answers ranging from a child is a young human, some said that a child is one that is owned and accepted by the parents, for some even at 20, African parents still consider you a child as long as you live under their roof. In some cultures, a woman will always be seen as a child- her husband her leader, some mentioned that a man will always be a child and so should be cosseted as such by his wife.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child defines child as “a human being below the age of 18 years.”

It takes a village to raise a child. This is a proverb that seemed to be the governing philosophy for Africans on how they take care of their children. The man Masaba comes to my mind, as long as  parents knew that Masaba was in the village, they would never worry about us, if Masaba found you loitering in the village, he would beat you with a stick chasing you to go back home, a story had been told of him using a nettle plant that was common on pathways in my village to sting the kids that behaved badly.

But what went wrong, look at all the abuses that children of Africa have to endure; those that were meant to protect are now predators – early marriages, child prostitution In South Africa, Female Genital Mutilation among the Sabiny in Uganda, Pokot in Kenya, in Somalia, Ethiopia and many other African countries still persists. In Egypt, there is something called holiday wives, these under-age Egyptian girls enter temporary marriages with rich tourists from the Persian Gulf during the summer in return for money for their families. ‘These arrangements are often facilitated by the girls’ parents and marriage brokers.’

Map showing the Prevalence of Female Genital Mutilation in Africa  2013

According to Girls not Brides,

   Approximately 39% of girls in Sub-Saharan Africa are married off before the age of 18 all African countries are faced with the challenge of child marriage, where they experience high-child marriage prevalence, such as Niger (76%) or lower rates like Algeria (3%). Child marriage is widespread in West and Central Africa (42%) as well as Eastern and Southern Africa (36%).

Recently, I watched a tear-jerking CNN Freedom project documentary on child labour Cobalt mines in Congo, numbers of child soldiers in South Sudan is still rising, there are hundreds and hundreds of children on Kampala streets, on the 12th April to mark the Street Child day, about 700 homeless street kids turned up for a march.

These children will grow up to be men and women that raise other generations.

Heinous unbelievable abuses against the children of Africa.

How is Africa supposed to move forward when a majority of the children don’t know what being treated with dignity is? Let us not forget that these are children that later become adults. Are we surprised about the lawlessness of those that we entrust with power? What are our priorities if we cannot invest in the continents greatest resource- the children of Africa? Why offer the innocence of children at the altar of incessant sexual and gluttonous desires?  Maybe it is time to stop lamenting and we take real action against individuals, states and governments that are not taking any action to protect the children of Africa.

There is a charter in place for this; The African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child   recognises that the child occupies a unique and privileged position in the African society and for the full and harmonious development of their personality, the child should grow in an environment in an atmosphere of happiness love and understanding.

You can report to the African Human Rights Commission that sits in Addis Ababa.

Article 43 of the charter provides a reporting procedure or you can submit a communication to the committee as covered in article 44; The committee may receive communication from any person, group or non-governmental organisation,a recognised organisation of the African Union, by a member state, or the United Nations relating to any matter covered by the charter and Every communication to the committee shall contain the name and address of the author and shall be treated with confidence.

Once the committee has received this communication, they’ll proceed to do private investigations. If they find that the case is admissible, then they’ll take the matter to the African court and the government will be put to task to do something about the problem.

What makes a case admissible? You must ensure that your country has ratified the Charter, that all other local remedies have failed, there should be sufficient evidence that includes collect affidavits, documentary evidence, Audio Visual evidence media reports, research reports etc

Let us not forget, it takes a village to raise a child.

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.

Walking Away

Walking Away

When she heard that I was profiling stories of elite women that have overcome abusive relationships on my blog, she had already written her story and was waiting for a platform to share it. for the past four weeks, I have had the privilege of hosting elite women on my blog to tell their stories of victory from abuse. As I edited this story, it personally spoke to me as a single woman. She articulately narrates the pressure that society mounts on single women.

