Motherhood in Conflict: Grace’s Story

Stories of motherhood and the female experience during war are often excluded and unexplored. This neglect shows in the little attention such stories get in the public discourse and in policy agendas. But without these stories, we miss the voices that are so important for development.

Many of the mothers I met while I worked in Uganda became a mother at a time when the conflict between Museveni’s government and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) was in full swing. They started their journey of motherhood when murder, abduction, mutilation and rape were common practices.

Motherhood in a IDP Camp

One of these women is Grace*. Now a 50-year old married woman and proud mother of 6 children, Grace was only in her twenties when she and her children, including a baby, fled to a camp for internally displaced persons. The intensifying activity of LRA rebels in her community made it impossible to stay home safely. Though the camp was run by the government, and was supposedly a place to seek refuge, she felt very unsafe:

‘There was no hope of life. I thought I was going to be killed at any time … You cannot lock the house, you come back [to the camp] and you find faeces in bags thrown in your house. There was a lack of food … and if you don’t follow time [related rules] the soldiers beat you.

When the war finally ended Grace and her family went back to their village. Sadly, though, life did not get much better for Grace.

‘Post-conflict’ Motherhood

Though the war has ended, it is inaccurate to speak about peace; the term ‘peace time’ wrongly implies a life free of violence and suffering. Even the term ‘post-conflict’ wrongly signifies a shift away from conflict and violence. To the contrary, many Ugandan women’s lives are characterized by ongoing experiences of violence.

Violence has to be understood in a very broad way and include the violence that results from social structures, such as poverty, patriarchy and ability. Grace is badly impacted by all of these.

The poverty in which she finds herself has determined many, if not all, of her life choices.

Because of it, she is withheld from seeking the specialist care she needs:

‘At times I get pain at my belly and at the side of my belly … When I dig for so long and even uprooting potatoes; I get the problem of the uterus. Up to now, [the] uterus always comes out. I was referred to look for a doctor who can help me but I had no money.’

The fact that Grace does not have enough money to go to the hospital is a result of several issues. Some of these are general, such as a drought. Specific for Grace however, is that she is limited in the amount of work she can do due to her displaced uterus and the resulting pain. Besides that, Grace is also the co-wife of an alcoholic husband:

‘I have a problem at home here, my husband is a drunkard. At this moment the marriage is not good, because I am the second wife to him … I am living with my children and he lives with the first wife. When I harvest crops which I could sell in order to support my family, he comes and sells it and uses the money on his first wife’

Grace’s story painfully shows the struggles that many women in Uganda face today. It highlights how suffering and psycho-social ill-being result not solely from experiences of war and poverty, but to a large degree from being a woman.

Grace Fights Back

Despite all that she faces, Grace is regarded as a role model and an example of a woman living a holy life. This is because Grace stands up against her husband’s violence.

Yesterday he wanted to fight me over the soy bean, but I am now stronger than him (laughing). I have a courageous life. If the man is fighting me, I just follow him with law, I call people.’

In times of marital conflict, Grace calls her brothers-in-law, and if that does not work, she steps to the clan chief.

Though her actions are far from all-encompassing solutions to her struggles, her courage is inspiring.

Due to her perseverance, Grace is understandably a role model in her community – she sparks hope for a different future for many Ugandan women.

*Grace is a pseudonym. The image accompanying this article does not depict the woman who told this story.

Abuse & Violence Rates Rise Amid Global Lockdowns

Many countries around the world are in complete lockdown. Millions have been forced to stay at home, self-isolate or socially distance themselves to combat the ongoing threat of coronavirus (COVID-19).

The pandemic is creating an environment of high stress, anxiety and depression for millions of people. It’s taking an economic and social toll. It is also leading to increased rates of domestic violence. In times of crisis or natural disaster, children’s and women’s health and safety are the most severely compromised. In our current situation, this pattern is compounded by limited access to safe centers, shelters and health services.

National lockdowns have exposed many who experience abuse within their homes to danger on a daily basis.

In addition, strict quarantine measures have restricted people’s ability to report abuse. The majority of domestic violence victims are women. However, others such as LGBTQI individuals also face the risk of being abused or thrown out of their homes.

Current statistics show a worldwide surge in the number of reported gender-based violence (GBV) cases. There are increased incidences of domestic abuse and violence being reported from Brazil to China to Germany to the United States. Like the virus itself, this is a global issue.

