8 December 2017

Zambia: Musenge Musumali Survived Dining With Enemy

Lusaka — IT looked good as the procession moved on the Great East Road to the Lusaka Showgrounds to officially launch the 16-Days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence.

It must have been the same for Musenge Musumali, 36, when growing up.

But it was not.

It was ugly.

Musenge's narration of her childhood during the launch on Saturday November 25 somewhat chilled the whole spectacle.

Here is a story of truly living with the enemy.

"I am a 36 years old survivor of incest and childhood sexual abuse," she started her testimony in the Lusaka Showgrounds.

Well, that was not the introduction of her testimony.

She started by saying every child has the right to live in a safe environment that is free from any kind of abuse.

"A child should be allowed to be a child," she said. "Unfortunately, this is not the case for thousands of children in Zambia." Musenge knew exactly what she was talking about.

From the age of seven to 14, she was repeatedly raped by her own two older brothers in her parents' home.

"No one in the family including my parents knew what was happening because being an abusive home where my father physically, emotionally, mentally and psychologically abused my father, sister and three brothers, we had no proper and comfortable platform for communication," she said.

"Further, as a traumatised young girl, I was afraid to tell anyone because my brothers always told me that if I reported the abuse, our friends and family would laugh at us and it would bring shame and embarrassment upon the family.

"My other greatest fear was my friends finding out that I had lost my virginity to my brothers. As a result, I remained silent about the abuse." Unfortunately, both Musenge's parents died by the time she was aged 14 without ever knowing of the sexual abuse that she went through in their own home.

Musenge says she was a very depressed teenager and found solace in alcohol, drugs and illicit sex to cope with the effects of the abuse that she went through.

"My story is not different from that of many other survivors of sexual violence who are struggling with similar effects of the abuse and without proper support systems which facilitate recovery," she said."As a result, many have continued on the path of self-destruction.

"We've all read statistics of children that have suffered sexual violence but that is a tip of the iceberg. I strongly believe that there are many other children, girls, in particular, who are trapped in homes and are being subjected to incest and let me add, rape, on a daily basis."

Musenge says it is very sad that family members have continued to protect perpetrators in homes especially if a perpetrator is a breadwinner in the home.

"Others protect the perpetrators to avoid public shame and embarrassment since talking about incest is considered a taboo and therefore families prefer not to report the abuse to the police or other offices," she says.

"Children and girls are denied the opportunity to receive any form of counselling or medical treatment which puts them at risk of contracting HIV. Girls in such situations are also denied any opportunity to access emergency contraceptives to prevent unwanted pregnancy."

Musenge says fortunately for her, at the age of 21, she was embraced by a Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO), which offered her counselling and other support services.

"Due to the counselling that I received, I begun to heal from the abuse and was to regain control of my life," she says. "I've been an HIV/AIDS and child rights advocate for over 15 years. I am proud to mention that I am a founder and executive director of a non-profit organisation which provides trauma counselling to survivors of incest and child sexual abuse, raises awareness on incest and child sexual abuse through door to door sensitisation, social media and sticker message campaigns."

Musenge's organisation also plans to work with schools and identify teachers who can be trained as trauma counsellors so that they are better equipped with the skills needed to effectively provide psychological assistance to abused or at-risk children.

"It is our goal to continue to advocate for the rights of girls and children in general," she says.

"Being a survivor of incest and sexual abuse has not stopped me from being a productive member of society and has not stopped me from contributing positively to other people's lives.

"If you're going through what I went through, do not remain silent. Report the abuse. You can rise from that and become an agent of change. I believe that all of us, together, we can help break the silence around incest and sexual violence against women and girls and transform the lives of survivors."

According to Victim Support Unit (VSU), cases of GBV have continued rising over the years. In 2011, 11, 914 cases were reported while 18, 540 cases had been reported in 2016. In 2017, more than 10, 000 cases have been reported so far.

It is a point the Minister of Gender Victoria Kalima raised when she officiated at the celebrations.

"There is no reason or circumstance that should justify any form of violence between couples in Zambia or elsewhere in the world. This attitude is unacceptable," Ms Kalima said. "Violence is violence and must not be accepted in our society, including when it occurs within a marriage set-up."

It is a grim situation.

United Nations acting resident coordinator Noala Skinner says more than one in three women have experienced physical or sexual violence in their lives while 750 million women were married before the age of 18.

"Around 15 million adolescent girls aged 15 to 19 worldwide have experienced forced sex in their lifetime while nine million of these girls were victimised within the past year," Ms Skinner said.

"We need to further strengthen adolescent and young people's participation including through peer education and mentoring. We all have a role to play to end violence. GBV is happening every day and it must stop," she said.

That is the message Musenge has been carrying.

This article was first published by the Zambia Daily Mail.

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