Violence against women and girls, the United Nations says, is one of the most widespread, persistent and devastating human rights violations in our world today. And it remains largely unreported due to the impunity, silence, stigma and shame surrounding it. Today, November 25, as we recognise International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, we reflect on some of the struggles still faced by women in their domestic spaces.
FORMER Member of Parliament, government minister and high commissioner, Aloun Ndombet-Assamba, was accepting an award when she first spoke openly about being a victim of intimate partner violence. She stepped away from the podium and said to the shocked audience, “Look at me. Look! Do I look like a woman who has been beaten? Do I look like a battered woman?”
Of course by this time Assamba had grown confident in herself again, as it was eight years after the abusive marriage ended, and she was able to see how sharing her experience could help other women who were being abused. Like many women, though, she suffered silently during the relationship out of fear and shame.
In an interview with All Woman ahead of International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women (IDEVAW), Assamba reflected on the out-of-body experience she had when early into her marriage her husband got into a jealous rage and hit her, shattering the honeymoon bliss.
“We had gone out to dinner and while walking to the table I was saying hello to people, and people were saying hello to me. These were people I did not know,” she replayed. “When we got home my husband wanted to know where I knew those men from and why they were saying hello to me. I said 'I don't know them' and bam! He struck me across the face saying I was telling a lie. I just sat there.”
That was only the beginning. For the remainder of the marriage, Assamba told no one about the abuse.
“I knew I had to leave him but it took me a while to get the strength to say I'm walking away from this. The abuse started very early, but I didn't make the decision to leave him until about a year and a half into the marriage. The reason for that was shame. I didn't want the disgrace…” she trailed off, reminiscing on the large wedding she had and how happy their families and friends were with the union, and how much she loved her husband who was otherwise the perfect gentleman.
“Looking back I can see that it was about control and power. Had I not been so blinded I would have seen the signs. But when you're in love yuh fool,” she said.
Even after the attorney-at-law and now CEO of COK Sodality Co-op Credit Union grew the strength to leave the marriage, she still did not talk with anyone outside of her inner circle about it until eight years later. That opened the floodgates for her to receive not only a tremendous amount of support, but for many other women, including friends, confiding in her that they were being abused in their relationships. Sadly, she was also hit by episodes of victim-shaming, as some people saw her status as a battered woman to be her Achilles' heel in a bitter political landscape.
But the effervescent Assamba, who still goes by her married name simply because she likes it, is empowered by being able to help other women to leave abusive relationships, even without knowing them personally. Along with counselling women she knows personally, she now collaborates with various women's groups and organisations to reach as many vulnerable women as she can. She advises women who are being abused by their partners to consider the following:
Seek objective counselling
“And find someone who cannot become too involved in the situation,” Assamba recommends, on the grounds that oftentimes when a victim of abuse confides in a close friend or family member it can put that person in danger, or cause further violence. She recommends making use of a trained psychologist or a church counsellor or justice of the peace with whom you feel comfortable, as they will be able to provide sound, objective advice and support.
Seek legal advice
“It's not just for the woman who has nothing and is dependent on the man to take care of the children, but also for the women who have something of their own that they have built up that they need to protect,” she says. Assamba is grateful that she was able to have a clean break after her marriage ended because her husband lived overseas, and she was not dependent on him, but she has counselled friends whose abusive ex husbands have sought maintenance, and women who lost property and possessions when they decided to leave.
Leave the children if you must
When Assamba finally grew the courage to leave her husband, she realised that she was pregnant. She knew she had to leave him, however, and was steeling herself to leave her child behind, when she had a miscarriage. She advises that if children are keeping you trapped in an abusive situation it is best to leave temporarily. While the abuser will not hurt the children, he will use them as a mechanism to continue to hurt you. If you cannot take the children with you, escape for your own well-being and go back for them when you are able to.