At 27, the pressure to get married was hiking. My age mates and those much younger than me were slowly settling in marriages and here I was without a boyfriend. “If I had not wasted my university days, may be I would have found a serious man to marry, I would be settling by now like my age mates”, I thought to myself. I had dated this boy since I was a fresh girl till the end of the third year at university. Our relationship was just a big joke that wasted my 3 precious years and led to a terrible heart break.

I joined the university with partial excitement, I had missed my dream course but at least I was glad to be in university, I didn’t have a clear purpose for my life, and the devil was soon going to use this purposelessness to bring me down. I had studied from a single girls’ Christian school where Jesus was being preached day in and day out, I had gotten this relationship with Christ, but albeit not so strong a relationship. The bible would describe me as lukewarm, neither hot nor cold. Revelations 3:15-16, “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm- neither hot nor cold- I am about to spit you out of my mouth”.  Had I been pure cold, may be then I would have enjoyed the things that the world offers, (clubbing, dating rich married men, and “enjoying a life of the sort”), but poor me, I have missed out both on the worldly pleasures and the Godly blessings. Being lukewarm is not a place to be!

My first friend at the university was this beautiful, humble born again girl. From our interaction, I realised she had a boyfriend. From my former girls’ school, having a boyfriend was considered sinful; but here I was seeing this pretty girl with a boyfriend. “I would have a boyfriend and be like my friend”, I resolved. This wasn’t at all hard; I had 4 of my year mates pursuing me to be their girlfriend and 2 others off my campus. One of these pursuers went an extra mile, he was my friend, we attended the same class fellowship and he always came to my room to pick this other friend of mine (they were staying in the same hostel).

One day, he looked really perturbed; I had known him well to tell that he wasn’t fine. I asked him what the matter was to which he told me that he had just realised that his high school girlfriend (who went in a different university) had left him for another boy. I counselled him and told him that God would give him someone else, he had to let go, I didn’t know that by counselling him, I was scooping fire to my own laps. He soon started behaving funnily towards me. He inquired from my friend whether I had a boyfriend to which to the best of her knowledge, there was none. This gave him grounds to “launch his manifesto”.

One evening, they stormed my room with this friend of mine; the man in tears went on his knees, requesting me to be his girlfriend. He was sure he had ‘heard from God’ that I was the right one for him. I was confused and moved with compassion at the same time. I come from a tribe where kneeling is done only for God, seeing a man kneel for me was so strange. I told him I would pray about it and give him an answer. Every time I went to pray, I didn’t get any response from God. “How does God communicate?” I wondered. My friend, on the other hand, was also praying for us and she surely got no revelation. Just because I wanted to have a boyfriend, like my friend, I decided I would give it a try. The relationship was a huge joke. I felt absolutely nothing for this boy, I didn’t know how it felt to be in love. I thought I was abnormal, I can’t recall the number of times I tried to break off the relationship, every time I did, this boy would cry uncontrollably, and moved with compassion, I would reconsider my decision. Long story short, he soon ended the relationship but I felt bad  because I felt like I had wasted my three years.

By the fourth year, my friend was introducing her boyfriend to her mother; they would be wedding the following year. I attended her wedding; she was a beautiful bride on a beautiful rainy day. “If I had not wasted my years with that boy I would also be getting married soon”, the thought haunted me. I was at this time praying for a serious man to settle with. There is this particular one I was convinced was the one. He had all the qualities I would desire in a man; in addition, I had had several dreams about us together. I believed God still spoke in dreams since we see many examples in the bible that got to know God’s will through dreams (Joseph son of Israel, Joseph earthly father of Jesus, e.t.c). I prayed for him for two good years. No proposal came. I painfully gave up the struggle.

While the internal pressure was mounting, the external pressure from my own mom was also there. This is the person who never wanted me to go in a mixed secondary school for my high school, for fear of me interacting with boys, but here she was pestering me about marriage. “This God doesn’t seem to understand the pressures that I am dealing with, I will do things my own way”, I decided. I would date which ever man that was ready for marriage. The first one I got wanted me in bed before knowing my second name, he wouldn’t marry someone he hadn’t “tasted” and he would only be ready in 3 years. I let him go. There was this senior bachelor, I didn’t like him because he drunk alcohol. My sample size was only of worldly men. There was one Christian that was really interested in me but I honestly didn’t like him. Then soon, I landed my self in hell.

