28 November 2018

Africa: Partner Abuse - I Lost Myself, My Life...but After All These Years I Could Not Leave.

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As the international community continues to commemorate the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women; many women still silently suffer from Gender-based Violence (GBV).

The fear of being shunned by their partner as well as shame to face family and friends has led many women to suffer in silence from GBV. No one knows this better than Emerencia* a 27 year-old Cameroonian and mother of two. She was in an abusive relationship for almost a decade. She shared her experience in the hope that it might encourage other women to take action.

"Few months ago I was on this dark road alone, I hope many girls do not go through what I went through. I have been in an abusive relationship for eight years, just because I was hoping and praying my boyfriend will marry me," begins Emerencia.

While holding out for the ring, she put up with insults that perpetuated a continued feeling of worthless, which lead her to endure beatings and sexual abuse from the man she loved. "It reached a time when my boyfriend enjoyed beating me before having sex with me, I felt trapped because I was financially dependent to take care of my two children. I lost myself, my life...but after all these years I could not leave: my friends and family knew I will get married soon just as my boyfriend always told me "soon", an endless soon. Besides who was going to feed my children? I had no job and it's so hard to one."

When her boyfriend travelled for work, he would leave her without any money. To survive, Emerencia was forced to get into a sex work. "Please do not judge me; I did not have a job and I needed to feed my children...they did not go to school last year." She paid a high price as she contracted a number of sexually transmitted diseases that drove her to two-month emotional and physical breakdown.

"One day, I saw a post on a Facebook page which said "do not judge victims of abuse, support them". This statement meant a lot to me; I had always wanted someone to tell me they understand me. I realised [the post] was [from] an organisation. At least I knew they will give me money, after all, that's what organisations do!" she laughs.

However things did not turn out as Emerencia had hoped, the organisation did not offer money but instead gave her something even more important.

"I was introduced to a psychologist and counselor, who made me realise I was depressed. This was what I needed." Leap Girl Africa (the NGO that rescued Emerencia) was the beginning of a new life for her. They taught Emerencia a vital lesson, "dependency leads to vulnerability".

With the help she got, Emerencia was able to walk away from her abusive relationship and eventually reconcile with her family. They also worked with her to develop life skills and work towards self-reliance. After months of being in the counseling programme, they gave her a little capital, which she used to start a plantain chips business.

"With the money I make from selling the plantain, I was able to send my children to school this year without the help of anyone; they have all their books, and I have helped the organisation train two girls who had been abused in the past," says a visibly confident Emerencia.

Following her experience she offered some advice to other young women. "Let marriage not define you. Why will you stay behind that wall and cry every day for a reason that is not even worth it? I just want to tell you, you are self-sufficient, let marriage not be a must-do on your to-do-list.

"Speak up against all forms of violence. Speaking up helped me. Trust me, it will help you too. Look for an organisation which can help you feel good about yourself, you can still be normal."

Emerencia hopes to continue her own education in the coming year.

*Name changed to protect the survivor.

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