Nyaradzo Mashayamombe Speaking at Forum 2000 in The Czech Republic October 2017
Until you’ve been a victim of rape, physical violence, emotional trauma, then #metoo or #16DaysofActivism won’t mean anything to you. Until you’ve had a daughter sexually assaulted, a wife raped, a sister physically harassed or yourself felt unprotected, then you will want us to be silent. I’ve been exposed to emotional abuse as a child, I had near sexual abuse moments that play in my head that sometimes I wonder how it didn’t happen, at the hands of older relatives. I’ve suffered physical violence at the hands of those close to me as a result of the work that I do to speak out against GBV and holding especially men to contribute their own share in their families through either house work or productivity.
I’ve been asked questions like ‘are you married’ as a way of silencing me because most of women who are married are expected to keep quiet on Gender Based Violence (GBV). I’ve seen people side with perpetrators of violence in a painful way leaving you the victim questioning the worthiness of your own life. I’ve witnessed police asking women to go back home and address the GBV sending them right into the arms of the perpetrator and I’ve myself been asked by a male police officer to go and ‘deal with the issue since it regards a relative’. This is a simple example of the failure of justice system to protect victims of abuse simply because most times the male officers have biases, that they are also subjecting their own wives to the abuse and they’d rather sympathize with perpetrators. In all this as a Human Right Defender I’ve leant a couple of lessons;
1. The abused person has to look out for themselves most times as relatives simply take side of the perpetrator! They are going to play down your suffering and protect the perpetrator. My advise is as a victim whose being abused, have your own back, take action and go against everyone seeking to silence you because in their silencing, you are loosing your own self-confidence, your own self worth, you are inviting continued perpetration and you are making abusing you ok for everyone watching! Reporting doesn’t mean divorce in the case of those married, it means you are asking your partner to put boundaries, having him/her picked by the police and having some punishment helps them understand that you are a human being who is to be respected, valued and loved and that if they don’t see that for themselves then you will take steps to help them respect you. This is also for those violating for the first time, if the person is known for perpetual abuse or the second time, certainly take drastic measures like asking for protection order or asking that the person leaves the environment or house until they get help.
2. There is tremendous hostility for people especially women who suffer violence and try to seek justice. When I had this nasty experience, I was clear that I would not allow a person to go without some accountability, and taking steps ensured that I attracted amazing hostility and backlash. In that moment I leant that someone thought my life wasn’t worth that much as I thought I was worthy through the impunity they gave to the abusive person and hostility that followed because i’d taken action. However it became clear that I was the one responsible for respecting the life God gave me and that nobody had the right to rate my life lower than God means for it through being dehumanized by physical or any form of violence. I realized it was me who controlled that whether I would allow this to go unaddressed, I chose to address it and to deal with the hostility that followed.
3. The notion that victims of abuse especially women are unable to report abuse to get help became so vivid, because if they depend on that man to survive financially, or if they are a muroora (daughter in law) in that family then the whole family will ask her not to report and if she does she invites punishment, so that means for women one has to have a plan, to have economic empowerment so they can make choices and not depend on their abusers.
4. That when a person is physically stronger to abuse you, in the moment of abuse you can feel powerless. I personally felt a sense of being exposed, that the social system that was bound by the relationship contract had been broken and the only next thing that could protect me was the law. As I thought of my next steps being the law I felt some restoration already beginning. As the police arrived I saw my perpetrator feeling subdued and afraid of the police, that gave me back my power to realise that there is something that bring us all equal, thus the law. No wonder why justice in our traditional setups from time immemorial as African people was always there within the traditional courts that made someone pay cattle or have some form of punishment as restitution. The elders knew this was important. Our present day justice system has to work for victims to be restored or for them to begin their healing process. Even as I took steps inspite of opposition, I was happy I was putting myself first and this helped me.