As I was busy searching for Mr.Right, I was also searching for a good business having recently read a book “poor dad rich dad” a book that clearly explains that it is hard to become rich through earning salary alone. In the quest for riches, the thought of starting a business at the university where I was teaching came in my mind. I thought of a photocopying machine that I was sure would make me money. The only way I would secure a place for my business was by seeing the estates director.  “Who sent you to me?” He asked I told him that no one has sent me. When I met him, he was with his wife heading home, he turned to her and said that he was sure it was God who had led me to him, he had all along admired me, and if he was to be a young man again, he would pursue me for himself until he marries me, but now that it was impossible, he was going to ensure that his own son marries me. I laughed hard, but at the same time, I was confused. Who in this era would get a wife for his son? I thought that this was a joke. He told me that he would do anything for me on condition that I accepted to marry his son that I hadn’t met. I told two of my colleagues, one told me to ignore the deal, and another one told me to play politics, “Who tells you that son doesn’t have a girl friend already?, Just play smart, get a place for your business”. I accepted the offer of the place, if his son appeared, I would know how to handle the situation.

One day, as I was chatting with this mature lady (relative) who had accommodated me before I got a place of my own, our conversation led to her asking me whether I had a boyfriend. I told her about this strikingly handsome man who seemed too eager for the bed. I told her of a senior bachelor that I didn’t like and then somehow told her of the conversation that I had with the estates’ director, wanting me for his son. But as far as I was concerned, I didn’t have a boyfriend at the moment. She counselled me that in a girls’ life there are times suitors are many and after some time, they all disappear, she advised it wouldn’t be good to put off all men just like that. She requested to meet this other guy who seemed so eager, but then she said she would also investigate on my behalf this director’s son. She thought it was better for me to go in a known family than date a stranger. The next time we met, she didn’t want to hear about my stranger stories.

She had done her research and was assured that this director’s son was a “good guy”. I told her that this whole thing was his father’s idea, whether good or bad, he had his own tastes and preferences, to which she intercepted that no man in his proper mind would refuse a girl like me. I was slowly settling for shit. My other mature workmate who knew this boy so well told me that he was a “good boy”. He had been like an older brother to her son while at Ntare School and he also taught in her husband’s school during his senior 6 vacations. She told me how the husband was fond of him because finding a student far away from home committed to church was uncommon. Was God finally answering my prayers as regards a marriage partner? We soon met with this guy that would be my husband. There were no butterflies, no chemistry, and no nothing. We both had studied from the same university, but we had never crossed each other’s paths. A little inquiry from his classmates told me that he wasn’t a bad boy. “I will settle with this man”, I told myself; that would bring to an end all these internal and external pressures. His father took the lead in preparing for the wedding.

“I am in love”, I told one of my close confidants. she discouraged me because the guy was a Seventh-day Adventist. I would not let this man go because of mere religion. My friend’s pleas fellow on deaf ears. I didn’t give a damn about what she thought; I just wanted to get married!

She wasn’t the only one that discouraged me, there was this female doctor who warned me that I was bound to be cheated on if I went ahead and married this guy. At the climax of it all, my friend gave me this movie “WHY DID I GET MARRIED”. In this movie, there was this particular lady who wasn’t loved at all by her husband. He would bring in girls in their matrimonial home, right under her nose. When she had had it all, she divorced the guy, the guy married his mistress and they later had issues. Luckily enough, this other unlovable woman got a loving man who married her and made her forget her former problems. My friend hoped by watching this movie, I would change my mind about this WORST decision, but I didn’t; Ooh I did change my mind a number of times, a month after our engagement, I was sure that I wanted to break off the engagement, I was convinced that my fiancée was marrying me to honour his father’s choice but not because he loved me, I let him know what I was planning,  he came and assured me that irrespective of the fact that his father saw me first, he had grown to love me. One week before the traditional kuhingira, there were all these ‘red flags’ (his dependence on his father to make all decisions, some funny family dynamics, e.t.c). I cried uncontrollably, I called this lady who had acted as our “go between”, I told her that I wanted to end “this whole thing”, and she was like, “don’t be stupid, how do you end the relationship when it is only one week to the wedding?” Then on my wedding day, I felt this strong urge not to say the vows, deep inside, I felt I was doing the wrong thing, I am generally the smiling type, but smiling was hard to come by that day. I thought of saying “No, I don’t”, instead of “Yes, I Do”, but then there were all these people from my village, and the thought of making the news headlines the following day, may be weeks or months and years (BRIDE DENOUNCES GROOM ON WEDDING DAY) crossed my mind, it would be weird, what would all these people think of me? Especially the ones from my village? I surely would be the talk of the village. Oh, how I wish I had done it that day. It would have saved me all the heartache I have had to endure all these years. The news would be in archives by now, and I would either be living happily single rather than endure the hell I have been through. I have had to share my teenage house maids as my co-wives and a bunch of many other nasty things that I would equate to what was taking place in Sodom and Gomorrah.

