Story By: Frederick H
I grew up with a great sense of pride, I loved who I was. A girl that was happy to contribute to the welfare of my parent’s home. Like the rest of girls in societies of the great- lakes region, I cherished the dreams and goals that I pursued, with the guidance of my local community. My name is Martha, I am currently raising three children single handedly. Two beautiful daughters and one stubborn but lovely son, always there to protect our small family. I got married at the age of nineteen, at that time, I thought it was the right thing to do, my family supported me and I dived into the world of marriage as a means of securing my future. From time to time, my husband and I relocated to new places, by the time my new family settled down, I was about two hundred kilometers away from my parents. We had a simple shelter for a home, this motivated me to work harder. This was at a time when communication was not easy, telecommunication technology in East Africa was still at its infant stage. This meant that I rarely communicated with my brothers and parents. I worked hard, securing myself land to cultivate cassava, matooke, maize, beans and other cash and food crops. My husband got a job at a local distilling factory and our first five years were quite enjoyable. Then came my first daughter, a rose that came with a lot of joy, then the second, but the third took me by surprise. I had sworn never to have any other child with my husband, it took me eleven years to have the third, the boy.
“My daughter attempted to commit suicide, but with the help of the missionaries and their counsellors, she grew stronger than the psychological torture that had been inflicted by the horrors she had earlier faced”
One day, my first daughter reported a disturbing incident to me, I rubbished it and warned her never to talk ill of her biological father again. I just could not believe what she said, that ‘her own father had attempted to molest her.’ I was not ready to take that in, it was a bitter pill to swallow at that time of my life. Nevertheless, my husband had started going out with other several women, and I thought being overly submissive to him would change his ways. So any allegation from my daughter was quickly shrugged off. Resultantly, I focused more on perfecting my agricultural skills and most of my harvests were greeted with an ever expanding ready market. From time to time, I bought land without any written agreements, but the exercise of buying was always witnessed by village elders and local council authorities. Regardless of the circumstances, my husband exercised great control over the land I bought, this never bothered me, and I knew all belonged the family. Having been raised in a society where most of my questions were answered with one short phrase, ‘because you are a woman,’ I stomached a lot, including being beaten for asking my husband why he had sold the coffee on the five acre plantation downstream, that I bought from the Imam. He sold it without my knowledge and squandered all the money. The man who got me from my parent’s home became so violent, but there was one particular thing that I was never going to tolerate at all, violence against my daughters.
Time and again, my daughter reported attempts of being molested, to tell you the truth, my eyes only opened to the reality of the danger she faced the day she was truly molested and sexually assaulted by her own father, my husband. Had I not returned from the garden early that day, this man would have raped our daughter. I saw it with my own eyes. The little girl was screaming for her life, her dress torn and the excessively drunk ‘monster of a husband’ had his hands wrapped all around her. In defense of my daughter, I used the garden tool that I had in my hand – hoe, to save the little girl. At that time, I didn’t care about how much pain I had inflicted on the fellow that was tempting to rape his own daughter. With my daughter safe, I had to make sure the safety of all my children was guaranteed. I had to figure out the best way of moving forward. A gross violation of children’s rights was going on under my own roof, perpetrated by those who were meant to protect the rights, more so the girl child’s rights. On an individual level, I knew there were so many other girls suffering violence in all other forms like; rape, stalking and sexual harassment, not because they invited it, but because they were female. Our immediate community did not help that much, with gender based society values that attached less value to the girl child as opposed to the boys, there was a less likelihood of one being heard, or even total redemption.
Now, he knew that I had evidence of the sexual harassment, so he resorted to threats and blackmail. Amongst family friends, he painted me as a promiscuous woman who did not care for the family. The more time that passed by, the more savage the threats became. The children lived under fear, and only got relief when he did not sleep home. In actual sense, the rest of the family distanced itself from him. The young girls made it a point never to be in his company again, meanwhile I was pushing for a suitable solution. I could not take it anymore. He threatened to throw us out of the home, forgetting the new house stood on farmland that I had bought with the help of the fruits of my own sweat – he made no contribution, apart from witnessing the buying and supervising the construction of the house. Several times, my daughter attempted to commit suicide, but with the help of the missionaries and their counsellors, she grew stronger than the psychological torture that had been inflicted by the horrors she had earlier faced.
Then I reported the issues to the local authorities, but nothing significant was done to end it all. In actual sense, it made him worse. He now thought he was untouchable. He claimed, no one was ever going to believe me, no authority was ever going to take my case seriously. None of this shook me. Then the missionaries came up with a scheme to create awareness of the violence against women in the region. It did not end at creating awareness, they took further steps to stop those that carried out the violence from doing it again. They gave free legal aid and counsel. In my case, they took the abuse so seriously, to the extent that they gave my children and me a separate shelter, away from the abusive husband. The complaint was forwarded to the district attorney, the judge ordered for the offender’s arrest, and within three months, he was convicted of attempted rape of his own daughter. He was sentenced to twenty two years imprisonment. For me this was a relief, I knew my daughters were safe. I knew they had a chance to call their ‘home,’ home. Free from the once ever glaring domestic violence and sexual harassment from their own father, they concentrated on their studies without fear . Young as he was, my son was equally understanding and stood with us all through as we sought to defend the dignity of the girl child in our small family. These days he boasts of how much he loves protecting the family and never wants to see any of us suffer the wrath of gender based violence.
It did not end at that. With access to different court officials and legal minds, I was advised to register most of the land I bought, which I did and rightly got land titles in my name. With this most of the land increased value and I took commercial agricultural more seriously. In all I did, I knew I had to create a brighter future for my daughters. I knew I had to do more than raising my children as a single mother. I had to take action to raise awareness and prevent violence against women and girls in the society I lived. I knew what had happened at my home, was happening in other homes, but due to a series of fears, many victims kept quiet. So having grown up with such a life sucking experience, I believe all of you that are reading my story can learn something and then go ahead and do something to make sure the girl child in your area lives a dignified life. I am proud to say, the joy of seeing my daughters go to school and achieve good grades has influenced my love for self-education. As a mother, I have had to learn a lot more, in order to fully live a meaningful life, despite of having missed out on education opportunities while I was still young. When Prince Wako Foundation asked me to share my story, my immediate question was. “When?” Having come face to face with their life-long commitment to empower the girl child, I urge all of us to integrate our life choices with a genuine sustainable development cause. The UN has presented us with sustainable development goals which are indivisible. With elimination of violence of any kind against girls in our societies, a lot will be achieved. As I look forward to this years’, International Day for the Elimination of violence against Women, I urge all of you to take part in the endeavours to end violence against women and girls. Let us take action and raise awareness of the dire need to eliminate all kinds of violence against the girl child, another important tool of girl child empowerment.