The South African Police Minister has announced that nearly 90 000 cases of GBV were reported within the first week of the country’s lockdown. Crimes of intimate partner violence, sexual abuse and molestation have been seen to rise in record numbers.

Some countries are coming up with measures to protect and safeguard those in vulnerable circumstances.

In France, some women are being housed in hotels. Pop-up centers have been set up in malls across the country. People can use these centres to report GBV when they go out to buy medication or groceries.

In other countries, helplines have been set up for women to use during this difficult time. In Spain, lockdown conditions have been lifted to allow people experiencing abuse to seek help without being fined. Shelters and safe havens are being created in many other countries as well.

The UN Secretary- General, António Guterres, made an appeal to governments worldwide. He implored them to take the matter of abuse during COVID-19 seriously and to implement structures to support women and vulnerable groups.

During this time, we can all play a role by creating more awareness.

We can reach out to municipalities, governments and NGOs to ask for support and safety measures to be applied in our communities. By doing so, we can better protect those at risk of abuse and violence.

Girls’ Globe Reading List: Gender-Based Violence

Gender-based violence (GBV) remains one of the most pervasive and persistent human rights violations in the world. It reaches into every country, every community and every corner of our planet.

25 November is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women and the first day of the annual 16 Days campaign. We’ve compiled a reading list as a starting point for anyone looking to learn more about what gender-based violence is, why it happens, and how it affects women and girls around the world.

Mexico’s Glitter Protests are a Movement Against Violence

“Like many other women across the country, we were part of the glitter protests. Bita marched in the city of Aguascalientes and Mariana marched in Mexico City. We both agreed that at a time like this, being among women was where we felt the safest.”
– Mariana Lizarraga & Bita Aranda




Sweden Deports Victims of Child Marriage and Torture to Afghanistan

“If Sweden deports girls (and boys) who have been victims of child marriage in Afghanistan, we are not acknowledging the human rights violation that affects 35% of girls. We are ignoring the fact that these refugees lack the support networks they need to avoid abuse and violence.”
– Julia Wiklander



Cyntoia Brown: 15 Years On – Free at Last?

“The case raised an enormous number of questions and issues – why was a young girl so scared for her life that she shot a man dead? Why was she tried as an adult when she was only 16? And most uncomfortable of all – would this sort of sentencing have happened to a 16-year-old white girl?”
– Lucy Small



Speaking the Unspeakable to Advance Human Rights

“The girl was 13 and forced to marry a man in his 30s. She was suffering from malnutrition. I could have wrapped my pinkie around her wrist. Although poor, they had a farm that produced fresh milk, eggs and vegetables. But she was starving because she was not permitted to eat.”
– Ashley Lackovich-Van Gorp



Eradicating Violence in Rural Zimbabwe

Eradicating Violence in Rural Zimbabwe

“It’s how we’re tackling gender-based violence in my community that makes us unique. By circulating information through word of mouth everyone has the opportunity to learn – even those who can’t read or write or access the internet – and so the possibility of leaving anyone behind is reduced.”
– Yunah Bvumbwe



What Does an Abusive Relationship Look Like?

“Relationship education needs to be prioritised in all schools. No young person should have to experience an abusive relationship – or watch a friend experience one – as a way to figure out what is and isn’t an acceptable way to be treated by another person.”
– Eleanor Gall




The Pattern of Domestic Violence

“It becomes almost impossible to have courage if you don’t have a voice. Sometimes, even those who do are stifled by the fear of humiliation and social stigma. Not everyone has a loving family or friends to fall back on. Not everyone can simply wake up one day, decide they have had enough, and leave.”
– Iram Rizvi



Denis Mukwege & Sexual Violence in Conflict

“I recently had the honor of attending a speech by Dr. Denis Mukwege, who has devoted his life to the rights and health of women in the DRC. For more than two decades conflict has been tearing the country apart, and rape and sexual violence used extensively as weapons of war.”
– Fatima Bashir Abdalrahim




An Open Letter to my Abuser

“I am not an excuse for your incapability to control your emotions. I am not the cause of your outbursts. I am not your rage or your hate. I am not your false pride or fragile ego. I am not the weakness you always claimed to see in me. I am not the names you called me.”
– Preeti Shakya



Justice for Evelyn in Landmark El Savador Abortion Trial

“What better way to restrict women’s power and agency than to lock them into child bearing. And if they appear to resist, what better way to punish them than to simply lock them up. Evelyn Hernandez’s release is a welcome reminder that activism works.”
– Eleanor Gall