When I was supposed to be celebrating 8 years marriage anniversary, I was instead filing for divorce. Actually, for the 8 years of marriage, we had spent 6 years miles away from each other, and in those 6 years, my ex-husband used  “to change women like pants”. I had been more or less single, though married on paper. But what took me all this long to make the decision to quit? When I am well conversant with what Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 7: 15, “but if the unbeliever leaves, let him do so. A believing man or woman is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace”, It took me longer because I didn’t want to suffer the shame that I thought accompanies being divorced, it is a social disgrace.  And also I kept hoping after hope that if I stayed maybe he would change and we build a home together. My friends who were concerned about my failing marriage gave me this Christian literature that would teach me how to become a Godly wife, but no amount of trying could change this guy.  Then after realizing that he was never going to change, I was advised to pretend and stay around until I snatch back the money that I had invested in the awful marriage. Like Lot’s wife, I kept looking back, I didn’t like what I was doing, but I told my self, if only I could get my money back, then I could quit for good. The final straw was when I read his Facebook and WhatsApp messages he shared with his mistress discussing our sex life, it was too much for me that I couldn’t take it anymore. If the divorce meant that I lose all the things I had invested, then be it, at least I would regain my esteem with time.

I would choose to live single for the rest of my life than be in the kind of marriage I have been through. It is surprising that I would end up with a man that treats me like crap as if I was the worst of the worst. There is a saying that “experience is the best teacher only for the fools”. I have been a fool, but you don’t have to go through what I have gone through to learn a lesson.

I am free and forgiven but the consequences of a wrong choice do remain; taking care of the children as a single mother and the constant worry of whether their father’s immorality will catch up with them when they become grown up men.

To the single girls and boys, my advice to you is not settling for less than what God has promised. Husbands are instructed to love their wives just as Christ loved the church. How did Christ love the church? To the point of death! Yes, that’s God’s standard, that this man should lay his life for you. If he’s not treating you right, with respect and love before he marries you, he’s not going to all of a sudden change after marriage. But the truth is that no man or woman can love the other like this unless they know the Lord, for God is love and is the only source of love. Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is [a]born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love. 1John 4:7. Religion or going to church and trying to be/do good doesn’t cut it but fully trusting in Christ’s finished work on the cross and having a relationship with Him. My husband too was and still is religious; goes to church on Saturday and even led a Bible study (what a joke!). So don’t be deceived by external things like this but rather look for a changed heart which will be manifested in character. A person who knows Christ has a changed life that is different from the ways of the world. Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.2 Corinthians 5:17, so anyone who claims to be in Christ yet stays the same, behaves the same etc is a liar. But a life that has been transformed is characterized by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Galatians 5:22.

someone said to me, “When you marry the right person, there is nothing like it! And when you marry the wrong person, there is nothing like it!” Another person said, “There are worse things in life than not being married, like marrying the wrong person.”

 

Side Note: Are you an overcomer of an abusive relationship and would like to share your story? Please share  to encourage those that are stuck in these toxic relationships. Get in touch with me at nyapru@gmail.com I would like to tell your story.

 

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?