This was not a topic, I have been willing to publicly share, let alone write about. I have shared this story in whispers to those close to me, or a woman I see who is a victim of the same. It never really dawned on me that I was a victim of gender-based violence and neither did I face the effects of it, until recently.
Defining Gender-based violence
According to UN-Women, it is violence directed at an individual based on biological sex,
gender identity or socially defined norms of masculinity and femininity. Marginalized groups, including persons with disabilities, and those in the Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual and Transgender community are at a higher risk of experiencing GBV. GBV negatively harms individuals and societies.
Gender-based violence includes sexual harassment, child marriages, domestic violence, sexual, physical and emotional abuse, threats, coercion, female genital mutilation, as well as economic and educational deprivation.
More often than not, women are likely to be at risk of GBV. A survey done by UN-Women indicates 1 in 3 women worldwide has experienced physical or sexual violence. That is a staggering huge demographic of women. It clearly indicates that GBV happens to anyone regardless of their geographical location, socio-economic background, race, or religion.
What causes GBV
The alarming prevalence of gender-based violence is largely constituted by systemic gender inequality that disempowers women, girls, and other minorities, and stifles their voices so that their stories are not heard and their natural human rights can be more easily taken away. Also, the lack of proper justice on perpetrators of sexual violence or any gender-based violence against women and girls has given rise to abusers not having their day in court.
There very many effects of GBV but I will focus specifically on physical and sexual abuse. Girls and young women who are victims of sexual violence can be limited in their educational opportunities and achievements, affecting their capacity to earn a viable income. GBV can have serious physical, mental, economic, and social repercussions. For example. sexualized violence can lead to unwanted pregnancies, unsafe abortions, and STI transmission, as well as isolation and depression. It can also prevent survivors from achieving economic prosperity because of stigma or physical and psychological trauma caused by the violence.
My encounter with physical and emotional abuse was when I was a young girl. I was in an intimate relationship with my then boyfriend who was four years older than me. I’m writing this 7 years after leaving that relationship and working 10 times harder to numb everything I went through. I completely shut myself down from thinking that I am a victim of gender-based violence.
I can’t pinpoint when the abuse began, but all I remember is that there was a point in that relationship that my self-esteem and worth were mostly dependent on what he would say or do to me. Our arguments slowly turned into emotional attacks that would send me crying to my best friends. there were nights out with friends that I would spend hours crying because of how he treated me. By the time the emotional abuse escalated to physical abuse, I was too ashamed to tell any of my friends what my relationship had turned out to be and honestly speaking, they had grown tired of telling me to leave him.
Like many young girls in their late teens, I was so infatuated and the idea of young love, like most movies I watched when growing up. There was this fairy tale I had painted for my love life that I was not willing to let go of. What also reaffirmed me was the love songs that we would sing along to depicting a couple that fights, sometimes music videos would go ahead and even show physical fights but they would always work things out. because that’s what love is about right? WRONG! I was naive and also uneducated when it came to sex and adult relationships. Additionally, women in my community did not necessarily have conversations with young girls about being in an intimate relationship, so, most of my ideas came from the media.
The very first time I was physically assaulted was in public in front of his friends. I remember how scared I was as well as how angry I was to be embarrassed like that in public. That became our little secret between me him and his friends and he apologized and things went back ‘normal’ between the two of us. By this time, He has successfully polarized me from most of my friends by constantly pushing down my throat that they were not my true friends. I still believe I was crazy to believe him but I was emotionally vulnerable and I did begin to believe so.
The tumultuous relationship continued to ensure despite many red signs and advise from my friends. I had already settled that I was too damaged to be loved or accepted by anyone else, so I rather suffer in silence and treasure the moments’ things seemed normal. With many break ups and make ups one I vividly remember was 2011 valentines circa. This was the time, it became public, that I was in an abusive relationship. At this point, I had harbored so much anger that I didn’t know where to place and I stopped fearing for my life and instead would run towards the danger. When people were trying to separate us from each other, I found my way back to face him and give him a piece of my mind, knowing very well, the danger of him swinging at me was very possible.
Long story, short. After this incident, the police and our parents were involved and one of the solutions my family came up with was to see a GBV Counsellor. The word victim sent my world spinning. I had convinced myself that I am not a victim and all that emotional trauma I will recover just as simply people recover from heartbreak. Months later, my self-esteem was lower than before and I hated the look in people’s eyes when they heard what I went through. I slowly sunk back into the familiar arms I knew that were abusive but at least didn’t pity me. CRAZY.
By the next year, I was pregnant with his child and the same craziness continued. The wake-up call happened one night, I was six months pregnant with his child but he still assaulted me physically putting the child at risk. That was the beginning of the end of accepting this toxic reality. I walked away broken, with a permanent scar on my face, but it did not depict the amount of psychological and emotional pain I had.
7 years later from that wake-up call, I have witnessed many young girls and women experience such intimate partner violence.
Intimate partner violence is any behaviour by a current or former partner or spouse that causes physical, sexual or psychological harm. This is one of the most common forms of violence experienced by women globally.
I have seen them judged for staying in such toxic conditions as well as criticized when they gain their courage to walk away and speak up about it. I have witnessed and experienced how such abuse can psychologically affect the victims and how they have to experience being shamed for trying to cope with the effects.
I am writing this not to share skeletons of my past but to raise awareness of this specific type of violence against women and girls. As a victim of gender-based violence, a real fear about social stigma and isolation slowly silences our cries. We fail to speak up, ask for help and those around us decided to avoid such topics and eventually leads to the tragically normalization of GBV. By not giving the survivors of gender-based violence emotional affirmation and non-judgmental support, we allow their offenders to operate freely.
Let us have these hard but crucial conversations with our daughters, sisters, colleagues, classmates, aunties, nieces and include the men in educating ourselves collectively about gender-based violence. For men of all ages, it is critical to facilitate or initiate dialogue amongst themselves about violence against women and girls, and broader issues about gender and manhood. Most men are not consciously perpetrating acts of violence against women and girls. The main problem is that most men who are not abusive — physically nor verbally — remain silent and do not hold other men accountable, much less discourage their language and behavior.
I thought I had fully recovered from such a traumatic experience at the age of 17-19 years but recently 7 years on an incident left me to question my actions not to adequately seek help. I have for a long time lived in the stereotype that seeing a shrink is for individuals with serious mental conditions. Funny, in this age of self-care routines, the last thing I had in mind was allowing myself to heal from the abuse. I had battled with depression, suicidal thoughts, and anxiety, I had become an empty shell of the person I used to be and I also became very good at hiding it. In 2014, I was introduced to the world of personal development and I immersed myself to regain my self-worth and learn to love myself despite all my mistakes.
To anyone who is currently in an abusive relationship; it may take many false starts to leave him or her, but how I see it as its practice that makes your resolve stronger. It is not easy to get out. I know how it feels to want to give another chance, to still hope that he/she will get better. Don’t waste another minute of trying to change the toxic person. In any form of abusive relationship, once an individual behaves in an abusive way more than a few times, it’s not just a mistake brought on by his/her own stresses. Take that step and move on before it’s too late. Such a decision can be hard but taking a positive step to free yourself is certainly worth it.