Yes, Child Marriage is a Problem in Latin America

“I believe that child marriage is still not being fully recognised as a major problem in Latin America and the Caribbean. The rates of child marriage in the region are alarming – Latin America is the only region that hasn’t seen a decline in child marriage in the last 30 years.”
– Maria Rendo




Remembering Marielle Franco: #MariellePresente

“She was a black woman from one of Rio de Janeiro’s most dangerous slums. She was gay, a feminist, and a mother. She fought for human rights and spoke out about police violence in Rio’s slums. She was 38 years-old. She was Marielle Franco. And on March 14 2018, she was murdered.”
– Gabrielle Rocha Rios



New articles will be be published on girlsglobe.org throughout the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence 2019. We invite everyone to subscribe, follow on Instagram, Twitter & Facebook and take action with Girls’ Globe. Together, we can eliminate violence and create a safer, fairer, more equal world.

Here’s Why Scotland’s New Domestic Abuse Law Matters

On 1 April 2019, a new piece of legislation came into effect in Scotland. The Domestic Abuse Act makes several fundamental changes to how violence against women and children is defined and prosecuted within the Scottish criminal justice system.

The new law has been informed by survivor experience, making it not only progressive but potentially transformative. It strengthens the power of police and prosecutors to tackle our pervasive problem with domestic violence. It also legally acknowledges what many of us already know to be true – abuse comes in many forms, not all of which leave bruises on bodies.

Scotland’s Domestic Abuse Act changes how abuse is defined, understood and prosecuted in 4 ways:

1. It criminalises coercive control

Coercive control refers to controlling and harmful patterns of behaviour. It can include psychological, emotional, sexual or financial abuse. It may or may not involve physical violence. It’s often systematic and the effects can be devastating. Scottish Women’s Aid report that coercive control is the kind of violence survivors tell them has the most significant impact and is hardest to recover from.

The new Domestic Abuse Act makes coercive control a criminal offence for the first time, meaning that people engaging in patterns of controlling behaviour can now be punished by law.

2. It makes domestic abuse a ‘course of conduct’ offence

This simply means the law will look at domestic abuse cases through a ‘big picture’ perspective. Abusive situations are often made up of long lists of events, moments and actions which take place over periods of time. If each of these were to be looked at individually, they might not seem very serious. However, when many small incidents are pieced together and the accumulative effect considered, the big picture can show a deeply harmful situation.

This is very different from past approaches of treating domestic abuse as one-off incidents that could be pinpointed to certain times on certain dates, like we would for burglaries or traffic accidents. Domestic abuse doesn’t necessarily operate like other crimes and the new law acknowledges that it is often more relevant to consider accumulative behaviour over time.

3. Proof that an individual was traumatised is no longer required

As CEO of Scottish Women’s AidDr Marsha Scottexplains, this is “a terrible thing to have to go into court and prove”. In the past, the law has been criticised for re-traumatising victims and placing unreasonable obstacles in the path to securing a conviction.

Instead of requiring proof that a victim was harmed, the new law requires proof that the accused intended to cause harm. It states that if a reasonable person with access to all the facts would assume that the situation would cause harm, this will be considered appropriate evidence.

4. Children are acknowledged as victims

The Domestic Abuse Act reflects a new understanding within the legal system that it doesn’t matter if children are physically present when abusive behaviour is taking place. If they are in the family, they are a victim.

For the first time, the enormous impact that growing up within an abusive situation can have on a child will be recognised in the law and considered in the prosecution process.

Changes to the structure, wording and focus of domestic abuse legislation create the possibility for us to change the landscape of gender-based violence.

Scotland is a country committed to remaining at the forefront of global gender equality policy – a fact I’m extremely proud of. At the same time, it’s a country where gender definitions remain stiflingly narrow. Traditional understandings of masculinity can make healthy expression of emotion an impossibility for many men, and notions of familial responsibility can leave many women playing out restrictive and isolating roles in society.

The widely-held social belief that what happens behind closed doors is no one else’s business doesn’t help, nor does a very Scottish tendency not to want to ‘make a fuss’. These are pieces in the gender equality puzzle that can’t be fixed by the law. They require education, open conversation and a refusal to continue acting as though the status quo is inevitable.

Gender inequality is both the cause and the consequence of gender-based violence.