During a #16Days of Activism to end GBV March in Harare 9 December
5. When violence happens in the presence of others especially children/girls, it’s important to take steps such as reporting to police so that they can also learn that they do not have to put up with abuse and that it doesn’t have to happen to them. In my work with girls I’ve heard from girls and boys, even men and women how angry they were because of the failure by their mother to take action against an abusive father. Watching someone go through abuse, especially for a child to watch their parent suffering weakens them, causes them to have negative relationships with others specially of the opposite sex as they begin to develop built-in anger. For male children they themselves internalise abuse as the best dispute resolution method perpetuating generation of males who inflict violence against women and others. For girls or young women it forces them to internalise acceptance of abuse at the hands especially of man. This is particularly true in view of the fact that often its fellow women of course and men who punish or become hostile to another woman for reporting cases of abuse. Therefore it is our responsibility to end violence from the next generation, do take action!
6. When you someone goes through the unfortunate of abuse and is coming out of it or is seeking justice, what helps them stay calm and strong is having a few people around them who truly care about them, who empathise and sympathies with them and who can also provide shelter. When an environment is hostile, you need to come out of it and seek support. This may mean having a sister who supports you, an aunt, a friend, church folks who are ready to take you in and to support you. While our country here in Zimbabwe does not have enough shelters for women, or for any victim of abuse, my advise is a person always ought to have a support system of friends, relatives and even church people that can help you through this phase. When someone is abused as i mentioned above they feel powerless, they feel vulnerable, they want someone to be on their side clearly speaking against the behaviour realising that no matter what there is no reason or justification or abuse on anyone. This is particularly important in a patriarchal society like ours which often blame the victim for abuse seeking to give impunity to the abuser. We live in a culture of selfish people who will immediately protect their own son, brother or whoever it is at the expense of the victim, no wonder why children and women experience these atrocities and relatives refuse them justice. Whether reach or poor, a relative or friend who stands by you and gives you emotional support is a keeper during such traumatic experiences. While living with an abusive person, studies show that often the abuser isolates the victims from any relationships, controlling them to remain vulnerable and brainwashed. From this post i would advise that, if you are in a controlling relationship that refuses you to build relationships or network with others, those are tale-tale signs that you are in trouble, therefore find ways of resisting this oppression and build a support system around yourself.
7. Finally have a plan B. Have some little savings that in the day of trouble, you are able to flee the abusive environment with the kids and take a few essentials to go to the place of safety where you immediately report to the police to ensure the perpetrator doesn’t catchup with you. The place of safety as explained before, is either at a relative whom you know supports you and won’t turn against you in calling the perpetrator, could be at a friend’s or can be police in the event that you do not have immediately available safe place. Refuse to be mediated upon by biased people whom you know will certainly advise you to go back to the perpetrator without anything being done to ensure that abuse doesn’t continue again.
I’ve decided to write this and to open up about my own experiences of which some are just less than two months old because often as women leaders and human rights defenders we are comfortable telling other women to report cases, we feel ashamed to speak out against GBV, to be the example and to walk the talk. It becomes so easy to just tell others what to do and to look good outside when in the inside as women leaders we are suffering, we are wearing cosmetics and powders over wounds caused by our partners or relatives, even bosses! We will only conquer GBV when we begin to refuse to be silenced, when we refuse to make it about class, when as women we come together with like minded men to support and believe the survivors of abuse.
As a Zimbabwean community and more in the church we need to be real and walk as Jesus did, to be ready to support the needy, to address the atrocities committed mainly against women and also men in relationships, and to stop making people who speak out feel lonely for speaking out, we need to walk the real Christianity that the more than 85% of our country is said to be. We need to be friends with those in trouble, be moved by compassion and provide in our churches and communities safe spaces for such people to come and begin their restoration.
I’m just one of those people who’ve decided to take the tough road and live my life as transparent as I can, to lead by example and to live the calling without fear of being judged. I’m living my life all out for the cause and I invite you to find your own passion and live it all out! Let’s say #NOToGenderBasedViolence #16DaysofActivism #ViolenceAgainstHumanRightsDefenders #MeToo
Nyaradzo ‘Nyari’ Mashayamombe is a girls and young women’s rights activist and human rights defender. She’s a Speaker, Musician and Entrepreneur. Email; email@example.com. Twitter; @NyariMash. Instagram; @NyariMash