Gender Based Violence is a social ill that can destroy you physically, emotionally and psychologically. I am lucky to be alive to tell my story after spending sixteen years in a violent and abusive marriage, and bringing up children in such an environment. I have permanent scars physically and psychologically. I have developed bald patches on my head because of braids being pulled out, constant headaches due to my head being beaten against the walls and psychological trauma, as my mind constantly wonders into those dark places and moments which have affected my self confidence. Experiencing physical, verbal and financial abuse was a norm in my marriage.
In the beginning, I would ask questions surrounding infidelity and I would be beaten up, until I learnt not to ask. The more I kept quiet the more we grew apart and more conflicts erupted. Until I went to file for divorce in 2012. My marriage is registered under Chapter 5.11 of the Marriages Act.
My disappointment is more in the system than in anything. I am unemployed and I found lawyers who could assist me without charging for their legal services. This took forever as the lawyer allocated to me was constantly out at workshops or meetings or somewhere out of town. After 4 months of not having any luck with the lawyer, I called a friend who is a lawyer and had gone through divorce herself to assist me. She offered to assist me with the drafting the summons and I would take them to the High Court for the court to serve them. At that time I was still living at the matrimonial home and we had discussed our situation and tried to seek help, but the situation had not changed. Summons were served and he did not respond.
In 2014 he was engaged in farming and stayed away from home for periods as long as three weeks. It was clear to me that he did not care for the kids and me. He would not leave money for our upkeep knowing fully that I was unemployed. I made a claim for maintenance for the upkeep of the family, and it was after the claim that things got worse. He would be verbally abusive. After only paying maintenance for a couple of months he stopped even after harvesting 25 hectares of tobacco. I reported him to the police and he was put into custody for 48 hours and appeared in court where he was told to pay the outstanding amount. We were staying together, so relatives despised me, even the police officers when I was making the report. It seemed like I was committing a crime.
These events fuelled more abuse from him. In February 2016 we agreed to go and seek legal advice concerning the divorce from legal aid. When I decided to go ahead with the divorce the lawyer that I could divorce this man only if I had valid information about infidelity which I did not have. After I told her that we were not even intimate she still insisted on proof of an affair. I left in doom. This was on a Wednesday. I returned to her the following Monday with my body bruised, my hair pulled out and my head spinning after the ordeal I had suffered that same weekend. I was pushed against the walls and had my hair pulled out, the guy wanted to kill me. All this happened in front of my kids. I cannot forget the screams behind those little terrified voices.
Reporting this to the police was not easy I got there in torn clothes, hair pulled out and bald patches on my head. Everyone walking in the station was asking what had happened and I had to narrate my ordeal to every officer who wanted to know. You can imagine the embarrassment. After two hours of wasting time, the case was finally opened and I was told to come back on a Monday since the victim friendly unit was not on duty. They only operated from Monday to Friday. How was I expected to go back to that house? I wondered if I would even make it to report to the victim friendly unit on the following Monday. So I went to my parent’s house where I still am. He was arrested two weeks later and detained for 48hrs and appeared in court where he was fined $100 and set off as first time offender. I kicked myself for all the times it had happened and I never reported.
The legal aid lawyer then told me to go to the civil court and seek protection order, which I did. During this time I asked her if my condition was reason enough for divorce, and I realised at that moment how many women end up being killed in long ended marriages because of lack of resources to get away. It took two weeks for the case to appear before the court. My children were still not with me and to my surprise as I received summons for downward variation of the maintenance and it was granted. A week later we appeared in court again for protection order and I had requested to go back to the matrimonial home to stay with the kids whilst he stayed at the farm as we were going through the divorce process. However, I was told to stay away from the matrimonial home and continue to stay at my parents since he had withdrawn maintenance and he had been violent and stalking me. My heart sank; my children were being dragged into the mess, staying with the maid and a father who is a farmer and is hardly at home.
I went back to legal aid to proceed with the divorce and I was told that I had to go and withdraw my file from the lawyer who served the summons. In trying to do so the lawyer friend had changed goal posts. I was now her client who owed $650, and to my surprise this is 3years later. I am thinking where do I get the $650 and what am I paying for. I then went to Law Society and she responded by sending them a bill to me for that amount. Up to now, I am disappointed by the system that we hope will protect us. This is the reason why many women will stick around in abusive relationships. It is very costly to get out of them even to just report. Up until now I am in the battle for divorce trying to find a way out for good.
It was shocking to hear from the head of Victim Friendly Unit that from January to September over 14000 cases of Domestic Violence had been reported. The whole process is difficult for me, I am educated and I wonder how hard it is for an ordinary woman from Zaka who has not had the opportunity to know the right doors to knock even if they are closed. It is my hope that one day after addressing the victim, the perpetrator should be taken into forced counselling. Victims should not be left without help as we might create another opportunity for another woman to be abused.
Article written by Agnes Magunje, a woman aged 40, studying Women and Gender Studies at Women’s University in Africa in my 3rd year. A Gender Activist who is passionate about encouraging women to be the agents of the change they want to see.
Main image taken from www.academicimpact.un.org