Abuse doesn’t always show itself in the ways it does in soaps or films. It isn’t always neighbours calling the police, mascara running down cheeks and black eyes. It can be quiet, and invisible, and soul-destroying.

We have a huge amount of work still to do. But with this new legal framework, Scotland is starting to feel better equipped for the task.

The Pattern of Domestic Violence

Like every tsunami, it starts small. A slap here, a hit there. Nothing to worry about. He apologizes, says it will never happen again.

But it does.

It happens again. Harder this time, perhaps a punch or two. It becomes a pattern.

Beat, repent, repeat.

The physical abuse.

The pattern.

OR

It is completely inconspicuous. Almost invisible to the outside world and sometimes, to the victim, too. Charming dominance turns into irrational jealousy and possessiveness. Endearing neediness becomes suffocating. You find yourself trying to stay out for as long as you can. You know it’s coming.

The emotional abuse.

The pattern.

According to the World Health Organization, almost one third of women who have been in a relationship report that they have experienced some form of physical and/or sexual violence by their intimate partner in their lifetime.

Not everyone has the courage to fight back against abuse and violence. It’s not simply about being ‘brave’ – it becomes almost impossible to have courage if you don’t have a voice. Sometimes, even those who do are stifled by the fear of humiliation and social stigma surrounding gender-based violence.

Not everyone has a loving family or friends to fall back on. Not everyone can simply wake up one day, decide they have had enough, and leave. It’s not that easy, oh how I wish it was, but it isn’t.

Although, it’s also not impossible.

You might wonder, why must they stay? Is it the children? Or the familiarity? Or worst of all, the tainted love? It’s generally an amalgamation of all of these reasons along with many more. Of course, none of them can ever justify the destruction of lives, hearts, and a place that now detestably resembles home but is far, far from it.

The more you take, the less you can give to yourself or those you love. You deserve a safe environment. Children deserve a safe environment.

Make a safety plan. You can break the pattern and protect yourself and others. It will be hard, but it will be worth it.

“Break the pattern before it breaks you.” – Colleen Hoover, It Ends With Us

Read more on Girls’ Globe

An Open Letter to My Abuser

Content note: domestic violence, physical & emotional abuse

It is hard to put into words all that you put me through. This letter is, I know, another vain attempt to master the chaos within me. But trying is always a better option than quitting, I suppose.

Sometimes I wish you could go through the pain and struggle you put me through, but really I know there’s no way I’d want another soul to go through it.

I’ve held onto this pain for so many years because I genuinely believed that some day it would stop. I always believed you were something more than you appear to be. But you continued taking advantage of my innocence until eventually, you destroyed it completely.

You thought you were powerful because you played an attacker? You thought I was weak because I played a victim? The truth is, your victim is always superior to you in every way.

I would be lying if I told you I never thought about revenge. My mind wandered but my demons never got the better of me. Maybe I was simply too young to retaliate, or maybe I was too wise. I knew that if I were to sink to your level, you and I would be no different. One thing I’ve known for sure for all these years is that I never want to become a reflection of you.

I’ve wondered to myself, “do people always do these things to the ones they love?” I’ve thought that maybe I just don’t know enough about love.

If you hadn’t made me so angry, I wouldn’t have hit you or said those things,” you’d say. You would always make an excuse. Over time, I started to believe the fault was in me.

But today, I choose to stop blaming myself. It was never my fault to begin with. There is nothing I said or did that made it okay for you to hurt me with your words or your fists.

I am not an excuse for your incapability to control your emotions. I am not the cause of your outbursts. I am not your rage or your hate. I am not your false pride or fragile ego. I am not the weakness you always claimed to see in me. I am not the names you called me.

You don’t define me. I define myself. I am much more than the marks you’ve left on my body. I am innocence. I am dreams. I am hope. I am forgiveness. I am the person others always want to have around because I am laughter and I am love.

I hope the scars on my heart heal faster than the ones on my body. But the wounds within you? Whatever caused them, I hope they heal even faster than mine. And when that day comes, I will be long-gone from your life and it will be too late to reach out to me to tell me that you’re sorry.

But today I forgive you, because today I want to be free.

From,
The Young Woman Whose Life You Changed Forever

*Author’s note: any resemblance to specific individuals or actual events is purely coincidental. Here’s to the survivors of all sorts of abuse and those who are still struggling, I hope you find peace.*